PNG speaker's "reformation" agenda proves divisive
Opposition is mounting to so-called reformation plans by the speaker of Papua New Guinea's parliament which have seen the removal and destruction of prized cultural artefacts amid a rise in fundamentalist beliefs among some in high office.
The speaker of Papua New Guinea's parliament is facing mounting criticism over what he has dubbed his "reformation" campaign.
Under the campaign, Theo Zurenuoc, plans to replace Parliament House's traditional cultural objects with Christian symbols such as a copy of the King James bible recently brought to PNG from America by a state-funded delegation.
However, as Johnny Blades reports, it's seen by many as an attack on PNG culture.
The Speaker's reformation campaign has seen the removal of various traditional artefacts from inside and outside the House Tamburan in the past two years. These objects Theo Zurenuoc considered to be "obscene, offensive and inappropriate" for the parliament. The director of PNG's National Museum and Art Gallery, Andrew Moutu, called Theo Zurenuoc's actions "heinous sacrilege." However the Speaker is understood to have more special plans for upcoming celebrations to mark PNG's 40th anniversary of independence. The Trade Union Congress general secretary John Paska is part of a group filing a Supreme Court reference on the constitutionality of the Speaker's actions. John Paska says public debate is needed about the issue in light of the recent surge of fundamentalist influences in parliament. He says the government needs to regulate on the separation of church and government amid what he calls increasing signs of a Zionist movement in state affairs.
JOHN PASKA: So it's quite dangerous. And his (Zurenuoc's) actions in authorising destruction of the totem poles... it's a state property, number one; and number two, he did not secure parliamentary approval for it. And so he unilaterally used his decision, it's an abuse of power, a decision to pursue his religious conviction.
Various MPs in both government and opposition have raised concern about the speaker's plans. The Bulolo MP Sam Basil says Mr Zurenuoc is an example of a disturbing trend in PNG leadership.
SAM BASIL: The weakness of Papua New Guinean people is religion. When you talk about religion, they forget about who and why you are there for them. And I think a lot of parliamentarians are now preaching instead of delivering services back home. So this is happening in my province too, and I think the speaker is one of them.
The former prime minister Sir Michael Somare warned that Mr Zurenuoc's actions may breach the constitution by imposing personal religious views when Parliamentary approval has not been sought. However, the acting parliamentary secretary Danny Puli has defended the speaker's reformation efforts.
DANNY PULI: He's been misunderstood as trying to go against culture, which is not correct. Culture, you cannot put one piece of tomato on a plate and say this is the only food in the whole world. Culture is all kinds of things put together. And we have good parts of our lives, we have bad parts of our culture as well, and so we need to sit down now as we are turning 40 years old and.. what is good for us, what is not good for us, and we need to engineer a nation forward, a diverse nation forward on a common culture.
Yet Sam Basil says members of parliament are meant to be legislators, not pastors.
SAM BASIL: I think the Speaker of parliament should go back to the seminary and become a pastor. I think he's in the wrong place. The people of Fincshafen voted him in to serve the country and make good laws and deliver services back to his district. They're not voting him in here to chop up our cultural heritage at the parliament. I think he's done the wrong thing. He should be charged for it.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Professionals' Society says it will mount a court challenge against Theo Zurenuoc's ongoing agenda. This comes after the National Council of Churches spoke out against the destruction of carvings by "a few pastors and their followers". The Speaker describes his reformation agenda as being aimed at forging national unity. So far it's proven mainly divisive.
To embed this content on your own webpage, cut and paste the following: