SABL debacle reveals the power hunger of PNG’s ruling elite

What I can do for my country is keep the faith

Michael 2014MICHAEL DOM

“Faith is the only known antidote for failure” – Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich

I HAVE been struggling with the thought that the upcoming national elections in 2017 may decide the future success or failure of our country.

But I don’t entirely hold to this ‘now or never’ notion. Good people, with a will, must and do endure – one way or another.

Recently there have been many writers and commentators in PNG Attitude and elsewhere who have sounded a ‘call to arms’ for us to do something about the national elections next year. Others have called for change in the current political system.

While I agree with Martyn Namorong that one election cannot undo the troubles of the last 40 years I also think that we need to find amongst ourselves the leaders who are willing to step into the political arena to get something started.

Some of those leaders are already at work and we should support them through the electoral process.

At this time it behoves us all to think more about what we want to do for Papua New Guinea and what is in our power to do right now.

My fellow writer has expressed his thoughts on having a “can do” attitude, positive thinking and community based movements for change.

I agree with much of his thinking and with the bottom-up approach of people in communities taking responsibility for their own wellbeing. That is self-empowerment, and is in fact what a good government should enable its people to do.

Eventually, however, community movements need to coalesce into bigger arenas to become nationally defined movements for change. This is how political parties have their basis for representation.

In essence I don’t believe it is a matter of us wrestling power away from the ‘predatory elite’ and dethroning political czars through the electoral box or by otherwise igniting some revolutionary conflagration on a national scale. That kind of effort is not now within our powers and the latter may not necessarily achieve its desired objective.

On the contrary, I believe it is a matter of rekindling a spark in the grassroots people to use the power that is already in their hands. Reinvesting in individuals and in groups, in communities and in well organised (civil) societies, and finally on the national scene by arriving at a consensus for securing political representation.

Consensus is after all in the Melanesian Way.

Castigation of the ‘predatory elite’ and expulsion of political czars may be achieved with several million candlelight market power rather than a burnin’n’lootin.

I believe this socio-political movement may take time to build up momentum but can become an inevitable avalanche of change in PNG’s democracy.

It is essential for any sort of movement that aims to create and foster change that its leadership keep faith with its followers.

Therefore, while I understand Martyn’s dismissal of the national elections and of our current democracy as a viable form of government, I steadfastly believe in democratic principles and in democratic elections.

Firstly, it seems counter intuitive to me to trash the very system that allows us to talk about trashing it without first having in mind a better system and the means with which to achieve it.

We should fervently defend the right to say what’s wrong with what we are doing when we are doing it. True democracy allows this.

More importantly, it is unfortunately in our nature to corrupt any political system in existence because these are human constructs. (It’s a pity that humanity’s proclivity for capitalism too often over rules our social conscience.) All dis shait ain’t a fault o’ de system – it’s the user!

As Phil Fitzpatrick points out, the form of democracy PNG takes up may be different from that experienced in other nations. And this is a point which I believe we should keep in mind.

We have by hook or by crook, determined and will continue to determine the outcome of our democracy – good or bad. We will likewise affect any other system we come up with.

No matter how bad we think things are we should keep in mind that we arrived here via a democratic process. We have only ourselves to blame. And it is preferable that we return to good via a democratic process.

On the other hand I also agree entirely with Martyn’s call for political reform.

In PNG democracy is continually tested by master puppeteers who play in the shadows; the democratic processes are twisted by our adept and/or inept public servants and service mechanisms; and the guiding principles have been thwarted, in most cases intentionally, by our past and present parliaments.

But those actors and their actions should not shake our belief in the value of democracy over other political modes in existence or theoretical, nor should it mean that because we have not yet had our ‘victory at the polls’ that we should quit democratic elections.

Perhaps we are frustrated because we have not used democratic principles and processes properly. But have we truly exhausted all the avenues available to us?

As Martyn commented, “Political reform is what is needed including changes to electoral cycles and electoral boundaries as well as the levels of government and the powers of each level.

Indeed more focus should be on broader participation of citizens in decision making as opposed to reliance on dumb incompetent political "leaders" to provide leadership.”

Yes. So we need some strong political generals.

Strong generals do not balk at the loss of a few skirmishes or battles when the war is not yet won.

We need to find those generals.

We will need them for the political reform that we call for – to clean out the rot in our government systems.

Parliamentary pandemonium, overt government corruption, extensive bribery networks, election fixing-threats and violence etc., to me these are all symptoms of a disease infecting the system.

The disease vectors are using desperate cunning and extreme efforts to resist the inevitable change that will come about when the correct processes are followed and better leadership teams arise.

We are the people responsible for enabling and ensuring that those better leadership teams do arise. We cannot conveniently divorce ourselves of this responsibility by contriving to discard a system that we have not used properly.

Because securing better leadership may take more than one election the responsibility to ensure this rests with us now, before, during, after and in spite of the next national elections.

Democratic elections are cyclic one-off events where voters and candidates engage fully and freely, and it is every citizen’s right to behave and vote as they please during that time.

The responsibility of citizenship however is an ever after occupation, not a now or never execution.

As Martyn comments further, “My view therefore is more active citizenship and greater participation of civil society in the affairs of nation building as opposed to reliance on institutions of the state.”

The greater and longer term strategy we need is to affect citizen responsibility positively and to support avenues for their active participation.

The national elections are an honourable path to take, and good leaders such as Dame Carol Kidu and Hon Gary Juffa have walked it well before.

Their past victories prove that when we use the system correctly the best outcome may still eventuate. Don’t let others like them down now.

