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Time to kill sacred cow of the Melanesian Way


I CAN TELL you the reason for the story of declining services and declining prosperity in PNG; and the declining well-being of the people of PNG.

It’s very simple. As coined by a group of Papua New Guinean intellectuals in the seventies, the problem is “The Melanesian Way”.

There. It’s been said. The big, silent, grey elephant which has loomed in the background, nameless but recognised by many, is out in the open.

Tackle this elephant, or at least recognise it as the handicap that it has become in the struggle for modernity and fair distribution of the nation’s wealth.

Three decades of increasing puzzlement, critical editorials and irate declarations by MPs have been three wasted decades, unless the whole experience is realistically appraised and an appropriate antidote applied to the wounds on the body of this young nation.

The Melanesian Way is the way of a fractured multi-tribal society. A society which existed triumphantly, successfully, and entirely independently for tens of thousands of years. While it was intact.

Within this society, land was the single, prime, and most-often considered fact of tribal or clan life. Clan land must be protected and opportunely extended in any way possible.

Without land and hunting and fishing resources sufficient to meet its needs, the clan or tribe was nothing. Such a condition could eventuate as the result of bad planning by leaders, inept political moves or, ultimately, physical weakness in battle.

The result would be annihilation of the clan or tribe. The anger of the ancestral spirits would haunt the remaining, fugitive remnants of the people, no matter that they might be absorbed into other sympathetic clans. It was the absolute end, and as such was never to be contemplated.

This was also the basis of the way of the ancient Britons and the way of the wild tribes of northern Germany, people whom even Caesar was never able to completely subdue or dispossess.

In PNG, historically, the law which governed life applied totally to one’s own group and, only in terms of one’s own advantage, to one’s neighbours.

Right from mother’s breast, each person learned that within the clan all were brothers and sisters. Outside the clan, all were enemies. Within the clan was solidarity and trust. Outside the clan was the enemy, albeit of various grades.

Thus evolved a set of ethics and moral appreciations which, within an overarching customary system, provided a practical set of safeguards and an acceptable level of justice.

A dispute-resolution system evolved which, while often draconian and violent, worked within the nature of the culture. Here, a lie told, or a pig stolen, from an enemy were not crimes, or even misdemeanours. Only within the clan were such acts a crime.

Disputes arising in the clan could be fatally disruptive, and a long-winded methodology involving mediation, negotiation and payment of some form of compensation-in-kind evolved.

Even though sometimes inconclusive, and inevitably long-drawn-out, it was preferable to fighting within the clan.

Here, then, is a concise outline of the Melanesian Way. While it served the people well for as long as they remained out of communication with the developing industrialised, class-based, nationalistic polities of the rest of the world, it is demonstrably not compatible with the course of modernisation in PNG.

The tribal ethical matrix, where honesty is confined to a limited number of relationships and by nature encourages nepotism, combined with the propensity to talk and procrastinate endlessly - rather than to confront and solve difficult ethical, management, and disciplinary problems - constitute the big, grey elephant that no-one wants to talk about.

Perhaps the Melanesian Way has become a sacred cow.

Kill the sacred cow. Look life and the future straight in the eye.

Directness, honesty and responsibility in government are the marks of an effective, fair society. Social history and ancient customs belong in the school curriculum, in museums and storybooks, not in the management methodology of a modern nation.

A version of this article was first published in The National newspaper.


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Reginald Renagi

Paul, I agree with the general gist of what you are saying here. While Australia can be initially accused of rushing PNG into early Independence in 1975, but in fact, I do not blame them now for all of my country's woes. That blame must be shouldered by all successive governments and PMs since Independence. We stuffed up badly and it's time for us to try to fix it and make things better for ourselves in the next four decades into the future.

Those responsible for PNG's current woes must not be let off the hook with Michael Somare being the one who should be uncomfortably 'wriggling’ in his chair as being the first top honcho in 1975. Sadly, the man has spent over 4 decades of his adult life doing the same (must be real boring by now) job, and it's just a crying shame that my country has fared very poorly.

For all his time in politics PNG has really gained nothing substantial to be proud of today. Its people's quality of life has not even improved at all before he exits the scene, now or after the 2012 polls. The PM has truely ran out of time to ever achieve this end-state.

The way ahead now is for PNG to look forward to the future with a new leadership approach and vision. The challenge is on for a more effective leadership and a new team of social engineers comprising of a special breed of citizenry who will as you put it: have PNG’s best interests at heart to completely transform the whole country.

Norris Pratt

At about the time there was much talk in PNG of doing things "the Melanesian Way" as opposed to what might be termed the usual trained and professional way, I remember the then PM [Sir Julius Chan] saying, in effect, we won't be flying an aeroplane the Melanesian Way.

Paul Oates

Reg - Mate, your observations as always, are interesting and informative. But is Australia to blame for PNG current situation? Well that depends on who you talk to.

For those in the Administration who were around at the lead up to Independence, (and who can still remember that far back), there was a certain ambivalence at the time concerning whether PNG was ready to look after itself.

People in the more recently set up outstations could see that the people there were not in any way ready to understand, let alone cope with the concept of an elected and Constitutional government made up of people from mostly other clans and tribes, some of who may have been from areas that were traditional enemies.

A few PNG people were still being contacted for the first time. Many local people themselves used to tell us, “Please don’t leave us. We are not yet ready.”

On the other hand, I can remember the impact on us in the field service when District Commissioner Jack Emmanuel was killed in Rabaul by those who were very angry with the Administration’s handling of the local land alienation practices.

At the time, a few hundred kiaps and the various departmental outstation staff were responsible for about 95% of the PNG population.

The few PNG elite who were influenced by emerging African nations and certain political influencers from Australia saw their time had come and pressed for power as soon as possible.

Rather than working together with the emerging elite, the old timers in senior positions in the Administration seemed to react and try to hold back any development until the dam burst and it all came with a poorly planned and peremptory rush.

An extra 10 years of pre Independence Australian Administration may have made all the difference but would the emerging PNG elite have wanted or allowed this to happen? The pressures from the UN should not be underestimated. The tour by the British Sir Hugh Foot had a real and immediate wind up twist in mind when their report was tabled.

The total lack of knowledge and awareness of PNG by most Australians was reflected in most Australian politicians at the time on either side of politics. (You could say, ‘What’s new?’)

Some Australian politicians however did take an interest and I can remember Andrew Peacock (as Minister for Territories), actually forming close ties with some young PNG politicians but he had no real influence on events as his party lost power when Billy McMahon was kicked out by Gough Whitlam in 1972.

It’s fair to say that most field staff felt at the time that Canberra had no real idea of what to do with PNG.

There seemed an almost a total disconnection between field staff who were working closely with the majority of PNG people at the kunai roots level and those making decisions about PNG as a whole.

It is understood that Whitlam had formed some very partial views about how PNG was being managed after talking to Mataungan leaders during a visit to Rabaul in the late sixties before he became Australian PM. He apparently made some adverse statements on Australian television when he returned from his visit.

Certainly on attaining political power, Whitlam wanted no Australian colonies as he went about normalising relations with countries like Vietnam, who we had previously been at war with for some years.

The North Vietnamese saw their war as an extension of their colonial liberation war with the French and then the US and their allies who had backed a Southern Vietnam regime. Relations were also just normalising with Communist China and the Chinese were not known for their understanding of old colonial type regimes.

Could PNG in 1975 have become Australia’s seventh state? This option was floating around and apparently waiting for a champion at the time. Clearly this would not have suited the local elite who would have virtually become irrelevant in the overall scheme of Australian politics.

What would have happened if the then three million PNG people were allowed to migrate to the Australian mainland was a proposition that the government of the day presumably could not countenance. That scale of migration now seems to be acceptable however if those wanting to migrate to Australia claim they are refugees or ‘asylum seekers’. [What, three million? Shome mishtake shurely. Ed]

So on the whole, perhaps you could blame Australia for PNG’s current predicament but I suggest it wasn’t as clear as that at the time. It also lets those responsible for the current PNG woes conveniently off the hook.

Foremost among those who should be ‘wriggling’ is the current PM, Michael Somare who became PNG PM in 1975.

Looking backwards can end up in one tripping over something. Looking forward might help with the planning of where PNG should progress to in the near future.

The burning question is whether an effective PNG leader can now emerge that has the country’s best interests at heart?

Reginald Renagi

Mari and Paul: PNG has many good people to make the system work but the strategic agenda must come from the top. The PM, NEC and whole of government working in close collaboration with industry, development partners and the people to ensure PNG runs like a well-oiled machine.

The country seems to be not functioning at peak performance because the current leadership (apart from a handful of reasonably good MPs) is made up of the wrong stuff. The people of PNG now widely perceives the government to be corrupt as long as the New Asian (NA) Party is at the helm of the ship.

Yes Mari, there many good people in the working class but they will not speak out as indviduals. They can not freely say or do anything contrary to their work-place policy or regulations. This would only jeopardize their jobs (hence, their livelyhood) by engaging directly (but covertly) in politics.

These include all civil servants, diplomats here and abroad, the military, police and private sector employees. That just leaves out the civil society, unions, students and the ordinary man/women in the streets to show force by rocking the boat.

Their voices are not collectively heard. The police will not allow peaceful demonstrations for fear it may disturb the peace, and may be classed as an unlawful assembly situations posing a security threat to the community, or some such reasons.

I am not saying it can’t be done. It can be done with good organization, leadership and resources to support a community coalition against the government’s bad governance, and alleged corrupt practices.

Many good people in our society are afraid to speak out or be whistle blowers. Experience shows that the law will not protect them but charge them for being a public nuisance. They now think the law is an ass. It only protects those with money to silence the cops, those that can be bought in public offices: like some politicians, some lawyers and senior management in cohort with transnational corporations; and special interests.

There are many good professional people who could now rock the boat only if they are given the resources and the legal backing required.

Like Paul, I believe Education is our key (amongst others) to unlocking the future of PNG. A better educated populace will result in a better leadership and a well-informed and united citizenry supporting each other and their leaders in government, and community to ensure PNG steadily develops into an affluent society in future.

It is still a long way off but we must start now with a fresh leadership approach and a realistic vision that can be readjusted every year. PNG has a new Vision 2050 but it seems unachievable because of the current flaws in our governance system, and the incompetent people who not made of the right stuff to be at the helm of our state ship.

Reginald Renagi

Paul, to turn things around in PNG now before the 2012 elections is to have several things in place at the same time. Any good PM worth his salt would now put this down to as essential political reforms PNG must have to improve good governance, being responsive, accountable and strictly adhere to the 'Rule of Law'.

The first course of immediate action now is to change the ruling party's leadership as it is totally ineffective now. We need to have a strong no-nonsense party leader who will reorganize the whole coalition government makeup of having good honest MPs, in charge of key portfolios (i.e. a revitalized NEC).

Secondly, we also desperately need a revitalized Opposition party in parliament to keep the government on its toes at all times. Here, I see the Member for Bulolo, Sam Basil being given the Opposition Leader's role. The current incumbent has ran out of steam, remains mostly mute, lacks the drive and aggressiveness required to make the opposition effective in parliament.

Thirdly, parliament has been shirking its primary responsibility to serve the national interests of PNG at all times.

Last but not least, the public service must be totally overhauled and appropriately culled to make it more responsive and effective to serve the needs of the people, and country. It must work 'hand-in-glove' with the private sector, NGOs and full community participation to make PNG function well.

Reginald Renagi

Paul, asks what's the way ahead?

Maybe a Garibaldi is what PNG needs right now as he recently suggested. We should also do what Phil suggests to our 'pollies' as a first course of action. But some drawback remains.

The Australian government will immediately chastise us here as they like doing that to errant small economically-dependent pacific states. This makes Australia look and feel good to the US and the global community that it is playing its part as a good global corporate player in today’s new world order.

The military is also weakened by successive inept governments action since 2001. The PNGDF is cut to the bone in strength by the Mekere government assisted by the former Howard government. Since then, it was kept that way by two successive governments under PM Somare. The pollies from both sides of the Coral Sea want to perhaps prevent the possibilities of any military mutinies or a coup in future, like what has happened in Fiji.

This won't happen in PNG if the government appoints good professional military commanders and have a strong honest PM and responsive governments in office, genuinely committed to serve its citizenry in the national interest. This is missing since Independence in 1975.

Reginald Renagi

Hey I agree with you all here.

Mari, Paul, Phil and Laurie: John's Fowke's Melanesian Way makes a good interesting read. I recommend it for any latter-day Melanesian student's history and social anthropology studies material to go towards a future PhD thesis.

JF as usual writes some good stuff considering his bush background like some of us in our younger and adventurous days.

While John's assertion's holds true in some aspects that the Melanesian Way is the proverbial 'grey elephant', it would be so darn easy to blame it for all the woes afflicting our young nation. It's more complex than that.

I see killing the sacred cow (Melanesian Way) a real cop out and taking the easy way out. It's like what Cortez and his Spanish Conquistadors did to the native Indians in the Americas. In PNG's case, it could be highly detrimental if not done properly.

I share your sentiments. John's article could be further modified to read today's The PNG Ways, as practiced in the country's body politic. It's a far cry from the original intentions of The Melanesian Way penned by the early architects of the national constitution.

Sadly, over time, such good Melanesian ways as practiced by the people have become somewhat convoluted and corrupted by successive political leaderships within a deficient government system.

This system was flawed in many ways with its inherent dysfunctional bureaucracy. The bureaucracy is ineffective in its core competence areas and overall output to deliver practical development solutions over time.

PNG now shows the signs of a failing state, like some African states. Despite millions in aid money being pumped into its already over-bloated economy (on paper and computer-print-outs anyway), there is no real beneficial trickle-down to the people.

This is mainly due to widespread political pork-barreling by the good local member (MP) to push his pet projects, to consolidate his clan/tribe/provincial support base for the next polls, etc. This must be stopped at all costs by the government.

Australians try to avoid talking about it, but they are responsible for it. The Melanesian Way is of Australia's making.

Contrary to what people say now, in hindsight, Australia was not under pressure by the UN to fasttrack PNG into premature nationhood. The then Labor government totally failed to prepare PNG for both self-government and Independence in 1975.

Thus, in the absence of a proper governance system, successive PNG governments started adopting some bad practices (which people now refer to them as The Melanesian Way, it seems) superimposed over western democratic principles.

Over time, people tend to blame this on the system instead of the incompetent people mismanaging it in the first place.

We know who was responsible for this present day debacle. Some people find it so easy to find fault in my country but this does not help me, or my people. It just makes me feel bad that my people and I have to try more harder to get it right in future.

But on the other hand, the Aussies are also in no real position to patronise their former colony without first looking to their own backyards.

Australia's former Labor government of Gough Whitlam (hope I got this right) is to be blamed for setting the scene for The Melanesian Way. It easily gave away its former young colony when it was not even ready to look after itself.

At the time, many Australians still perceived my people to be savages and 'bush kanakas' in a wholly divided country (still is today). Australia failed here in its colonial responsibility.

Australia should get the main blame. When it washed its hands off PNG to give it away to members of the so-called "bully beef club", it opened up a Pandora's box of opportunities for politicians to promote the now corrupt "Melanesian Way" in PNG. The rest, as they say, is history.

Paul Oates

Mari and Reg - While the answers to PNG's woes must come from inside PNG, there doesn't appear to be any mechanism to allow the voices of reason to be heard.

Opposition Leader Sir Mek, Bart Philemon and Sam Basil have all said what is wrong and even tried to fix the problems.

If Sir Mekere Morauta had been allowed to remain as PM I suspect PNG would be back on the right road.

If Bart Philemon had been allowed to reform public finances the country would now be better off.

If Sam Basil had been allowed to follow through with the findings of the Commission of Inquiry into Public Finances, the law would (or should) have taken its course and those guilty of misappropriation charged.

If Jamie Maxtone-Graham had been allowed to continue with his investigation into the so-called Asian riots he would have been able to reveal what he obviously found out.

Where are the results from the firearms report by General Singarok?

Where is the support for the PNG Chief Ombudsman who recently survived attempted assassination? All that happened is an attempt to muzzle him in Parliament.

Where are the results from the Asian millions, Moti Report or even the Barnett Report and other attempt to get PNG back on the rails?

All these are apparently consigned to the rubbish bin of history.

Why have all these attempts been prevented from trying to bring the country back from the abyss? You can trace it all back to the current government and ultimately to Somare, his unseen supporters and his gang of hangers on.

If no one in today's PNG has any power or ability to overturn what almost everyone knows is going on, what chance is there for any change to the status quo?

From someone on the outside looking in, there does not appear to be any 'safety valve' for the current impasse.

Perish the thought, but if ever some of the now constantly warring factions ever got together under a strong leader, it wouldn't take much for an armed insurrection to begin.

No wonder a reader of PNG Attitude, who was a student at DWU, has already suggested this alternative, given his frustration at the intransigence of the current PNG government.

I wonder what the Indonesian leader actually discussed with the Australian PM on his recent visit?

I agree with you, Mari, why wait for more of the same in 2012?

Where is the way ahead, however? Who has the right road map? All the road signs are pointing the wrong way.

Mari Ellingson

Reg - You don't have to wait for the next lot of pollies after 2012 to do anything. The beginning should be now.

I do agree that there is no vision. There are enough smart, intelligent and caring people in high places to take a look around and at themselves and bring PNG into the 21st Century.

The challenge is to find these people sooner rather than later. There are enough pollies with their interests at heart - let's find them and work with them now.

Countries like the UK are no longer setting benchmarks in governance. We need to find our mojo and BE the benchmark ourselves.

Paul Oates

Point taken Phil. I meant no disrespect to anyone in PNG and I'm sure people who know me would understand that.

As you know, I was merely referring to the type of society where most of the ordinary people had no say in what goes on and no control over their so called leaders. If the African example is more germane to some, then so be it.

Phil Fitzpatrick

With respect Paul, it's nothing like England was 1,000 years ago. It's more like some of the failed and failing African states right now - Robert Mugabe springs to mind.

Mugabe has deliberately pauperised his country to make it easier to control. Hungry people tend to be preoccupied with finding the next meal and don't have the time or inclination to challenge his corrupt regime.

Comparing PNG today with our European ancestors, as some of the correspondents on this blog tend to do, is not especially useful and at worst is patronising: "Don't worry, we used to be like you, but we're all grown up now. You just have to wait until you get older and wiser like us".

PNG is full of hip, sassy, smart people; you only have to read their blogs to find that out. They don't need our help. In fact, our help has been downright detrimental, just as it has been to our own Aborigines.

Perhaps there is one "Papua New Guinea Way" that needs to be temporarily suspended. And that is the inate politeness and reserve of the individual.

Someone needs to seriously rock the boat up there and grab those useless pollies by the balls and twist them really hard.

Paul Oates

Reg, there are two things I suggest will not change. The first is human nature and the second is that illegal activity is usually due to 95% opportunity and 5% intention. The more you can remove the opportunity, the less the criminal activity.

I afraid the reason the Somare hasn't done anything to fix PNG's problems is he is up to his neck in all the shifty deals. The real question now is who could change things if they (a.) had the opportunity, and (b.) had the desire to?

By 2012, if nothing upsets Somare's plans, there will only be a token sufferance given to PNG Constitution and virtually no control over any maladministration and malfeance. Clearly Somare would like to set up an hereditary leadership but is finding it hard to sway the various power blocks in the long term that currently have been bought.

It's a bit like England 1,000 years ago where the only real power was the king. Maybe every society is condemned to transit through an evolutionary process until a balance is reached that the majority of the population is either prepared or forced to accept?

I still think good communications and education for everyone is the key to steering PNG back onto the rails. In the old days, a metaphoric big stick helped as well.

Eh ya! Toktok bilong displa lapun ipinis nauia.

Reginald Renagi

Paul,gud pela apinum long u na ol ex kiap pren istap long down under ples.

I could not agree with you more but I do not think PM Somare has the time and inclination now to ever put things right before he exits politics. The PM has the power now to remove the rotten politicians and their cronies who are corrupting the system, but alas he has failed to clean this part of ship; so he is also guilty by association. It will be his biggest failure in the 42 years he has been in the Haus Tambaran. It is sad that he will leave PNG not as a better place. It's already too late for him as his swan song has been playing in the background for some time now.

It will just have to be the next leader who comes in his wake to do the job in a much better way with the right checks and balances in place. It's now time for a fresh new leader for PNG. Roll on 2012!

Phil Fitzpatrick

I think John has done a good job provoking the comments on PNG culture and its role in the development of the country.

Unfortunately he been unable to snow under the old fogeys hell bent on reliving the Kokoda campaign.

