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Breeding new leaders for PNG – limiting the right to public office


An entry in The Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Essay & Journalism Award

DEMOCRACY permits individual rights to citizens who are abusing their privileges when intentionally engaging in corrupt activities.

To minimise this scenario, the state needs to restrict certain rights of individuals. The right to contest for public office as stipulated in Section 50 of the Constitution of the Independent State of PNG is one such right.

The tendency of Papua New Guineans to respect the position of leadership in pre-colonial societies including colonial and post-colonial is evidence that leaders have a paramount role to play. The axiom of “where the head leads, the tail will follow” confirms the paramount role leaders play in any society.

The change in the geo-political climate warrants a change in the style and substance of leaders. By restricting the nomination of candidates in both the national and local government elections to only educated and professionally experienced citizens is perhaps contradictory but is crucial for the common good.

Plato’s The Republic talked about his ideal state composing of three classes. The merchant class maintains the economic structure of the state, the military class meets security needs, and the philosopher-kings provide the political leadership.

Through a system of education and vocational selection, the three classes are separated. Believing that men are of different and unequal abilities he considers that they should be put into social classes corresponding to these differences and suggested the following method.

For the first 18 years of a boy’s life he should be taught gymnastics and sports, playing and singing music, reading and writing, a knowledge in literature. If he passed this course sent on to the next stage, those who failed were to be tradesmen and merchants.

From 18-20 those successful in the first course were to be given two years of cadet training. The ones thought incapable of further education being placed in the military class as soldiers.

The reminders, who were to become the leaders of society, proceed with advance studies in philosophy, mathematics, science and art. Such education was to be a state concern, state supported and controlled, selecting men and training them for service in the state according to their abilities.

In a bid to create our own philosopher kings, legislatures should amend certain laws to set a criterion to determine who should contest national and local level government elections. This will restrict the right to contest for public office to certain individuals who are potentially viable as leaders.

This can be done by amending Section 84 and 85 of the Organic Law on National and Local – Level Government Elections (OLNLLGE) that deals with the nomination of candidates.

Section 84 states that no person is qualified for nomination for an electorate while he is nominated for another electorate and that last-mentioned nomination has not been withdrawn.

There should be a new sub-section saying thatonly those with a tertiary or technical education in any field with 10 years or more experience in the public or private sector respectively are eligible to nominate.

Clear understanding of how the government operates and the main objective of having a government, understanding of the economy and the social conditions of the surrounding communities are highly relevant knowledge the intending candidate should possess prior to nominating.

Section 85 states that a nomination must name the candidate, his place of residence and occupation. Also it must set out the qualification by virtue of which he is qualified for nomination and be witnessed by a person to whom the candidate is personally known.   

There should be a new sub-section stating thatthe candidate must be a resident of the respective province for 3 years or more. For example, for the Kundiawa-Gembogl open seat the candidate can be someone of any ethnic origin but a citizen of PNG who has lived in the provincial capital or the surrounding areas within the electorate for more than 3 years.

What happens if this particular person is in another province or is in the National Capital? If this person’s intention of contesting is genuine then after his required 10 years or more service in the public or private sector he or she should retire, retrench or somehow be a part of the community he or she is interested in representing.

The country needs leaders who can not only think but analyze issues with a greater understanding. Furthermore, leaders who understand the mechanism of domestic and foreign politics as well as economics and other pressing issues are like precious gem stones in this globalize world.

What about those past leaders like Imbakey Okuk, Pita Lus and others who were not highly educated but managed to bring the country to where it is now? By comparing the global political climate in their era with today, surely educated leaders are more suitable because the level of interaction between different countries is increasing due of globalization.

Papua New Guineans have abused the term freedom. The fact that it is every citizen’s constitutional right to run for public office, some of PNG’s current leaders and some past ones have fit the category of unqualified leaders.

Maybe they were traditional ‘bigmen’, chiefs or uneducated self-made business tycoons but without the intellectual capacity acquired through higher education their understanding of issues concerning national interest has contributed to the lack of good governance.

Uneducated leaders have a tendency to be more egoistic which is in contradiction to the Organic Law on the Duties and Responsibilities of Leaders part II. This law talks about the responsibilities of leadership. Instead of putting the interest of those they represent the greed of entertaining their own ego is by far the greatest. Violating Section 6 subsection 1, 2, 3 and 4, consequently, most of them isolate themselves in Port Moresby and concentrate on building their own empires.