We can still win this war. We must keep the faith. And that is something which money cannot buy.


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

Michael Dom

Mathias - thanks for your appreciation.

The actors are, from the top, political representatives, civil society, community organizations, and us.

As writer's we have a critical and much larger and deeper role to play.

We will need to help our people step out from under the shadow of the past - the perspectives, mentality, history and culture of lassitude.

That's going to be quite a job - so we better start now.

You are right of course, we need to act now.

Our action now is to begin the process of generational change.

Mathias Kin

Michael, that was truly a wonderful article .... rather THE middle path PNG needs now to get out of its current rough rides? Another question; Which actors are you looking for to traverse that middle path?

Many years ago our early leaders, rather pushed on without any alternative, to accepted the British Westminster system. Here we are riding potholes and complaining a way through. Maybe our society of tribes and clans and how decisions were arrived at through consensus - a pure form of democracy - could not exactly fit and work with this borrowed system, maybe we should have integrated ours with theirs and arrive at THE middle path?

What ever the path, we have not found that yet and it will yet take a while. While we work on finding THE path, this nation PNG would be riddled with thieves, natives as well as ol arapla, who would have done so much damage that the pot holes will now become hills and gullies. By the time we arrive at an answer, our resources will certainly be depleted.

We have come 40 years and our leaders have squandered billions and achieved less. Look at West African states, states that had all the gold floating on oil and gas covered with rain forests. Na nau? today? They are some of the poorest people on earth. Americans and Europeans went in there and came out leaving behind them deserts. Now the Asians are doing damages around the world, and in PNG, where Euro-Americans left off.

For our generation, this generation, if we must act now, we must act to save our resources before our children and their children are poverty stricken living on their lands that has no trees but deserts.

My thoughts on your wonderful article.

Michael Dom

Martyn - I appreciate your views and always enjoy your forthright and frank comments, especially those that cause discomfort. It's 'the writer's jab'.

Sometimes the extreme end of things needs to be made apparent so that we fully understand what we are about. How else do we know the middle path?

Thank for the encouragement, Phil, this is a road map of sorts, or at least the start of one. We're still sketching in the layout but there are a lot of smarter folks around who may also contribute.

Thank you, Flora Pondrilei - Independent Candidate for Division 7 - Cairns Regional Council 2016.

But I don't understand your statement that "democratic processes only work effectively in homogenous societies". That sounds indefensible to me. How homogenous is your electorate?

As for leaders, electoral process and parliamentarians:

Leadership is a role NOT a position.

Parliamentarians are glorified public servants - that is their position – holding a public office.

The electoral process is how we choose to glorify these public servants by making them parliamentarians, i.e. our representatives.

Parliament is where we hope these public servants demonstrate some leadership, i.e. properly carry out the Role that their Position dictates by Representing Our Interests.

Unfortunately, PNG has many rich parliamentarians and the same number of very poor leaders.

Flora, your use of the terms 'poverty and illiteracy' is like the wielding of a double edged sword.

Firstly, I don't believe that 'poverty and illiteracy' is necessarily the precursor to an inability "to discern what makes for good leadership". Smart people may choose dumb-ass leaders too.

Secondly, while 'poverty and illiteracy' are causes in the socioeconomic context, they are not the vilest reasons that people’s minds are often "clouded by the needs for instant gratification".

Greed (for power), gluttony (beer-guts and all), lust (for links to the perks), vindictiveness and malice (towards 'betters'), these are some of the more vile reasons people’s minds are clouded.

Otherwise it seems like were blaming the less educated and financially insecure portions of our society for picking the wrong bastard guys.

Also, I think agenda such as family connections, business and social debt, customary relations/interactions, favours and preconceived favouritism and etc. are more important in the Melanesian context than 'poverty and illiteracy' alone.

While I agree that tribalism is a cause for concern at election time, I believe that this source of ethnic unity can still be useful for socio-political redistribution of power.

We just haven't gone about it the right way yet.

It's unfortunate that we mix the terms politician and leader when it is abundantly clear by their actions that one prostitutes while the other prosecutes.

We do need good political leaders and that may be the oxymoron of the year.

Flora Pondrilei

Democratic processes work effectively in homogeneous societies. I do not believe PNG is one. That said, democracy is what PNG has to work with.

But we must bear in mine that one does not become a leader through the electoral process alone. One must demonstrate leadership qualities and capabilities before becoming a parliamentarian.

I also think that poverty and illiteracy contributes to PNG's dilemma in selecting good leaders. When you have a large portion of a population faced with these two challenges, their ability to discern what makes for good leadership can be clouded by the needs for instant gratification i.e cash for votes, or the promise of person benefits.

If 80 percent of the population is poor and illiterate, their vote is determined by their immediate needs, not the needs of the nation state or province. Thus one could conclude that this 80 percent of the population determines who governs PNG.

Additionally, it appears that the allegiances of voters are quite tribal - tribalism reins supreme thus the idea of national and provincial interests, and working toward those ends are not important for many.

Part of the shift in mindset has to be that leaders lead for the provinces & the nation state of PNG; for all the constituents not just for allies.

You have open members and governors:one prosecutes the case for the state, the other for the province.

Independent Candidate for Division 7 - Cairns Regional Council 2016

Phil Fitzpatrick

That's a great road map for the future Michael.

Somehow there has to be a way found to get this map out to the people so they can act on it.

I don't know how this can be done. The churches maybe?

Martyn Namorong

Thanks Michael

My views on politics obviously represent an extreme distrust but I suppose as with all things there's always a middle path that is better than two extremes and you've articulated that middle path well.

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.)