Papua New Guinea is in a state of emergency as riots and looting have erupted, resulting in at least 15 deaths. The unrest, which began in the capital city of Port Moresby, has made Prime Minister James Marape to declare a 14-day state of emergency.
The turmoil started from a protest initiated by soldiers, police officers, and prison guards who were dismayed by unexplained deductions in their pay.
The unrest was a sudden pay cut that affected police officers and public servants. Reports show that around $100, approximately half the pay of junior staff, was deducted from their wages and made the protests.
The government attributed the pay cut to a computer glitch in the payroll system, assuring that the error would be corrected in the upcoming pay period. However, this explanation failed to pacify the protesters, leading to an escalation in the situation.
Social media played a role in the unrest, with claims circulating that the government was implementing an increase in income taxes.
Prime Minister Marape refuted these allegations, labeling them as misinformation. The volatile situation was exacerbated by the absence of police, who had gone on strike in response to the pay dispute. Opportunists took advantage of the vacuum in law enforcement, engaging in looting, arson, and violence.
The backdrop of the unrest is an economic slump in Papua New Guinea, by higher inflation and unemployment rates.
The nation, rich in resources such as gas, gold, and minerals, has struggled to translate its wealth into prosperity.
The discontent among the populace is fueled by growing inequality, particularly in urban centers like the capital city. As tensions rise, the government faces increased pressure from various segments of society.
Prime Minister Marape declared a state of emergency in Port Moresby, deploying over 1,000 troops to maintain order. Marape acknowledged the nature of the strife, condemning the lawlessness.
He suspended four department chiefs involved in the payroll problem and assured that measures would be taken to address the grievances of the protesting public servants.
The unrest has had severe domestic repercussions but has also strained international relations. China, an economic partner for Papua New Guinea, expressed concern over the safety of its citizens and businesses.
Chinese-owned shops were targeted during the violence, leading to complaints and calls for the perpetrators to be punished.
Australia, another regional player, has been monitoring the situation but has not received requests for direct intervention.
The toll of the unrest is evident in the reported deaths, with at least 15 people killed, and numerous others injured.
The situation has erupted tensions, with the Chinese embassy lodging complaints and demanding the safeguarding of Chinese nationals and businesses.
The unrest has also led to resignations within the Papua New Guinea parliament. The economic struggles, rapid urbanization, and high unemployment have contributed to inequality.
The police force, already poorly paid, has been unable to contain the unrest. Private security, often hired by businesses, plays a role in maintaining order.
Voices within the parliament have called for Prime Minister Marape’s resignation. Many say that economic mismanagement has contributed to the groundswell of public discontent. The opposition is working on a motion for a vote of no confidence scheduled for February.
Australia has expressed concern over the situation in Papua New Guinea. Australia, a close neighbor and security partner, has addressed the importance of restoring calm.