PNG needs patriotic leaders who can break out of fragmentation, parochialism and insularity to really unite the country to move forward, in comparison, after Deng’s era China used economic development to strengthen nationalism. A charismatic nationalist leader with a strong emphasis on national development is a potential spark to uniting nationalist sentiments.

For the local level government the proposed amendments will help elevate the standard. Educated people will seriously address issues affecting the community rationally and in a more coherent manner promoting accountability and transparency from the lower levels of government.

Perhaps the proposed amendments will be a pull factor for future leaders to go back and work in their province or district boosting human resources and having a positive effect in the developmental process.

The right to represent is striped from the general public and given to those who are privileged. As a result, the argument of creating an elitist society comes into the picture, those citizens with material wealth, education and money will have the comparative advantage.

Since democratic societies are highly classed those on top of the hierarchy will surely benefit. This will inevitably lead to the dependency theory of development, which argues that elites in developing countries like PNG will exploit their country’s resources by dealing with multinational corporations and rich nations.

By creating an elite class who are educated they can also be agents of underdevelopment. With power they can manipulate resources and the decision making process to feed their capitalist desires.

In the lower levels of government those village ‘bigmen’, chiefs and self-made uneducated leaders or formally traditional leaders will be marginalized. They will no longer be eligible for public office.

This means the new educated leaders have to earn not only the trust of the educated people but also the illiterates in the village that still possess the mentality of recognizing traditional leaders. 

Not only quality political leadership is necessary but quality bureaucratic leadership is vital in moving forward. The selection of departmental heads should be based on merits and not the fulfillment of political favours. The political involvement and pressure from government ministers has hampered the function of the public service machinery and affected the development of the country.

Persons with a master’s or doctorate degree in a field related to the department and who has come through the rank and file are worthy of appointment. The selection process should be free from political pressure and involvement where the respective departmental head should serve the full term of office unless the officer is implicated.  

Penalties presently imposed on those found guilty of corruption-related offences provided under the PNG Criminal Code are lenient compared with penalties imposed in other countries for similar offences according to the late John Nero.

The late Ombudsman Nero advocated that the penalty for engaging in corrupt practices should be harsher. This will make citizens think twice about engaging themselves in corrupt practices. If found guilty a lengthy sentence or a hefty fine will underline the seriousness of the offence, a 7 year sentence or K2,000 fine will have an impact on the offender.

For leaders who are entrusted with the leadership role they should face a tougher sentence because of their status in society. They should be the ones setting a good example, if found guilty of corruption in office in conjunction with the Leadership Code their assets should be forfeited to the state. They should be exiled or imprisoned for a maximum of 14 years.

By restricting the rights of citizens to stand for public office to potentially viable leaders will help breed a new type of leadership. As well, quality bureaucratic leadership will strengthen PNG’s bid to tackle corruption and enhance the performance of the public sector to successfully implement government programs. 


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Michael Dom

More than food for thought John, I think Barbara's correct in saying that someone teaches us decent, moral conduct at some time.

Blame the teachers or not?

I think the disconnect is when, as adults, we are free to choose whether or not to adhere to those learned principals.

That's the guts of it - our leaders make a concisous decision to break laws and have things their own way.

That is, at least in my books, a criminal act.

Sure we all have bad days, but when so many more people depend on them and they should and do know better, why do they commit the sneaky and under-handed acts which are a betayal of the trust and confidence people have placed in them?

No, perhaps its less a question of morals, but of moral conviction.

That doesn't mean they'll get it right all the time, but at least we can expect that their intentions are good and that their right actions bear out their right words.

So, what about them SABL's they said they'd do away with?

John Kaupa Kamasua

Great points Barbara and Michael...something to chew on for now

Michael Dom

Well John, I have to maintain my disagreement, along with Barbara.

I adhere to the thinking that, 'In all of Nature only Mankind is unnatural'.

Mrs Barbara Short

I was just thinking, in our society parents probably train children in honesty, telling the truth, obedience etc from about 2 years of age. Even at this early age children start to test their parents and if they are deliberately naughty they have to be reprimanded.

Some people seem able to do this by talking to their children in a firm manner, using a few threats, others might resort to physical punishment. But at the same time once the child has shown some form of repentance they will be forgiven and shown that they are still loved.

This gradually sents up some moral understanding in the child of what is right and what is wrong. Primary school teachers also have a great role to play in teaching their young charges how to behave correctly.

One female primary teacher was recently telling me of the problems she faces with first born sons from one racial group that has settled in Australia. They have not been taught respect for woman by their parents. She has a hard job teaching them this important lesson.

