Is PNG headed for a bust? And another rebuild, regain, restore?
20 October 2015
THE last time Papua New Guinea experienced a major economic crisis and a devastating drought was in 1997 when the late Sir Bill Skate was prime minister.
Skate was the leader of the People’s National Congress (PNC), now the lead coalition political party under the leadership of Peter O’Neill.
After failing to resuscitate the economy and with a kina in free fall, Skate and the PNC were voted out of power in a vote of no confidence by the People’s Democratic Party led by Sir Mekere Morauta.
It so happens that the present PNC-led government is in the middle of its own turmoil with the nation said to be experiencing a cash flow crisis made worse by one of the worst droughts in history.
It is interesting that these two events have occurred in the lifetime of a PNC-led government. Not to say that PNC is a political party destined to bring doom but the coincidence is too good to be ignored.
Recently I bumped into a friend who, like every concerned Papua New Guinean, is worried sick about what is to become of PNG in the next year or so as we face the inevitable truth that we are already deep into a crisis, the extent of which we do not know.
Having been bombarded with news about recent developments in the economy and the water crisis at Sirinumu dam, Port Moresby’s main water supply, he could not help but contemplate the consequences that could arise if the economy crashed and water supplies hit rock bottom.
He feared that it will not be long before water to most settlements will be cut and more people will be made jobless giving way to pandemonium, lawlessness and social disorder in Port Moresby and other PNG towns.
Using the analogy of water in a tank he told what would happen in PNG as the economic and water situation got worse.
In a tank filled to the brim with water it is hard to notice the debris and fungus at the bottom. However, as the water level drops, the bottom of the tank becomes visible and the debris and the fungus are exposed.
At the same time, the water gets smelly and the only logical thing to do is to empty the tank and refill it with clean water.
This, my friend forecast, is what will happen with corruption in PNG.
Sooner or later the whole rotten mess of corruption in PNG will be exposed and gotten rid of. The problem is when it will happen and who will do it.
I realised from the conversation that the question of when corruption will be brought under control is something that rings loud in the hearts and minds of most Papua New Guineans.
Corruption in this country has seen widespread inequality and a yawning gap develop between rich and poor.
Ordinary Papua New Guineans like my friend are asking if the price of basic goods and services will ever come down. By now every Papua New Guinean knows that cost of living will always go up regardless of what happens in the economy.
In a developed, well-functioning economy that should not be the case, as prices should readily adjust to market conditions. In PNG unfortunately there is much unseen market intervention that seemed to work in the favour of the wealthy ruling class.
The sad truth in all this is that a large portion of Papua New Guineans - including blue, brown and green collar workers plus a large population of the middle income class who are the engine of growth - will always be playing catch-up.
In rural areas, after 40 years of independence, most of the folks are still living in a pre-modern state with little knowledge of what is happening in cities like Port Moresby and Lae let alone in the world. The state of most public utilities and services are deplorable. This is where it gets really unfair.
As I look back on our country’s history, I notice that what happened after 1997 was a period of rebuilding, regaining and restoring of the PNG economy.
Sweeping reforms initiated by the Morauta government brought back stability and confidence in all sectors of the economy. This provided a platform for the subsequent Somare government to roll-out plans to further boost PNG’s economy.
The LNG development, PNG’s largest project ever, is a result of those years of sustained stability and visionary reforms. What this country needs now – if it is not too late - is a government that will use the gains to lift the entire nation to another level. We should not go back and start all over again.
The world is moving and Papua New Guineans are striving for better lifestyles and improved living standards. It is totally unacceptable that, since we have opened our doors for our natural resources to be exploited for the purpose of prosperity, we still have some of the worst social indicators anywhere in the world.
Again a reflection of the crippling nature of corruption that has pushed this nation to its knees and sucked the life out of it.
The period after the Bougainville crisis until 1997 were painful years for PNG. My father who was a National provident Fund (now NASFUND) contributor, along with several thousand blue collar workers, lost a large chunk of his contribution due to corruption.
However, being uneducated, he and most of the blue collar workers felt it was beyond their reach to demand compensation from the government. Justice still needs to be served to those criminals who were responsible for the nation’s biggest white collar heist in history.
Those were lost years that some of us, including my friend, grew up in and wish never to experience again in our lifetime. Yet here we are with all signs pointing to a repeat.
If that part of PNG’s history does repeat itself, history has shown that the next crop of leaders will have to rebuild, regain and restore this nation and set its future to rights once again.
The miserable part about all of this is that most Papua New Guineans, like my father, my friend and I, will have to experience the whole dreadful cycle within the same generation. All we can do now is brace ourselves for what is to come.
Analyzing the symptoms is the easy part. It's easy to comment on what you can see and feel. Finding an effective solution is the hard part.
Why did the Morauta government not get the chance to follow through with the effective reforms it brought in? It failed to get the support it needed to keep going.
Maybe the last two decades have seen sufficient numbers of people start to see the sort of leaders who will lead PNG out of the quicksand and quagmires it has been led into?
However, where are the signs that there are those who now understand the problem and have now worked out home grown PNG solutions?
40 years of experience should surely be enough to work out what doesn't work and to think about what will work? The classic definition of insanity is to keep doing that which doesn't work.
The next general elections are rapidly approaching yet there does not appear to be anyone who is preparing to stop doing what doesn't work and start identifying and organising nationwide to support leaders with proven integrity and honesty.
For example: Where is a Charter of Political Honesty and Integrity that candidates must sign or be legally held accountable? When will the PNG legal system be allowed to work for the nation and not for those who are proven to be corrupt?
If enough people publicly and consistently demonstrated to their leaders that they weren't prepared to accept corruption any more and the the police, public prosecutors and courts were allowed to do their work without fear or favour and constant interference and obfuscation, those who are currently enjoying the benefits of their corrupt activities might think twice about what they do next?
There are three types of people. Those who make it happen, those who watch it happen and those who constantly wonder what happened?
The ball is well and truly in everyone's court. The hard part is picking it up and running with it.
Posted by: Paul Oates | 20 October 2015 at 09:33 AM
We hope history doesn't repeat, but we must empty the corrupted tank and refill with fresh water. Something has to be done and someone, anyone, everyone must involve. This is loud, Busa.
Posted by: Philip G Kaupa | 20 October 2015 at 09:23 AM
Well written and analysed, Busa. I think your thoughts here should be put out in the mainstream media as a commentary.
Posted by: Raymond Sigimet | 20 October 2015 at 07:18 AM