One woman tries to defy PNG's man's world
Deaths, vote rigging as election enters 2nd week

Time for action with dysfunctional, violent PNG


IT HAS BEEN DOWNHILL ALL THE WAY since Australia, under international anti-colonial pressure, granted independence to Papua New Guinea in September 1975.

The country’s plunging trajectory towards state failure will not be arrested by the eighth post-independence election now under way with the usual ethnic strife and electoral corruption.

PNG (population 7 million) is a tragedy. It is politically and administratively corrupt, incompetent, dysfunctional and violent. It rates a disgraceful 154th of the 182 countries on the Transparency International corruption perception index, ranking equally with the Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea-Bissau.

It is arguably Australia’s most urgent national security challenge because of its strategic location, its administrative chaos, its substantial mineral wealth and its large population of vulnerable Australian expatriates.

Australia, which pours aid totalling nearly $500 million a year into PNG, has an abiding national interest in a stable, safe and friendly PNG, but Australian military leaders have detailed plans for evacuating up to 12,000 Australians living there.

This year has been especially tumultuous with rival administrations emerging under the leadership of Michael Somare and Peter O’Neill, both candidates in the current election. It has also had two police commissioners and two armed forces chiefs at the same time. Attempts have been made to intimidate the senior judiciary.

Australia has experienced PNG’s political delinquency before: In 2006 a PNG Defence Force aircraft secretly flew Julian Moti, wanted by Australia on child sex charges, to the Solomon Islands on orders from as yet officially unidentified high Defence Force or government officials. The dramatic Sandline affair in 1997 saw the PNG government import South African mercenaries to combat Bougainville insurrectionists.

So what might the Australian government do now to arrest the country’s descent into even graver chaos and criminality? First, Australian political leaders need to give more time and attention to PNG. It is not enough to engage vigorously with a country only when there a crisis.

Second, it should attach more good governance conditions to its aid. It might, for example, offer PNG more Australian civilian and military officials to assist in running struggling departments. The current contribution is helpful but limited.

Third, it might offer to expand project aid to PNG to further boost Australia’s reputation and to match efforts being made by China to gain a toehold in PNG by building roads and other infrastructure. (Budget aid is not an option in PNG because it is too easily stolen.)

Fourth (and far more difficult), it should consider whether an initiative based on the so-called RAMSI army and police initiative in the Solomon Islands might be developed to combat ethnic violence and improve the administration.

As PNG’s former colonial master, any such actions by Australia will be criticised by some PNG leaders as imperialist and neo-colonial. But Australia has no desire to take over PNG, and it is entitled to note that its loudest critics in PNG are those leaders who are trashing the country while they fill their pockets. Australia is entitled to protect its citizens, its security and commercial interests in PNG

Little effective nation-building has occurred in the past 37 years of PNG independence. Roads, bridges, health posts and schools have deteriorated. Far too many people live in filth and poverty and remain primarily loyal to their local tribal, language and ethnic groups. “Big man” politics prevail with support and votes purchased from leaders’ personal slush funds.

Unlike Fiji, PNG has not yet slipped over the edge into military dictatorship. But Australia can no longer take comfort in the hope it has some inbuilt sense of limits that ultimately checks the worst political and financial excesses perpetrated by leaders.

The current elections, with a week to run, are already creating civil disorder with Somare and O’Neill both standing for office and doubtless plotting to resume their battle for the prime ministership (if Sir Michael’s health holds out).

Some 46 so-called parties and 3435 candidates are contesting the 109 parliamentary seats. Already there has been violence, a kidnapping and thefts of ballot boxes. Whatever the declared outcome, PNG politicians will continue to engage in the thuggery that has been driving PNG towards a cliff since 1975.

The Australian government should act now before it goes over the edge.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Tanya Zeriga Alone

Show me a Papua New Guinean with extensive experience working with local communities who believes that AID should be stopped and I will say, yes PNG does not need aid anymore.

From my understanding of the article, the question posed was born out of frustration that aid doesn’t seem to work here in PNG.

I see this as an invitation for stakeholders, including Papua New Guineans to enter into dialogue on how this aid program can be better used.