John has mentioned that at the core of the leadership problem is morality. It is often the morality or honesty when handling large amounts of money that do not belong to you, being responsible for that money and using it honestly for the purpose for which it was intended.

The leaders, both politicians and public servants, have to be able to stand up to all sorts of temptations when it comes to handling large amounts of money.

I'm just thinking as a European white Christian lady living in a democratic society. Things may be different in PNG but I feel that morality has to be taught to every person at some time by somebody. It is not something done by Mother Nature.

John Kaupa Kamasua

Hi Michael, my point on the sense of morality (for leadrship) is that in each of us and in all societies there has and always been a sense of right and wrong. Regardless of which society we look to, this has generally been a common thread.

While much of it has to do with people learning the moral codes and the dos and donts of their respective societies, can we comfortably say that nature has imbued in us the inner sense or what is generally wrong or right? Arent we all then the product of nature, porgrammed to do amazing things than the other animals?

I am certain the leadership crisis and its plethora of problems may benefit from a different perspective in which people and leaders are reminded that we are capable of doing good, obeying the laws etc...and importantly demonstrate a leadership that benefits the majority.

I think thats a perspective worth pursuing. Then it follows that we are meant to live rich and fulfilling lives, without doing it at the expense of others,and if we do,will then brings us into conflict with the law - codes that we all agree to live by.

The laws of the land are however supreme still.

I am with you on the seond para.

Michael Dom

I don't know if Mother Nature cares much about morality, that may be entirely an artefact of humanity - civilisation required moral codes to develop, and often developed at the expense of the natural order.

I think learning to live together successfully demands that certain philosophies are agreed to and adhered to so that the actions and reactions of individuals and groups is maintained within boundaries of what is considered acceptable, i.e., good, right and just: to make co-inhabitation achievable, challenges surmountable and sometimes inherent socio-economic conditions bearable.

John Kaupa Kamasua

Thank you Bernard for making us think and for all the very valuable comments on this important point.

Leadership at all levels in different forms is important. That we all know but what we dont have control over is how can we get the right leaders into parliament and how then do we keep them on their toes to do what they are supposed to do.

There are so many areas that need tigthening up, and many factors .... the people who work for the MPs, to voters ,to govenement officials in the key agencies to should I add more?

Getting educated people into Parliament will not necessarily solve all the problems.

It is a moral issue, one that is all the time knocking on each of our conscience.

And it is about each time we face a moral situation, and we decide how we are going to live with ourselves and with each other. That to me is core because we have already seen that declaring ourselves a Christian country, having strong laws don't always work!

The leadership issue is a moral issue, at its very core and essence.

And that sense of morality I would like to think Mother Nature has instilled in all of us within.

It should be what is within that should compel us to comply with the laws, demonstrate servant leadership and serve others as leaders.

Any demonstration to the contrary and is way off the mark!

Phil Fitzpatrick

You're not trying to tell me that prior to Keating politicians had no control over the public service are you Paul?

I guess of all our politicians Keating attracted the most hatred; I don't even think his fans liked him very much. Tad arrogant some people said. Like most politicians he did some good and some bad. At least he was entertaining. I rather like entertaining politicians; Bill Skate was a good one. I can't wait for Belden Namah to become the PNG prime minister. I am an admirer of Curtin, Menzies, Whitlam and Fraser too but they were all fatally flawed men.

The 'Yes Minister' line that public service mandarins manipulate ministers is a myth. So is the idea that they know what is best. Which is a shame, because if that were the case PNG might be in better condition.

Another reality that a lot of people fail to acknowledge is that for democracy to work you need a class system. That is, in PNG, the so-called predatory elite is a necessary evil. Bernard Yegiora makes this point when he cites Plato's 'The Republic'.

I've worked for several ministers of both political persuasions in Oz and the first thing they did when gaining power was sack all the senior public servants appointed by their predecessors and install their own people. I suppose Keating made that easier to do.

Replacing senior public servants with incompetent and inexperienced wantoks is an entirely different matter. When that happens the politicians and the public servants conspire to arrange things for their own benefit.

It would be interesting to know the relationships between Minister Malabag and the public servants involved in the BPP scandal.

Paul Oates

This isn't a problem exclusive to PNG. Just look at other examples throughout the world. In Italy for example, an ex PM (bunga, bunga) with a lot of money keeps bobbing up like something in the ocean you'd rather not find you were swimming next to.

