Yes, we can all make a difference
War graves on Bougainville

Long painim ki bilong opim doa

Paul Oates

After reading your Notes ['Yes, we can all make a difference'] I thought, "You
beauty! Someone has finally
asked the right question as many of us have
been silently (or not so
silently) asking ourselves." The trouble is; before you
can provide a
solution, one must define a problem. So what's the problem?

Clearly there is a daily plethora of recognisable problems happening in PNG
but so is there elsewhere in the world. So what's the difference? I suspect
one of the major differences to us old PNG hands is one of disbelief that the
 country and people we knew (or know) so well has been allowed to lapse

from the standards we set when we ran the place.

"Why is this so?" the old scientist Julius Sumner-Miller used to ask? There
must be a fundamental impasse between what we, and I suspect most

PNGians expect, and the ability, opportunity and intention of the current
PNG government to implement. If that is so, what is causing this impasse? I
doubt that many or any politicians or potential leaders ever start out with
 
dishonourable intentions. At least, not in our country. Why is it then that
as political leaders progress upwards, they seem to become immune and
disconnected with the people they initially set out to help?

"Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are
 nearly
always bad men," said Lord Acton. Is this the essence of the problem
for
PNG? I don't think it's the only problem. We ourselves were, I believe,
partly guilty of setting the expectations of the PNG people up to expect

that the system of government we installed would work after we left. This
is
because it worked (and I believe worked well), while we were in charge.
Why
doesn't that system of government work now? That is the real question
that
should be asked?

The answer to this apparently complex problem is I believe, very simple.
The
government system in place at PNG Independence was rapidly
dismantled. I
have spoken to the person whose job it was to do this and he
 explained who
directed him to take this action and how it should be done
as quickly as
possible. Most expatriate officers in the government field service
 were
removed inside a 16 month period. This was a clear intention of the new
PNG
government to remove any vestiges of a previous system and also to
ensure
there would be no impediment to the new leaders taking over the reins of
power. What was not understood by these new leaders at the time was that by
decimating the field service and removing those who had experience and

ability in the field was to precipitate a collapse of any control and law and order
in their own country.


Secondly, what was also not understood at the time by the Australian
government was that by a rapid advancement of only partially trained and
previously inexperienced PNG national government officers to fill the places of
those expatriates who were being withdrawn only helped exacerbate the

collapse of the field service and the structure of government for the country.

Clearly, with the perspective of hindsight, many of today's issues could
have been prevented. So where does that leave us now? We can't undo
history
but we can learn from it.

The nexus of connecting the current PNG problems with potential solutions
 is
at first very tenuous. It is easy for those who are not currently responsible
to "point the finger" and for those responsible to shift the
blame. If PNG were
 just our nearest neighbour we might have an easier time
of helping her out.
 In the global scheme of this however, this is not so.
PNG's resources and its
 strategic position in the Pacific has been a target
for various other countries
 to ingratiate themselves with the current and
past political leaders in order to
advance their own geopolitical
initiatives. They will not take lightly any move
to diminish their long term
goals and influence, bought with their time, effort
and money.


So where does that leave the vast bulk of the PNG people? 'Behind the eight
ball' it would seem. The question is: Do we send aid to PNG? We are damned

if we do and damned if we don't. If we send high level aid in government
 
funds it stands the chance of being 'siphoned off' at the highest levels of
government and used for 'other purposes'. If we contribute to help at lower
levels we merely assist the current mismanagement and maladministration
by
allowing the government to spend their money on other things to help gain
political influence, rather than to direct these funds to essential
services.

Another overlying and serious problem in PNG is the rapidly increasing
population coupled with an equally rapidly increasing AIDS epidemic.


So what's the answer? I suggest that a large part of the answer lies in
promoting good communications with PNG and within PNG. This must be
done in
a macro and micro sense. The current problems with the provision
of mobile
phones and a general lack of communication with the country only
assists the
dislocation of political leaders with their own people. I read some time
 ago
that any country that has a mobile phone coverage of something like over
20%
of the population, has never been taken over by a dictator or another
country. Of course that could also mean that these countries had a degree of
affluence, however that hasn't always stopped takeovers in the past.

On a macro scale, we can't expect the current PNG leaders to feel friendly
towards us if we don't encourage dialogue and discussion. There should be
continual meetings and conferences set up at all levels of government between
Australia and PNG and on a mutual and beneficial expectation and
recognition
that both countries will benefit. Benchmarks for achievements
must be set and
monitored. This dialogue should also be encouraged at all
levels of business,
education, the arts and social services. We learned a
great deal from PNG and
now the current Australian generation ought to be
able to, as well.

Where are the funds to support reciprocal exchanges of ideas, learning and
encouragement? Service organisations like Rotary International and Lions,

etc. and other important bodies like Red Cross, Councils, etc should be
encouraged to actively participate, communicate and learn more about each
other's countries and their problems. The Australian government must start
involving and fostering Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) in the

inter-country communication process at all levels. This is where I suggest the
key to a better life in PNG may start with this essential ingredient.


"Sapos yu bin plantim pikanini diwai long gutpela graun na bai yu lukautim
gut em bai gutpela kru ikamap na bihain bai strongpela diwai igirap. Ki
bilong opim doa igo long nupela rot istap long dispela tingting."

We invite other readers to join this dialogue about what steps Australians may
be able to take to give practical expression to our friendship and concern for
the people of Papua New Guinea.

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