Make less noise & deliver what is real
Crook, clean & mean – where are we at?

The problems that aid, & AusAID, can't solve

BY JOHN FOWKE

DID YOU KNOW that the justly-admired frontline medical corps, Medicins Sans Frontieres, has managed and operated Angau Memorial Hospital's medical and emergency services as best they can under difficult circumstances for the past three years as an errand of mercy recommended by the UN?

MSF arrived in Tari late in 2008, and despite harassment from drunks and criminals continues to run this major provincial hospital catering for some 180,000 people- where for five years there has been no full-time, permanent resident PNG national doctor, let alone the five which are needed, and for whom aid-funded fully-furnished three-bedroom houses have long been available.

With all the fully-justified complaint about the overpaid, largely immature and naive consultants being deployed to PNG by the multinational aid industry and their patrons at AusAID and DFAT, it would have been a simple matter, one imagines, and one worthy of praise, to have stepped in, MSF-like, with some practical medical and para-medical people to prop up these and many other needy hospitals in PNG.

I repeat my subsequently-derided statement that money intended to help PNG in the fields of health and education is far and away better handed to the major, established Church Missions - most of which maintain a majority of honest, idealistic and practical trained workers operating in these essential fields.

I am writing this in Goroka where the district hospital was built and opened in 1967, and for many years remained an excellent institution.

Today it is very run-down, facilities for the disposal of general medical and surgical waste, for instance, have deteriorated to where they no longer exist and an open fire is used.

Supplies and operating funds are scarce but, even when there are supplies, they are often sold by staff members to private practitioners, of whom there are a number in town.

This is just a short list of the wrongs existing within the health system - one could go on and on – and, realistically, it is a huge social problem in a society which has fallen hard between two stools in its express-ride transition from the Stone Age to the Toyota Age.

I wrote about this last-mentioned aspect - honesty and ethics in a multi-tribal society - in a piece which also received its small measure of derision- "that’s like saying all Muslims are terrorists!" - but my observations are accurate.

These are problems that any amount of aid will not solve - PNG society just has to work its way around it. Or not.

Unfortunately there are no charismatic and ideological proto-leaders lurking in the bush, although we daily look for such to emerge.

Australia will do well to stop trying to carry out hugely-wasteful "capacity-building" and "produce marketing" programs designed and implemented by major AusAID-linked service-providers like Curtin University, ACIAR, Coffey International, GRM, Price Waterhouse et al, and look at sending well-prepared teams drawn from areas such as the armed forces, ambulance services and the more realistic of NGOs where medical and para-medical people and technicians are used to working in situations of unrest and poor resources.

This instead of the spoiled graduate pups of Oz suburbia who think that by draping a bilum over their shoulder on arrival they have become recognisably assimilated and will be welcomed and valued in PNG society.

Money spent in this way will be money well-spent, as would money spent in making the National Sports Institute and the PNG League work well.

Ambassadors such as Mal Meninga and his mates do far, far more for the Oz - PNG relationship, and the development of a more modern society, than all the kiddiecrats and bearded-mid-life-crisis-sufferers sent up by the aid mafia.

How about funding a tour of a really good Bougainville Bamboo Band around Oz/NZ and the Pacific, ending up at the Edinburgh Festival?

This embryo nation needs this sort of confidence-building to make it think and act like a nation, not a collection of several hundred jealous tribes who can’t form a bond of common interest and nationality largely because they have achieved nothing at all as a antion!

Lateral thinking and some real knowledge of what makes PNG tick is badly needed at DFAT/AusAID to help strengthen our mutual relationship; a relationship which will remain until the sun finally cooks the earth to the extent that all we mammals starve and die and all the remaining faithful float coolly off to see the Bikpela Man or his gatekeeping representative.

Comments

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Trevor Shelley Snr

I must endorse this article, which highlights how ineffectual AusAID is when it gets down to the nitty gritty of getting something done on the ground at an economical cost.

Several years back, when working with Chevron Tax Credit, I chaperoned three very delightful young ladies from AusAID around the Tari area. We visited Tari Hospital, Margarema and some other areas.

Although they were well intentioned, and geed up the people we visited, it was very obvious to me as an observer that nothing was ever going to get off the ground in the way of practical assistance - and in this I was correct.

Academic qualifications often are useless when not supported by practical people on the ground and even more useless when dragged down by bureaucracy.

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