PNG 'witch' murder a reminder of our gruesome past
Holmes in NG: The adventure of the black pearl 8

Nothing more obscene than a fat man on a bicycle


MY YOUTHFUL FORAY into academia resulted in a very humble Bachelor of Arts degree.

I hadn’t really expected to learn anything useful by doing it that I couldn’t otherwise have picked up by a bit of selective reading, but I did need it as a ticket to earn a half decent salary when I left Papua New Guinea.

My original analysis was reasonably accurate.  As I progressed the idea of pursuing academia seemed more and more like a hollow and futile path to wander down.

There was one thing that tweaked my curiosity during my aimless wandering through the halls of learning however and it is encapsulated in the only book that I kept from my youthful experimentation. 

The volume is entitled Bureaucracy and Democracy: A Political Dilemma by Eva Etzioni-Halevy.  She also wrote another interesting book called Political Manipulation and Administrative Power.

The television series Yes Minister? was playing at the time but I’m not sure what influence it had on Ms Erzioni-Halevy’s thinking; she certainly didn’t refer to it in her texts.  But avoiding the innate truths that sometimes lurk within popularism is an academic trait I think.

In any event her erudite arguments caused me to complete what was a sort of post-graduate major which the University Of Queensland called Government but which was really Politics.

I suppose Joh Bjelke Petersen would have banned it if they had used the latter name.  So, despite Joh, I actually ended up with one and a half degrees before I abandoned the idea forever.

The reason I mention this is that Paul Oates recently directed me to an interesting argument that he was conducting with someone we both hadn’t heard of on another Papua New Guinea orientated blog.

This guy was arguing that there is absolutely no relationship between culture and politics in PNG.  He also went to great pains to suggest that the relationship between corruption and the Melanesian Way, which Paul had raised, was nothing more than a fiction.

He also claimed that The Troubles in Northern Island had nothing to do with the differences between the Protestants and the Catholics!

For him the real bogey man is the political system and in particular unicameralism, that is a parliament with only one chamber. 

His suggestion is that an upper house or a house of review (or multimember electorates, which I admit I don’t quite understand but which he claims fixed the problems in Belfast), is all that is needed to cure corruption.

With an upper house he says even the most evil depredations of the politicians can be pursued and tackled and brought to account.

He cited some interesting historical precedents.  Queensland, for instance, according to him, is the most corrupt state in Australia and it doesn’t have an upper house (not sure where NSW under Labor fits in here).

This is where I dragged out my old university text book.  The last major assignment that I submitted followed the argument that it wasn’t politicians or outrageous decadence that brought down the great empires and dynasties of the world but the bureaucrats and public servants. 

The Roman Empire and the great Chinese dynasties all eventually succumbed to their glutted, greedy, inefficient and immovable public services.  The Holy Roman Empire eventually strangled itself in its own red tape.

I haven’t seen anything to dissuade me from this view and I still maintain that it is at the heart of most of Papua New Guinea’s troubles.  Having recently spent five hours in a filthy building with broken lifts trying to buy an outrageously priced guide to the amendments to the Land Group Incorporation Act didn’t dissuade me from this view either.

That I had to tramp up  and down betel stained stairwells while a perfectly good and brand new purpose built building for the Lands Department stood empty across the road because someone hadn’t remembered to pay for the lease didn’t amuse me much either.

I doubt whether even the most honest and enlightened politician in PNG will get anywhere in solving the country’s problems until the public service is turned upside down and given a bloody good shake.

As for introducing an upper house one only has to look at the recent standoff between the government and the Supreme Court. 

The high court was acting as a de facto upper house trying to curb the zealous and misdirected craziness of the politicians and the end result was a monumental stasis where nothing happened until an election came along.

An upper house or senate in Papua New Guinea would do the same thing.  I can see it now; legislation being batted back and forth like a ping pong ball.  As Paul says, it’s the Melanesian Way; you talk, talk and talk but you do nothing. 

An upper house would simply open up an avenue for more talk and more standoffs; although the vision of Belden Namah storming the Senate has certain attractions.  He, more than anyone else, probably appreciates the futility of setting up an upper house in the Papua New Guinean parliament.

When that fat man on his bicycle, which is really the poor old groaning state of Papua New Guinea, rides past take a closer look at his face and you’ll see that it’s not a politician like you thought but a public servant.

And as long as his fat arse is hanging over the saddle things will continue on just as they are now.


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Tony Flynn

"Fat arse hanging over the saddle". I like it.

I believe that there are systems in place to keep public servants honest, however they are not energised.

I really believe that all public servants and politicians should face financial auditing relating to the actions they have direct responsibility for.

For instance, high school headmasters are rotated between schools with no audit of financial expenditures in their previous schools.