So my question is, where to from here? What are the next steps to start talking about these points brought up? Or was this just another rhetoric?

Arthur Williams

Stop Australian aid to PNG.

Paul Oates

Hi Tanya, what you say makes a lot of sense. The teachers you talk about should however first be employed in Australia to select and educate those who are running the overseas aid programs for PNG.

You cannot purchase experience in a take away plastic bag or in a paperback book. The only way you can acquire experience is in the traditional and time honoured way in the 'school of hard knocks' or by listening to the advice of those who have already been to that school.

The expression drummed into me when I was young was: 'You can't put an old head on young shoulders'.

A updated and targeted version might be: 'A university degree may not necessarily indicate common sense and intelligence and a large salary doesn't automatically attract the right person.'

For many of us 'on the outside looking in', the answers to the problems facing today's PNG seem to be like trying to force square pegs into round holes and when they don't fit, throwing more and more money at high priced help to try and make them fit. The whole process of overseas aid appears to have become a self perpetuating industry in its own right and encouraged by all those who feed on it for a living.

It took some of us many years to understand what works in PNG and why. That invaluable experience is something that apparently both PNG and Australia have consistently turned their backs on as it doesn't fit into their paradigm.

Before anyone from either side of the Torres Strait can even start to improve the current situation there needs to be a change in the mind set and determination of those who are currently calling the shots.

The impetus for that change must come from PNG and be forcefully pushed home because those currently in charge of the Australian overseas aid programs at the moment clearly don't see the need to change. They just keep hitting all those square pegs with millions of dollars hoping something will eventually fit. Since successive political leaders in Australia and PNG haven't wanted to change anything, why would there be any drastic changes? The whole process urgently needs a circuit breaker.

Bring back the Pacific Training Institute (a renamed ASOPA) and staff it with some experienced presenters who have been to the kunai roots and demonstrably achieved results. All those who are to go to the Pacific and PNG must then pass a course at that school first. That course must be designed by both PNG and Australians with relevant experience.

Primarily, the first and foremost lessons at the new Pacific Training Institute must be in language and culture. No one should be sent to PNG without being able to speak and understand the language and cultures of where they are going and that is not the high rise bunkers in Moresby.

Secondly, unless the PNG government accepts a water tight contract on achieving results and guaranteeing ongoing maintenance funding to every project, no project should be funded.

Ol Wantok. Husat inap lo girapim displa wok a?

Mrs Barbara Short

Thank you, Tanya, for your thoughts. I agree wholeheartedly, "education" is the way to go.

But what needs to be taught? You mention the need for "civics and ethics". I'm sure all the old kiaps and ex-teachers who write for this blog would have some good ideas on what needs to be taught.

The need for "Political Education" has been mentioned many times. Also,the need for a better understanding of how to handle money has also been mentioned and I know there are PNG writers writing books on this topic which could be used to help the people with this common problem throughout the whole country.

Over many years, down here in Australian schools, in groups like Scouts and Girl Guides, in the YMCA/YWCA, and in the churches, etc, we have had a lot of "Leadership training" courses, Peer Support courses, etc. I know that many PNG people have joined in these courses over the years and have benefited greatly.

The recent course given to some leading PNG women to help them prepare to stand for the election sounded excellent.

Maybe you have studied a course in "civics and ethics" somewhere and could devise one suitable for PNG.

PNG needs a group of PNG thinkers to get together and set up an organisation that could implement some form of "mass education". They could then work through the schools,( also P and C's), colleges, universities, churches, and other community groups, to promote "civics and ethics" and other worthwhile courses which could be available everywhere, for people of all ages, right down to the small local primary school.

This organising committee, made up of people with a like mind to yourself, needs financial backing. Maybe AusAID could help. It needs a good organiser - some PNG/or other, person who has good organising skills and the time to devote to this massive task.

This organiser needs to get help from Australia. Maybe the Kokoda Foundation or Rotary could help. Surely Australian university students may like to be involved. If only I was starting life over again, I'd come and help!

Sori mi lapun nau. Ating tasol!