In Oz we have our fair share of crooked politicians and so called leaders. Some would say more than our fair share. We do however have a legal system that eventually catches up with them or so we are led to believe.

The essence of the problem both we and PNG share is that there has been a blurring of the separation of powers. In Australia this was primarily due to people like Keating, who when blocked by the entrenched public service doyens, organised a PS review in the late 1980's by an accounting firm's boss (The Block Review).

Guess what? The Review recommended the PS be put onto an Accrual Accounting system that needed teams of qualified (QPA) accountants to understand, let alone implement across the whole of the Australian PS. These accountants who had to be recruited from private businesses immediately demanded annual incentive payments and presents for doing the job that others had hitherto only been paid to do.

A ‘user pays’ system was then introduced yet everyone knew the public services were already paid for by taxation. Under the new rules, if you couldn’t demonstrate a service was profitable, it was outsourced or sold off to private business. Then the senior PS levels were put on annual contracts, appointed by their political masters and became totally controlled by their government ministers and guess what? What Keating wanted, Keating got. Yes Phil, we’re not all Keating fans are we?

Australian politicians had previously understood and endorsed the separation of powers enshrined in our effective method of government. Separation of powers was essential to prevent those at the political level who wanted to control the purse strings but who were not either qualified or elected to do so, from directly spending government money. This is the policy that was in vogue when PNG's Constitution was originally drafted.

After the Block Review, many politicians who had never had any line management experience, were then given the ability to undo decades of accepted policy guidelines specifically developed to stop an old disease. The panacea or controlling medicine had suddenly now been removed. If they wished, politicians could now make actual decisions without having to deal with an accountable PS who had abide by the law of the land. The potential for political corruption had returned.

How can we then assess PNG when the separation of powers mostly never happened or has now been ameliorated in practice? But maybe PNG can learn from past mistakes?

Phil Fitzpatrick

It will be interesting to see how Bougainville goes if they vote to be independent before 2020.

I'm not sure they are ready for independence but they have certainly fought for it and there is a very distinct Bougainvillean nationalism now, something that there wasn't in PNG in 1975.

MIchael Dom

I doubt the value of Machiavellian thinking.

I thought that our societies had always been egalitarian rather than authoritarian, Bernard.

The kleptocraccy that developed over time in PNG is not an authoritarian type system - it is merely opportunistic.

Machiavelli's statement could well justify NA's ten year long reign which provided stable government - but at what cost?

And the O'Namah regime overthrowing the Somare regime in 2011 - but at what cost?

What is the end and is it agreed to by all?

This may be pursued by a democratic process following egalitarian customs, but is it equitable for all?

Who's stands to benefit from this end point and when is it desirable to achieve?

For example, some argue that Independence was a milestone too easily obtained when people were unprepared.


"The ends justify the means" Machiavelli.

The Asian countries show an alternative development model especially China.

Samuel Roth

I do not necessarily believe incompetence and corruption are something for the educated only. However I have evidence to believe that those leaders who have ruled some of Asia's vibrant economies, including the East AsianTigers and the Asian New Industrialised Economies have done so with iron fists.

I mention Lee Kwan Yew who transformed Singapore, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad who ignored western alternatives and transformed Malaysia, Suharto, Mao Tse Dong, Marcos, Ho Chi Min etc.

They placed their countries at certain levels that not only beat PNG's development standards but made Asia a vibrant and lucrative economic hub.

Ruling with an iron fist does not require the exclusive use of force but to hold back certain rights and freedoms so that progress can be achieved.

Otherwise, freedom of speech and freedom of press have suppressed developing nations to remain in the third word domain for decades and will continue to do so because, those powerful tools are in the hand of the people who remain critical of seemingly good government policies and governance in general.

Exclusive rights and freedom to people, including that of elected leaders, need to be reviewed legally. Thus, a legal reform is necessary if we need to embrace/realize development. However, it is not the only way to prosperity.

Bernard Yegiora

Very enlightening comments, thank you all.

