BY LEONARD FONG ROKA
STUDYING SOVEREIGNTY and reflecting on its place and impact in society in a Third World country like Papua New Guinea makes me doubt the meaning of being an ‘independent and sovereign’ state.
The concept is well enshrined in the PNG constitution and many other areas such as the Eight Point Plan (1972), the National Goals and Directive Principles (1975) and the current political roadmap, Vision 2050.
All these state that PNG must work towards strengthening and protecting her sovereignty. As Papua New Guineans, we have being moulded by our politicians not to be critical of the political, economic and social changes that occur around us.
This is a culture with very negative impacts today.
Sovereignty is authority over one’s own existence. It can apply to the individual, the community and the nation-state.
Academic Alistair McConnachie states that there are seven principles of sovereignty. Let me pinpoint exactly where our country stands on these principles.
A sovereign state must develop these principles in the shortest timeframe. Dragging its feet will make the nation weak and vulnerable to external control that may lead to puppet-sovereignty. In my view this is what PNG is today suffering from.
We celebrate PNG as a resource rich country but in our towns and villages the economic and social indicators depict the worst scenario: poor health services, unemployment, high cost of living, and so on.
I want to discuss my views about PNG’s position in regard to each principle of sovereignty.
The people of PNG must govern themselves without outside interference, make our own laws in response to our needs, and reject laws that are wrong by our beliefs.
PNG went off track with this pillar with few gains, if any. The founding politicians of PNG and the Australian administration of the pre-independence era ignored the fact that PNG was multicultural and did not educate or empower us to say how and when the independence agenda ought to be addressed.
The colonial masters just dumped us as nobodies into the basket of independence. Papua New Guineans were not prepared for statehood. They danced celebrating the independence in 1975 without understanding what nationhood was all about. We created for ourselves the Australia-dependent syndrome.
Today PNG has the most unpredictable political climate in the South Pacific that keeps inviting the First World to guide us in every step the nation wants to take. People are not exercising concern; both the politicians and the people are too irresponsible in nature.
(2) Economic sovereignty
As I stated, PNG was not prepared for the nationhood. Unequal distribution of wealth was the norm right from the beginning. In regard to this inequality, Bougainvilleans began their resistance movements responding to many factors, but I would only mention the influx of outsiders.
In attaining economic sovereignty immediately before and after independence, PNG had Bougainville Copper contributing the largest share of the national budget. This resource sharing was done at the expense of the Bougainville people.
PNG’s natural resources are today not the people’s but have become a common good for us and the transnational corporations that are based in the First World. With them, we share the land of PNG.
(3) Border control
Any country that cannot control its borders is not sovereign. PNG depends for its national security on her bilateral and multilateral relationships whilst keeping its governmental agencies, for example the immigration office, weak. Corruption enables illegal immigrants to enter and depart as they wish. Our borders are abused and we lack the power of deterrence.
(4) Localisation, not globalisation
The theory of localisation is a core principle of sovereignty because it establishes economic sovereignty. Globalisation destroys the ability of individuals, communities and nation-states to determine their own existence. Sovereignty is also, destroyed.
Globalisation reduces barriers to trade and investment and in the process reduces democratic controls by nation-states and their communities over their economic affairs. PNG concentrates its energies into attracting foreign investors and does not strive to create a conducive environment for local village-level businesses to progress higher in the commercial sector.
(5) Food and water self-sufficiency
The PNG government today is failing its citizens by not being able to control the import of food so as to boost local production. Most of our farmers and industrialists suffer from the high cost of production for their produce which makes their products do very badly at the local markets.
(6) Energy independence
To be a sovereign nation, PNG must be able to attain energy independence. It is perilous to rely on outsiders that often have imperialistic policies to weaken our country. The much lauded LNG project will never bring PNG energy independence when all developers are foreigners and the source of advisors are mostly attached to the World Bank and so on.
PNG, with the longing to quickly taste economic miracles, has by-passed the concept of ‘think big, but start small’. Energy is needed to drive PNG forward, but most people have no access to electricity. PNG is failing in this important area of development.
(7) Self-defence for self-determination
PNG to say she is sovereign must be able to defend herself. PNG, throughout its short history, has been politically and economically shaped by Bougainville, which she considers as her province directed from Port Moresby. Militarily, PNG had a good slap in the face from the Bougainville Revolutionary Army.
PNG is not sovereign in this dimension because all she has for her national security is her foreign relationship mechanism.
I believe some sort of economic and political repentance is needed for Papua New Guinea as a nation in order to save our future generations.
Minimising outside influences and maximising our sovereignty is a must for the betterment of the political system so we build PNG as a powerful country with an absolute say over its people and land.