Tanya Zeriga Alone

What can Australia do? You said it - please do not send more police and more advisers. Send us teachers.

We need teachers and an education strategy. Apart from English and maths for the young ones, the rest of the population needs to undergo tailored lessons on civics and ethics.

Unlike what most people identify as the source of our issues, I do not believe PNG has an attitude problem, I see it as plain ignorance.

I say this because, within 8 short decades PNG has leaped from stone-age to high tech age, a transition that had taken other countries hundreds of years.

Despite the leap in technology savvy the human psyche and value systems has not advanced at the same rate and PNG is hopelessly lost in transition between the 800+ cultures and the western culture... and in the absence of a value system, people just act out what they are familiar with.

A case in point, supporting a clansman is familiar as opposed to supporting a good person from another clan to be the leader.

I believe things will eventually change for the better, but to fast track change, I strongly believe that education is the way to go. We need teachers not policeman with truncheons.

David Kitchnoge

Thanks Colin. I was only using the current vote rigging that is going on up there in the highlands to demonstrate the point about tribalism.

Of course corruption and wastage occurs everywhere but perhaps hot headed tribalism in all its glory is more evident in the highlands than anywhere else in PNG.

I know the enormity of our challenges and is the reason I said I feel beaten. But that was said out of frustration.

It is those challenges that make life interesting and we will deal with them and overcome them - with our without Australia. And in ways that we can sustain into the future.

Colin Huggins

David. Don't give up at all. Fight the corruption and from what I have read over the years, it is not confined to the PNG highlands. The coastal areas seem to be the same, Daru, is hardly in the mountains, nor is Lae or Port Moresby.

A US Vietnam War veteran moved to Madang after his discharge. I have seen the photos on his blog. What was once pristine territory for tourism is now a useless mess.

The roads in Madang were pot-holed. He has sold his business of a charter company after his wife died and moved back to Arizona. Photos shown down here and on this blog of Port Moresby show utter filth and dispair.

Lae for example in the 1960s was a beautiful town, the beaches off the Morobe coast were pristine, the villages were clean and tidy. What do you have there now?

Dregerhaffen school was kept in immaculate condition and the buildings were old WW2 vintage for the classrooms and the dormitories. New one were being built when I was there 64/65. They were being built by Australian supervisors and keen locals.

Dregerhaffen also had a medical clinic with what was then called run by a "Lik Lik Dokta" and the young fellow was really good. He took a pride in his work.

At Finschhafen they was a PNG trainee dentist. He extracted an inflamed tooth from me. No after problems, whatsoever. He even came to check on me. So if this can be done then, why not now?

The situation is not "hopeless", it is because you and others before have allowed this to happen since you were given your Independence. Just do something for the betterment of the people up there, now, and don't expect Australia to keep money flowing in.

The plug might be pulled and the PRC might just take charge and then you will be too late to do anything about it. It is a scenario to frightening to even to try to imagine.

Good luck and plenty of it.

David, if you would like to see this man's blog, I am sure Keith will give you my e-mail address and I will gladly sent it to you.

David Kitchnoge

Indeed Paul Oates is right in saying that the chaos and madness we are seeing in the Highlands has its roots in tribalism.

But what is the difference in the PNG sense of tribalism and the Australian sense of tribalism? Australia is a country of settlers whereas we are a country of indigenous people.

It follows then that when a PNGan talks tribalism, we are talking about our own flesh and blood and not some neighbour who has no connection whatsoever to us other than the physical proximity of where we live.

So to answer Paul’s question: What can Australia do? The honest answer is "nothing".

One would expect the so called educated people to lead the way in changing their people’s perspectives and world views. But these are the same people who are perpetuating the raw and primordial tribal emotions.

It's a hopeless situation.

Sigh…I feel beaten.

David Wall

I must say that most of what Barker says is spot on. I visit PNG frequently, and it is appalling to see how little or nothing has been done for the villagers of the country.

I've been trying for over a year by addressing and appealing to the powers-that-be to get an X-ray machine for the Wewak Hospital, as far as I know without success!

It now must be over 2 years since the hospital has had a functioning X-ray unit. I have pointed out that a portable X-ray could be purchased for as little as $7,000.

