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Is Australia really doing it right in PNG?

Until the end of this year, Charlotte Smith is first secretary (and AusAID head) at the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby. Ms Smith has  told the PNG National newspaper that she will leave Papua New Guinea content with her two-year stay in the country.

But Ms Smith also made an unusual admission for someone of such influence in Australia-PNG relations. She said she still had much to learn about PNG, its people and their cultures. The National reported her saying that, during her two-year stay, “people had taught her a lot but she still knew very little and there was so much to learn.”

So what did Ms Smith learn? Among other things: "As I have gone around listening … I have heard about the strong potential for communities to develop local solutions to local problems and the important role of community-based and community-driven organisations in supporting people to realise their own goals, at their own pace, in their own way".

She had also heard that the disconnection between the Government and the people could be overcome through partnerships where there was mutual respect and working together towards a common goal. "People at local level hope they can deal with important issues like eliminating family violence and promoting peace."

AusAID has been consulting with PNG government agencies and non-government organisations to develop a new program, Strongim Pipol Kirapim Neisen [Supporting People to Build the Nation], which will start early next year. Apparently the program will involve AusAID in “working with all the participating organisations and with the Department of Community Development and their strategies and [developing an] appropriate planning and reporting format and [assisting] organisations … develop and implement longer-term solutions.”

Thirty-three years after Independence, it doesn’t really seem quite enough. And, while accepting that Ms Smith was being self-effacing, shouldn’t our senior diplomats be able to do better than an admission of “knowing very little” about critical factors such as culture that comprise the very underpinnings of effective development assistance?

Source: ‘AusAID secretary leaves PNG’ by Madeleine Arek


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Paul Oates

While Ms Smith's candour is refreshing, and I hate to rain on her parade, it highlights the issue of whether career diplomats are the right people to send to PNG at this time and in these positions. It's a bit like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

What's needed is output budgetting and not input posturing. Results speak louder than words. The old expressions 'hat wok tasol emi rot bilong girap' and 'maus wara nating ino inap' suddenly come to mind for some reason.

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