Felix Baraka

I think not PNG alone, but throughout the whole world, the Westphalia issue(1648) as the state system started to emerge, and I guess, this is where the society structure that we have today with define authorial boundaries is substituted with legitimate functional bodies. But this issue of leadership is old as the domination of the human beings.With regard to the biblical context, Lord the Creator has given the domination power to the human resource. Then His chosen people, he did not just choose them, but He instituted the authorital body of leaders, and then claim that everything he had created should be sustain and upheld by his words. There are significant elements that I think we can derive from Mr Yegiora's essay on breeding PNG Leaders, but its quiet complex here. The availability and capability of the institutal bodies to instituted leaders, and what should be a foundation to sustain Leaders. The Lord has established Israel's leadership institution, and by means of sustaining them, he gave them the "Ten Commandments" which guide leaders to lead the entire people. The institution to breed leaders is quiet plural, but the sustaining elements to leaders is straight jacket-our nation Constitution. The institution in the PNG context in the foundational process; the family, then we have the community, province and the national authority as a whole(building s brick wall) to create avenues for breeding leaders. All this stages are the testing process to fine the purity (the lord test Moses in different ways to see his maturity). I believe the fundamental role of leaders is to teach his people to become leaders, because leaders think generational meaning, they know that someone is going to succeed and their bigger vision is to ensure the next generation is advancing, therefore, they teach their people when their term comes to end, they have no regrets because they know there is someone capable to lead the generation forward(this include all the process stated above). If it is hope that the society of PNG should be sustain and uphold by the constitution and if it operate not according to the constitution, then it collapses, chaotic. And I think this is the foundation of principle. You cannot stand on iron roof which is ten meters high and jump down hoping to be safe. You are definitely against the law of gravity, therefore, death. The concept is just the same as our constitution. Leaders are to lead and their leadership should be sustain by the constitution or the law accepted by the society. If they don't follow the constitution, they lead people into confusion breeding adversity in the society.
Therefore to breed PNG leaders for tomorrow, I am convinced, the "institution" to breed leaders and the "foundation to sustain"and uphold them is the foundation of principle to breed leaders.

Thank you, my view and comments

Michael Dom

I follow you Bernard. My hesitation is the idea people will get in their heads that a 'PhD' is better than a certificate when it comes to leadership capabilities and moral character, social conscience and plain old pasin.

The other side of the coin Barbara alludes to is the inability of educated leaders to accept sound advice from their peers.

Pride? And fake drugs may be the fall.

Arrogance? And the constitution can be changed at the drop of a hat.

Ignorance does what ignorance is regardless of educational qualification.

Mrs Barbara Short

This is a very complex problem, Bernard.

Just look at the present situation over the bungled contract for the supply of pharmaceuticals. Both the Health Minister and the Secretary for the Department of Health appear to be well educated, but not in medicine.

The sad part about it is that they are not willing to take the advice of the Professors of Medicine and the Doctors' Association that their decision could well lead to fake medicines entering PNG again and causing many deaths.

There is obviously a great difference between being educated and being wise.

Bernard Yegiora

Yes I agree it is not easy, but we have to start somewhere.

If it means to change our laws so it helps in one way or an other to propel good leaders to the legislative house then it is worth trying.

Regardless of the fact that educated people do involve themselves in corrupt practices. PNG needs to have a benchmark.

By limiting the right to contest public office to those who are educated we will lay the foundation for future changes.

Phil Fitzpatrick

I hate to be boring by citing another Australian example but one of the most effective prime ministers in Australia in the post-war period was Paul Keating.

He set up the economic conditions that have seen Australia grow into a prosperous nation and he continues to offer sage advice in his retirement.

Paul Keating left school at 14 and never went to university. That was a conscious decision on his part. He didn't believe that tertiary education could offer anything that he couldn't provide himself.

Michael Dom

I agree with Sil. I am not too familiar with the law but I don't think getting better leaders is about 'limiting the right to hold public office'.

There are other factors to consider as well, like clan allegiances, bribery and as Sil alluded criminal minds are not uneducated.

No, I don't think the solution to breeding better leaders lies solely in legislation.

It's not going to be that easy.

Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin

My countryman, unless we get rid of the majority of half baked school drop out-cum politicians and village coffee buyers in the current helm, we will not have a bill passing the first stage of reading to amend Section 84 and 85 of the Organic Law on National and Local Level Government Elections that deals with the nomination of candidates.

The other point here is not only the uneducated are egocentric (narcissism) but look at all these many educated men with university education that are implicated for corruption and other crook deals.

Continue to teach these to your students because the ripples of it will get the moment going for a change.

Mrs Barbara Short

Excellent reasoning, Bernard. You create the picture of the ideal state. I remember studying Plato and loved "The Republic".

But I'm sure you realize you are sitting in your ivory tower of learning and as a teacher can only do your part by teaching the multitudes that come to your lectures.

Maybe you will go into politics one day!

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