Town and district managers are transferred without acquitting their previous positions.

Council presidents have discretionary funds of K250,000 to spend as they wish, I have never heard of any of them being audited or acquittals made.

All presidents should be audited prior to the next council election, otherwise they will have a big temptation to misuse these discretionary funds to the detriment of other candidates.

I find it difficult to believe that more expensive and tighter financial control of our politicians and public servants would be counterproductive.

A flood of money would be released from corrupt practices to be available for development.

Marjorie Andrew

The PNG public service functioned well in the first decade or so after Independence. But then it became 'politicized', and the laws governing the public service and 'service delivery' started to change. With these changes, no training was provided to adjust to the new system(s) to understand and manage the changes being introduced through these legislations. It led to political leaders working the system to get what they wanted. The blame lies on their shoulders. It's the head that must change in order to bring changes to the public service, I believe.

Ross Wilkinson

Unfortunately, David, I saw first hand evidence of the wantok system at work when I was in PNG, admittedly many years ago.

I was summonsed to Port Moresby from my north coast station to give evidence on behalf of a villager whose investment had been stolen by an Investment Bank official.

I sat in my hotel room for two days waiting to be called to court only to be excused as the case had been dropped.

An argument developed between the Police who called me and my department over who was to pay my expenses.

I learned later that the bank official's brother was a senior police officer who had arranged for the charges to be not proceeded with. The poor villager lost his money.

The wantok system was alive then and from all evidence, I believe is still alive today.

Peter Kranz

And what's happening in the Independent Commission Against Corruption in NSW right now?

Macdonald, Obeid and others - it's a cesspit of corruption.

And NSW has an upper house.

Paul Oates

Rossco, I was being a bit tongue in cheek. The problem as I see it is that you can't mix and match the two cultures.

Sure you will always get corruption in a public service but unless you have a regime that ultimately holds people to account, there will always be a problem and never a solution.

David Kitchnoge

That tired old excuse about the wantok system being a cause of corruption in the PNG public service is a joke. Else we all would be corrupt!

PNG public servants are under no more pressure from their wantoks than the rest of us in the private sector and elsewhere.

I'm afraid those immoral, corrupt pigs have nowhere to hide anymore. They must find some quiet time to go sit down and listen to that little voice from within.

Ross Wilkinson

I'm a bit dubious about the "day of enlightenment" idea because it just can't and doesn't happen like that because even with the code of conduct and signed undertakings, you still have the same set of people in the public service.

They will be still subject to the tribal pressures and daily temptations that underpin their existing conduct. They will still have the same peple overseeing their conduct.

As a career public servant in Australia, I have worked under the conditions recommended here and seen the corruption that still occurs.

For it to work in PNG, the whole public service would need to be replaced which just can't happen overnight.

The system would need a code of expected conduct, a set of rules and penalties for breaches that are signed to by all public servants.

Finally, to make it work, effective education and enforcement is needed to be driven from the top down and bottom up including an effective whistleblower/reward program.

Can this happen in today's PNG public sector environment?

Marjorie Andrew

Yes, it's a really sad state of affairs when there is no accountability in the public service and hardly any law enforcement when procedure or laws are broken.

An employee can be suspended, or terminated for mismanagement, theft or fraud, but it seems that it's too hard for the employer to lay charges (and that goes for the private sector too).

Michael Dom


Any comment on or from the current Ministry of Public Service?

In the state PNG is in this ministry should be attached to the PM's office by an umbilical cord.

Paul Oates

At the risk of offending some, I suggest that the concept of trying to improve a sick system from within will always fail. It’s rather like attaching ‘bandaids’ to a dead person. The concept of helping is laudable but in practice its useless and a total waste of money and resources.

The concept of ‘Strongim Gavaman’ and any AusAID program aimed at enhancing the PNG Public Service is basically flawed because the expectation of a responsible and accountable public service is a ‘western concept’ predicated on the necessity of effective time and resource management.

For many years I have suggested (in truth, on this very blog), that the only way to effectively improve government services in PNG is to rule off and start again.

A special ’day of enlightenment’ should be gazetted by the government and on that day, effectiveness and efficiency recommences. Public Servants would be required to sign a legally binding contract that required proper attendance and due diligence thereafter and at the risk of dismissal should they be found wanting in either area.

This is nothing new and amazingly seems to work in other countries that enjoy at least the semblance of a government system that works.

Too far fetched you reckon? Too prescriptive? Give me a period of six months of re-education and training and the responsibility and authority to make it happen without political interference, and I’ll lay a bet it would work.

Yet that’s the rub isn’t it? Would the PNG government be prepared to make it happen or indeed to have it happen? Husat isave?

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