PNG Speaker stands firm on artefact removal despite high-level outrage
PNG Speaker stands firm on ongoing plans to remove cultural artefacts from parliament building despite an outrcy and signs he may face legal action over it.
The speaker of Papua New Guinea's parliament says the government cannot stop him removing what he describes as inappropriate cultural artefacts from the country's iconic parliament building.
There's been a public outcry in PNG since Theo Zurenuoc's decision to remove carved heads from above the entrance to parliament earlier this month.
He is also replacing a large totem structure inside parliament with a National Unity Pole containing a Bible and a copy of the constitution.
But, as Johnny Blades reports, the Speaker's actions have been branded by some as cultural terrorism and he may face legal action.
PNG's national museum director has laid a police complaint about the destruction of adornments at parliament and a former Prime Minister says he is taking the matter to court. However Theo Zurenuoc has some support for his plans for the so-called reformation of parliament from a handful of MPs who, like him, are ardent Christians. One of them is the community development minister, Loujaya Kouza, who has links to a Israeli messianic group which is understood to have endorsed the speaker's removal of the carvings. The general secretary of PNG's Catholic Bishops' Conference Father Victor Roche has warned about the influence of fundamentalist religious views within public office.
VICTOR ROCHE: The things that are removed, they are representing a culture. So he is trying to remove the culture. And it has been there for so many years and the people respected it is Papua New Guinea New Guinea culture. Now somebody is coming maybe with a touch of fundamentalism from some of the smaller churches, and he's trying to remove them. And it's not good. And I don't think it is going well either with the Papua New Guineans. So there was not too much consultation.There should have been some consultation before such a thing is happening
The speaker has released a lengthy written explanation of his plans for parliament, particularly where it concerns the artefacts. Theo Zurenuoc paraphrased comments made by PNG's former Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare when the country was going to independence in 1975.
THEO ZURENUOC: Sir Michael declared that wooden carvings and cultural artefacts are living spirits with fixed abodes. So Papua New Guineans have a very close affinity to the spiritual world. We believe in spirits, but there are good spirits and bad spirits. We realise that certain objects or artefacts in the Grand Hall were not appropriate, meaning they carried images that we view as obscene, offensive and inappropriate to be kept in that area.
But Sir Michael, who is still in parliament as the Governor of East Sepik province, was mortified by the actions of Mr Zurenuoc. He told EMTV that the speaker is only the custodian of parliament.
SIR MICHAEL SOMARE: I'm taking a court injunction against the speaker, against the parliamentary committee, for not asking the parliament members to take parts of parliament out or any particle out from parliament.
Members of the national executive council have also voiced outrage over the removal of the artefacts, and the Prime Minister Peter O'Neill last week asked Mr Zurenuoc to suspend the plans. But the speaker says the NEC does not have a say in the matter and that while agreeing to a brief suspension in his plans to cleanse parliament, he intends to resume soon because as speaker he has a mandate to do so.
To embed this content on your own webpage, cut and paste the following: