WITH RESPECT, and
with the hope that I shall not hurt Reg Renagi's feelings too deeply, I am
impelled to respond to his last commentary on my
A great many Papua New Guineans, perhaps most, take a dim view of critical expressions voiced about PNG by foreigners; especially when it is known that the foreigner was present, working and interacting in PNG in pre-independence times.
This is understandable. Australians feel the same way about Pommies who speak or write negatively about Oz. Kiwis are very touchy about what Aussies say about the Land of the Long Lost Vowel. And Sri Lankans (I was born of a long-established colonial family there) are similarly touchy.
Enough said, except to say that I try to be objective and avoid pejorative rhetoric or argument in my references to life and times in modern-day PNG.
Nonetheless, I have to say that a great many PNG'ians - mature, experienced, wise in the ways of the world and of PNG itself - bear an invisible chip on the shoulder.
A chip which occasionally grows into a log, a log which bridges a chasm so deep and dark that the individual doesn’t care to look down, and crosses with eyes to the front.
In this chasm lie a number of the components of the
I have written twice, recently, about the way or the system: once in PNG Attitude and also in a soon-to-be-published booklet, Guide to PNG. In the booklet I say that the way and its main component, the sistem is a linkage based upon shared tribal and linguistic heritage which, in its clan or family-based sense provides a number of crucial safeguards and benefits:
"One's physical health, welfare, and one's safety in time of trouble, one’s protection from the dire influence of sorcerers, one's support in old age; assistance both in obtaining permission to marry and in provision of the necessary bride-price; assistance with school - and university - fees when needed ... all are guaranteed under the overarching laws and observances and beliefs constituting kastom of which wantok sistem is a major component."
Papua New Guineans, and among them many who contribute to PNG Attitude, often advert to the negative effects of the wantok sistem and occasionally, and rightly, as Reg has done, to its positive attributes, which are many, and which in a land where little is done for the people by their government, may be seen as the glue which holds society together.
However, if you look down whilst crossing the chasm, gaining your instant recognition will be a willingness to tell a lie to avoid an awkward or unpleasant outcome; and a willingness to take what is not yours, provided that it is not the property of a blood relative.
These are facts of life in PNG, facts confirmed almost every day in the pages of the two national daily newspapers.
Consider, for instance, the alleged fraud just exposed in the country's major bank. This is not something new. I once experienced adeptly-covered-up manipulations of large sums - drawdowns on an aid project - during the transfer of the sums from the foreign currency account to the bank's head office and then to the provincial branch where the project account was located.
Just one instance among a great number I experienced over many years, but it was one involving large sums, as opposed to petty cash or fuel card manipulation, or the surreptitious changing of new tyres and battery for old on a company utility.
These are everyday affairs in private enterprise in PNG, and certainly not confined to the much castigated public sector.
Reg suggests that the real reason for the poor state of
affairs in PNG is that
Nevertheless it must be recalled that the sixties saw an
avalanche of independence across the colonial world and, contrary to what Reg.
says, there was international pressure for
Australians, themselves only freed of the colonial yoke of
PNG is a lovely country, one which has blessed me with much happiness, contentment and friends in abundance. But it’s a country where lies and stealing come too easily to too many. To the everyday worker, whose depredations are minor; but just as easily to the powerful and the influential, whose depredations may in effect run into tens of millions.
As well, the culturally-imprinted inclination to avoid taking hard decisions by virtue of lengthy discussion leading to a vague consensus - often a resolution to launch "a revolutionary program" or a "ten-year target" or a "capacity-building exercise" - holds ordinary people in an apparently unbreakable paralysis, a slowly-worsening quality of life in a land with so much to offer.
This characteristic is not the result of the actions or deficiencies of the Australians as colonial administrators, nor of their government.
It is certainly not the outcome of 135 years of dedicated work throughout the country by the various Christian churches.
It is a cultural problem, and only Papua New Guineans can deal with it. But first they must openly and willingly recognise it.