Paul Oates

Morning Reg. I've been giving a bit of thought to this topic as well while out on the tractor this morning. Very therapeutic driving a tractor and slashing the old grass. I think you're right about not giving up about what makes you culturally distinct. I also agree with Phil in that western societies aren't all that good an example in many ways.

The essence is not really about which form of society is better. The real test is whether the society we choose to live in has the necessary checks and balances to ensure those unscrupulous people who always seem to rise to the top of the political morass like garbage in the harbour, don't have it all their own way.

Clearly Somare et al are currently finding the Ombudsman an impediment to their total takeover of the PNG government. Whether most of the PNG people have any real idea of what the PNG Constitution means is open to conjecture.

I'm amazed that the so-called PNG Opposition hasn't made any real capital out of this issue. Either they are totally inept or they themselves don't understand that it's only their current Constitution and the Ombudsman's powers that stand between them and total subjugation by a dictator. That's where PNG is heading if no one is able to stop the rot.

As I drove around this morning was reminded of the dialogue at the end of that classic film, 'The Mission'. After the Pope's emissary sanctioned the destruction of a beautiful and hard won mission to the Amerindian people due to squabbles between Spain and Portugal, he was presented with a report by the Conquistador who led the attack.

"Was all this murder and mayhem necessary?" asked the man of the cloth.

"Your Eminence, the world is thus!" was the reply.

"No," said the emissary, "Thus have we made it."

Reginald Renagi

Hi Laurie - I note both John and Paul's comments and, while I agree with some aspects of them, I do not think killing the whole sacred cow is the solution.

It may cause the demise of the spirit of what being a Melanesian is all about. It will kill off what makes PNG what it was before it was discovered by white explorers, and what it is today.

We do not need to totally kill off the sacred cow, only its bad parts. There are many positive elements of the Melanesian Way of caring for others that many western countries do not seem to observe nowadays, as Phillip so aptly puts it.

PNG just needs to prune the bad parts as it adapts its Melanesian society to assimilate better in a fast moving modern world.

Phillip is so correct here, and that is we do not want to become a soul-less generic western clone in future. These countries have either forgotten, or done away with many of their good ways in the race towards progress, development and prosperity.

We do not want PNG to end up like that. What we really need now is a new vision, holistic plan and leadership approach.

As the current political regime does not seem to show it, then here's hoping the next lot after the 2012 polls will be a much better lot to take PNG to a much improved level in future.

Philip Fitzpatrick

The so-called “Melanesian Way” is enshrined in the PNG Constitution. The fifth National Goal of Papua New Guinea recognises “the value of traditional ways of life and culture and seeks to creatively include them in the economic and social development of communities”.

This principle is loosely defined as the “Papua New Guinea Way”. Although there are non-Melanesian societies in PNG, I think we are talking about the same thing.

There are a lot of good things in the “Papua New Guinea Way”. Caring for individuals in the community is something that is sorely missing in societies like Australia, for instance.

“The Papua New Guinea Way” is not a fixed system. It has been evolving for a very long time, even before anyone thought about writing it into the Constitution.

A lot of the bad bits, such as cannibalism and head-hunting, have been ditched. Clan warfare has been a bit harder to get rid of as has the ridiculous system of compensation in the Highlands.

Recent legislation will see it easier to use traditional land for economic purposes. Modification, not wholesale ditching, is the way to go.

I don’t think “The Papua New Guinea Way” is the problem. It is the way unscrupulous people, such as politicians, have subverted it for their own greedy reasons.

Some of these subversions have almost been accepted as new traditions.

I would suggest that tinkering with the Constitution while the present crew are in control would not be advisable.

I would also advise any aspiring PNG reformist to be very careful about throwing the baby out with the bath water – you could end up becoming a soul-less, generic western clone.

Philip Fitzpatrick
South Pacific Social Solutions Pty Ltd

Paul Oates

Hi Laurie,

I know it's easy to become cynical, given all that has gone on before and is still going on. The problem is that you either give up and walk away or try to suggest something constructive.

While it is quite possible that this suggested concept may go the way of all others and be either corrupted or misused, nevertheless, the constant complaining about what is happening to our taxpayer dollars from both sides of the Torres Strait suggests some new ideas are needed from what has been tried before.

Volunteer Service clubs and Church groups are some of the most respected entities in PNG and have been for many years. Rotary has been issuing their Blue anti Malaria mozzie nets for some time. While some are reportedly used as fish nets, many are put to good use.

