1 Nov 2002

PNG Catholic bishops approve government comments on public officials' behaviour

11:45 am on 1 November 2002

The Catholic Bishops Conference in Papua New Guinea has welcomed statements by the Inter-government Relations minister, Sir Peter Barter, that criminal behaviour by public officials has held back the Southern Highlands.

The general secretary of the conference, Lawrence Stephens, says Sir Peter's comments hit the mark.

Mr Stephens says the problem of officials misapproriating funds is rife in PNG.

He says such people are causing deaths because money that could've been used in the ailing health system is stolen or taken away.

Mr Stephens says there is an attitude problem that isn't just confined to the Southern Highlands.

"The reports that come out of our newspapers and courts suggest that it's not just in the Southern Hiighlands but a problem across the communities in Melanesia. And in fairness to us, you can see that problem in other places. It's just that we are developing, we haven't caught up with the way in which you control some of the worst aspects of this common behaviour."

The Conference has also criticised the Somare government over the continued detainment of refugees at the Australian funded asylum processing centre on Manus.

At their meeting, the bishops expressed disappointment in the governmnent and called on all members of the community to show respect for human rights and accept the need to release the mainly Afghan asylum seekers.

The Bishops say the laws of PNG do not allow the imprisonment of people who have not broken the law, but yet it is occurring on Manus.

The Bishops say PNG's public service, government, and corruption watchdog groups should lobby for the release of the refugees.