You would think that some of the wealthy Sepik politicians would just go ahead and purchase an X-ray and donate it to the hospital.

It's a shame that so called liberals are for ever denigrating what they call colonial rule and not face the fact the average person in PNG was far better off under Australian Administration than they are today.

John Wali

I would agree on Australia stepping in and my recommendation to actually solving the problem would be as follows:

1. Aust Federal Police in key police dept posts. This includes prosecution, interal affairs/investigations and provincial commanders. This will ensure everybody is singing from the same page whilst keeping the internal clean from corrupt practises (no more policeman bashing their wives or police vehicle running out of diesel).

2. Australian Engineers to be engaged with the Works Dept to work with PNG engineers in progressing implementation of maintenance programs on infrastructures. This will ensure the 10% "gift" is totally eliminated.

3. Australian prosecutors to be engaged in key position in the Ombudsman Commission department. They will keep the polly boys upright for once so that they could do some honest day's work. If the pollies disband OC, thats fine, the police prosecutors will get them per point 1 above.

4. Australian judges to be appointed to the bench specifically to hear Leadership Tribunal cases. I say this on the basis of what has happened. The CJ cannot be trusted to dispense justice fairly.

5. Australian accountants/auditors to be positioned in key Finance and Treasury department. That should ensure money gets spent where it is supposed to.

6. Finally, this is my best option, but it is only a wish - PNG pollies (those half baked, ill educated, gun totting, forked tongue hoods) can atleast spend 6 months in Canberra to observe the most basics of decission making and implementing them for the people!

This will ensure they work out of their system the "big man" mentality and replacing with "service" orientated mentality. I believe something like this happened when PNG pollies were brought to Sogeri and were taught how to eat with fork and knife.

Colin Huggins

Peter - What do you expect? Countries are throwing money left, right and centre for rights in PNG. Who is getting this "loot"? Politicans and their greedy families.

It seems to me, from afar and I will remain that distance, that most politicians don't give a shit about their constituents or the responsibilities involved. Just their bank accounts.

Read what this lady has reported (Margareth Tini Parua). That should open some eyes?

Geoffrey Barker is right - "Time for action with dysfunctional, violent PNG".

Did you, Peter, and others see SBS news last night here in Australia? The delightful B Namah in his orange Hawaiian shirt having a go at the present PM. The biggest joke of all time.

What are PNG'ians in store for if Namah gets the top job?

I hope people who live in PNG read what Ms Margareth Tini Parua has reported on this blog.

A moment for the better can be done, a moment for the worse - God help PNG.

Paul Oates

What Should Australia Do?

Australian commentators and journalists have recently identified a large island immediately to our north. This may well have something to do with the ongoing PNG general elections that seem to generate a predicable array of corruption and maladministration stories that are so beloved of the Australian media.

Yet the real issues should be starting to polarize for anyone who has spent more than a modicum of thought about our nearest neighbour.

Put simply, why would the same or similar system of government apparently being practised in both Australia and PNG seemingly work in one country and not another? The answer is quite simply: Tribalism.

One could quickly point out that tribalism is alive and well and actively practised in Australia. Go to any State of Origin NRL match and see it on show. Look at the sales of football jerseys in tribal colours being offered for sale and being snapped up by avid supporters of either the Blues or the Maroons who are often seen with multi coloured paint on their faces.

Cane toads and Cockroaches are tame labels when the competitive juices start flowing.

Try going to Melbourne when any AFL match is on and ignoring the tribal colours on show or girls at the stadium in skimpy skirts and bunches of streamers stirring up the emotions of the crowd prior to the match.

The ancient Romans would have appreciated the spectacle as being very familiar but probably wonder why there were referees and rules for stopping the bloodshed before too many deaths occurred.

However concerning national issues, these primordial emotions are able to be put aside when it comes time to vote in general elections or defend our country in time of war. So why is this possible in Australia but not apparently so in today’s PNG?