I guess in the long run, its how you look at the glass. Is it half empty or half full?

I believe that if AusAID were REALLY serious about trying to do something positive and constructive, they would at least offer such a scheme up for volunteers to put their hands up. Maybe some of PNG Attitude's readers would be interested? Maybe even the PNG GG and the new Australian High Commissioner might jointly sponsor the scheme?

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. One thing's for sure. More of the current methodology ain't going to work.

Laurie Meintjes

John, as you say, the Melanesian way evolved over countless generations and probably served pre-contact PNG society reasonably well (although we cannot be absolutely certain of that because the records of the time are necessarily patchy and might lack objectivity).

But in post-contact PNG, it seems to have morphed into a Melanesian-cum-Western-Way that is trying to serve two traditions: the old and the new (the honourable Michael's recent gormless comment about gift-giving in the Melanesian tradition is an example of this).

Yes, the Melanesian Way has become a sacred cow, but now it is more speckled and better camouflaged than ever before and it will be very difficult to kill it off because we don't always know what we are aiming at.

Might it not be better, perhaps even easier, to modify the Melanesian Way in order to bring it into closer harmony with a new national context as opposed to the old tribal one?

I don't know the answer to that, but it does seem to me that there are some core elements of the old Melanesian Way that should be preserved.

The trick is to identify these, and then to get some sort of consensus about where we go from there. I wonder what the Melanesians themselves think about all of this? Any thoughts out there? Reginald?

Paul, I agree that an initiative to 'blanket' PNG with locally sponsored and maintained radio/TV facilities might help to inform local communities about the wider, national context, and the various issues that feed into that context, and thereby enable local communities to become more involved in setting and guiding the national agenda.

But I fear that the very Melanesian Way that John mentions will be its chief stumbling block.

The idea might be sound, but sooner or later, possibly sooner, it will run into some difficulty that will attract a slew of solutions which in their turn will become a morass into which the whole venture will sink.

But, hey, anything is worth trying; with a stray bit of luck it might work.

Paul Oates

An impartial observer often finds it easier to highlight a significant problem than people who have already been grappling with it for some time.

The more one is immersed in trying to understand the problem, the greater the risk is of losing objectivity.

It's a bit like looking at something from atop a mountain and, having become interested, walking down to have a closer look. After a while, you end up climbing over fallen trees and losing sight of whatever it was that caught your eye.

Solutions are also easier to understand if they are kept simple: that's the KISS principle; 'Keep it simple, stupid'.

To use yet another analogy, in Tokpisin a tok piksa, what might be the ‘helicopter view’ of what is happening in PNG at the moment?

Put simply, there is a lot of input of resources but few results. One could say that much of the effort to make things work better seem to vanish. Why is this so? as old Professor Julius Sumner Miller used to ask.

Clearly the well intentioned efforts and significant resources of entities such as AusAID are misdirected. The time has come when a change in direction is warranted.

While many PNGians despair at where their country is going, no real connection seems to exist between the vast majority of voters and those leaders who are determining PNG's priorities.

The sophisticated urban elite is doing very nicely, thank you. But the urban poor are increasingly turning to crime to survive. And the rural subsistence farmers are almost totally disconnected from day to day events.

So what's the answer? Why not have some of the AusAID millions sponsor an effective communication program for the vast majority of PNGians? Roll out community radio and television facilities to each local area.

How would this work in practice? Well, each, self identified community would be required to specify a public meeting place where that community could meet each evening.

This could be a Local Level Government hall or perhaps an NGO or Church building. The community would elect a volunteer committee to apply for an equipment grant.

The application must specify who the volunteers were who would be held accountable for the equipment and guarantee the security of those who may freely attend.

The program must be self sustaining and would therefore require provision for ongoing maintenance and supply of subsidised items like a solar generator and batteries, light globes, etc.

An essential and significant point would be that this program must not be in any way associated or linked to any government body or authority.
Each community would have understand that they, themselves were responsible for the security and upkeep of this public facility.

This would not be a government run arrangement and those who were required to run this program could well be recruited by AusAID from Service Clubs and Church organisations on a purely volunteer basis. School principals could for example, effectively use this program to help their students.

So might this work? Surely it couldn't be less effective than the current arrangement.

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