In June, after the high drama of anti-Asian riots and the low comedy of AusAID consultants paid salaries amounting to half Australia’s aid budget, I wrote that grassroots neglect and urban social dislocation compounded by low and high level corruption are gnawing at the very sinews of PNG society.
I also remarked the seeming inability of the Australian government to deal with the complex political and social dynamics of our nearest neighbour.
Now, concerns about where PNG is headed are increasingly being expressed at the highest levels in PNG itself.
On Friday, Governor-General Sir Paulias Matane, complaining of crime and corruption, said “ineffective leadership at the political, business, professional, church and community levels has crippled PNG.”
It was an elaboration of a theme Sir Paulias raised in an Independence Day address last month when he pondered aloud on what the future held. “Thirty-four years of ineffective government and public service delivery since independence has resulted in the unfortunate mess we are in today,” he said.
This was in stark contrast to Prime Minister Somare’s own words at about the same time, telling of his pride in the gains the nation had made despite the obstruction of unnamed “opportunists”.
Sir Michael blamed “loose talk” for “distracting us from the fact that we are growing our economy”. He reminisced how, in the sixties, he had “with my colleagues change[d] the course of our history and destiny as a people of one nation.”
In a recent interview on Al Jazeera, Sir Michael offered mixed messages. While saying he “didn’t think” the country’s leadership is corrupt, he admitted to serious corruption among public servants “below the level of senior departmental head” and called upon people “to reveal to us who are corrupt."
And in a statement that would worry our
government, he said
What was even more noteworthy about the interview was his willingness to disparage his own nation. “Our people are like that – they like throwing stones,” he said dismissively, referring to the riots. And, in comparing the Chinese and Melanesian work ethics: “Chinese are workaholics. They’ll work all day and night; Melanesians work when we feel like it. Chinese don’t complain; my people do.”
The nub of the problem, of course, would seem not to be the people but Sir Michael’s government. “PNG needs leaders who are as clean and white as white paper,” says Morobe Governor Luther Wenge. “That is why we are going backwards. Leaders want ten percent under the table first before they work. Many leaders have dirty hands.”
Chief Secretary Manasupe Zurenuoc admits PNG is worse off than ever: “We have been independent for over 35 years and have not fared well in terms of delivering services to our people,” he says. “[Public servants] are running around Waigani without any understanding of the real problems in the provinces. They are out of touch with the real world. They just collect their pay and could not care about what happens out there.”
Councillor Mapun Papol of Mt Hagen condemns the “rot in the public service” that forces ordinary citizens to pay bribes. “If you want something to be done for you, you need to pay a bribe or else your enquiry or application will be ignored and then chucked into the bin. Bribery is a secret income for public servants.”
Treasury Secretary, Simon Tosali, admits that, even though PNG has experienced strong economic growth in recent years, unless drastic measures are enacted it “will never be able to address the economic imbalances in the country and empower people in rural areas”. People who, per capita, live on an income of around one dollar a day.
Academic James Chin – who researches the Chinese diaspora - forecasts an increase in physical attacks against mainland Chinese in PNG and makes the startling prediction that “it is almost certain that Chinese triads will establish a presence”.
He points out that, outside the oil and
Chin says the weight of mainland Chinese numbers and their important economic role mean they will soon dominate whole sections of PNG’s economy.
I’ve observed previously that there is
high emotion in all this for many of us who lived and worked in PNG. It was
once a territory
The present PNG leadership seems to have
turned its back on its own people and to be drifting away from
In fact, it’s possible that this future
may already have arrived. PNG looks like it may be headed for an unstable
period with outcomes inimical to
It’s not the kind of problem you want on your doorstep.