Aid: an appetite for change & fresh ideas
Bruce Flynn OBE, dies in Sydney at 79

Aid: forget analysis; education is the way


IT HAS TAKEN a long time for Australia to realise that aid can be as damaging as no aid.  Successive governments in Australia have thrown money at Australian aborigines in the form of “welfare”. 

This is a classic approach by westerners who say “we have wheelbarrowed money to them, why aren’t they able to advance themselves ?”.

(We can see a parallel in the BP oil spill.  Billions will have to be thrown at the solution, when perhaps that money could have been put into a far stronger design, with much better supervision of the piping contractor, and pre-designing a number of reactive remedies for a potential oil spill.)

The end result of welfare for Australian aborigines was a slow but sure degradation of their character, nature and lifestyle.  We have all seen the devastating pictures of drunk aborigines in public places, the domestic violence and the degradation of their personal and community lives.  The aborigines themselves realised that “welfare” was destroying them, and have railed against it.

A parallel exists in PNG, but there is an “aid industry” here.  What aid manager wants to work themselves out of a job when he or she can produce fuzzy results, the solution for which is another aid project to fix the previous fuzzy results.

AusAID must totally ban the words “strategic analysis” from its vocabulary.  PNG suffers from “paralysis by analysis”.

I have seen a number of consultants hand over their three volume “strategic analysis” at the airport departure lounge, written in an arcane language, using Australian values, and purporting to be a revolution in “strategic thinking”  and “delivering strategically conceptualised, angularly interposed, but vertically enveloped outcomes”.

I have also observed the recipient of the “strategic analysis” late at night, poring over an English dictionary attempting to decipher the Greek writing of the report.

Eventually, the report is carefully ignored ('Janet, file that under M for Miscellaneous'), and the recipient hopes no one asks for it.  Besides, the cost of implementing the recommendations is unimaginable. 

The end recipient has more pressing issues, like paying the last six months power bills (final disconnection notice on his or her desk), and having sufficient petty cash to buy a new ink cartridge for the fax.

If there are radical recommendations involving the wholesale rearrangement of delicately placed wantoks, cousin brothers and sisters, and other recipients of patronage, the report may even be shredded or taken home as paper to start the morning fire (I have seen this happen).

It seems that failure continues to be supported.  Are the aid experts not seeing that if failure continues, the issue may have “failure” written into its genes.  If there is repeated failure, then try something else, particularly something that had repeated success in the past.

There have been some success stories with Australian aid, noticeably in infrastructure, particularly in the hard items such as bridges and wharves, which have direct and tangible benefit on the surrounding community and ultimately PNG.  Australia should continue to target this type of aid.

Giving aid to improve governance has been a failure simply because there is almost no commitment to it politically and corporate governance is not really understood all that well.    Let Papua New Guineans work out corruption in their own way, and in their own time.

There are honest and dedicated politicians and public servants, but they are overwhelmed by the dishonest, have no solid power base, and are lone voices in the night.

We would do better to continue to provide hard training institutions like the Australia Pacific Technical College, which gives young people a chance at high quality training, and increase the numbers of students to train in Australian higher education institutions.

Educated people tend to be less prone to corruption than uneducated people, particularly when they receive their education in an ethical setting.  Education is the way forward for Papua New Guinea, not more “strategic analyses”.


As an extra observation, there are a number of contributors who have an intense interest in PNG, and thank heavens for that because the average Australian punter has no interest in PNG (which I suspect permeates into the Parliament of Australia).

Donald Horne was so right when he wrote that Australians do have priorities in life which roughly follow:

•    His or her leisure (Australians work hard at their leisure.  (“Must get the tinnie ready for next Saturday”).

•    His or her personal possessions (the “pride and joy” is washed and polished at least 4 times a week).

•    Sport (more football paraphernalia in the home than art).

•    Social activities (generally limited to the local club, where there are no threats to his or her thin views).

•    Family (almost due for Mums monthly visit).

•    The bastard of a boss he works for.

•    Civic affairs (Paul Keating introduced civics into schools, when it was discovered that most senior secondary students did not know we had a Constitution, and were not sure of the function of the building with the flag pole on top).

•    Some other issues as long as they do not disturb or challenge the items above, religion being one.

I well remember trying to get a price for some fire-rated glass for a construction job in PNG .  I finally got on to a young bloke and I asked for the price and some “freight to Papua New Guinea”, to which he replied “where is Papua New Guinea ”.

After I explained that it was the land mass to the north of Australia,  our borders are some 50km apart, that a substantial war was fought by Australians and Papua New Guineans there, and that there was considerable risk to Papua New Guinea and Australia, he said, “Ah, now I know!  There are a whole lot of blackfellas there killing each other”.


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