The issue is simply one of perspective. If a PNG person is fortunate enough to receive an education and enter a larger world, that person’s perspectives change and they become able to see the forest and without concentrating on the trees. They themselves and their influence are then unfortunately often liable to be dismissed by the ne’er do well and labelled ‘elite’. The opportunity to use positions of power to assist tribal associates then becomes a powerful force in order not to be completely isolated from the tribe.

The problem is that the vast majority of PNG’s population has been trapped in a time warp where they still live in an underdeveloped, mostly unserviced, rural environment with very little hope of improving their everyday lives. Old habits die hard. The tribe has been the source of communal wealth and solidarity. Why would they ignore this traditionally important aspect since there is no real alternative being offered to them?

So perhaps the question should really be asked: ‘What can Australia do?’

Peter Kranz

Kopson - I think we are saying the same things from different perspectives.

I reckon PNG people are getting a bit tired of armchair critics from other countries (like Barker) telling them what to do.

After all, PNG is an independent country.


Maybe if the dolts from Canberra actually come to PNG and saw how things were going they might get an idea of how to fix things instead being armchair critics.

All Australia is doing is looking after its interest, it is not overly concerned if PNG becomes a failed state as long as the money goes its way.

How much of that aid that Australia gives goes back to Australia when the aid money pays high salaries for its so called Australian advisors and accommodates them in expensive apartments while there are capable Papua New Guineans who can do the same job but it is better to bring in a mate then give an educated PNGean a job.

Suggest you do more research before telling us how things should be done.

Peter Kranz

Intervention is not a viable option in my opinion. Let PNG people exercise their democratic rights and sort out the problems for themselves.

Hope for the future lies with the younger generation. And the women.

Sure there are significant problems in PNG, but old farts like us sitting on our backsides complaining about what has happened since independence are patronising, backward-thinking and unhelpful.

Reminds me of Monty Python's Four Yorkshiremen skit.

Do you want PNG to become Australia's Vietnam?

Phil Fitzpatrick

Apart from a couple of minor points, PNG was never an Australian colony and there are 111 seats up for grabs, not 109, the general drift of Geoffrey Barker's article represents a neat and succint summary of the place since 1975.

I think the old hands who have been going back and forth to PNG since 1975 will agree with him, it's time for Australia to step in and fix the mess.

This won't happen of course, Australia can't even get its act together to deal with a few asylum seekers in other than an inhumane way. It is also so obsessed with the economic aspects of everything to be blinkered by reality.

I'm afraid that those of us who worked in PNG, before and after independence, are resigned to the sad reality that it is a failed state on its way over the edge and that we have wasted our time.

Paul Oates

Prophetic words Geoff, but exactly what should the Australian government do even if it could get out of it's own way?

Perhaps the first thing that would really help focus the Australian public on our nearest neighbour is to set up a new Department, entirely separate from Foreign Affairs and staff it with people who actually know something about the Pacific and her people. Don't merely transfer those already in on the grand game of obfuscation.

Foreign Affairs has been demonstrably egg bound for decades about how to effectively engage with the Pacific and especially PNG, the largest Pacific nation.

Subservient Parliamentary Secretaries and assistant ministers have proven unable to gain any traction with a succession of ministers whose primary focus is prancing about the world stage and making grandiose statements and pontifications to those in hot spots on the other side of the world. The real players in places like the Middle East must be killing themselves laughing at our expense as they busily kill themselves.

We have just honoured our dead from World War 2 who went down with the Montevideo Maru.

Their deaths were due to a lack of planning and commitment by the dunderheads in Canberra that refused to acknowledge the intelligence that was being sent them from those who knew what was happening to our near north.

Let those on the MM and many others who gave their lives not die in vain and their sacrifice be yet again forgotten and covered up by Canberra mandarins who wouldn't consider actually visiting first hand PNG's kunai roots when the delights of Europe and other high profile destinations offer far more salubrious attractions.

Mrs Barbara Short

Very sad, but probably, in many respects, also very true.

But I doubt if there is any Australian politician/political party, who could come up with all the answers.

I just hope, that with all the new forms of communication available in PNG today, the 7 million PNGians can be woken up, become activated, and educated, and new PNG leaders will arise who are able to do something about solving their problems.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)