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Papua New Guinea is overrun by decision-avoiding camels


THERE’S a problem. People are complaining. The solution is fairly obvious but it is unpleasant: it will require a bit of work and will upset a lot of people, some of them with lots of money and influence.

What to do? Form a committee of course!

First step – have a meeting. Second step – organise a conference. Third step – workshop the problem. Fourth step – form a committee of enquiry. Fifth step – now that everyone has forgotten about it, ignore the committee’s recommendations. Problem solved!

This process is beloved of bureaucrats and politicians the world over. They have refined it to a fine art. This is especially so in Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guineans love committees.

A camel is a horse designed by a committee, the saying goes. Which is a bit unfair on the old camel.

In the right environment, deserts for instance, it will outperform a horse any day. Papua New Guinea is not a desert however; it is a lush rainforest (albeit rapidly being cut down) where camels get irretrievably bogged.

So why do Australia’s foreign affairs department and the Papua New Guinean government persist in breeding camels? So they can avoid uncomfortable decision making of course.

And because the process is lucrative and can be fun. When else can you get to stay in expensive hotels, eat nice food and have a piss-up at the end of the day, all for free?

Even out in the bush, where the rewards are confined to coffee and cake, the attraction is irresistible.

Meetings are now a PNG national tradition. Talkfests fit in with the Melanesian Way.

The solution to a problem is no longer a solution; the solution to a problem is a committee. Set up a committee – end of problem.

How many problems in PNG have been solved by committees? Probably very few. How many problems in PNG have been avoided or even ignored by setting up a committee? Probably hundreds.

Commissions of enquiry are large scale committees and are perfect for large scale delays and inaction. Think SABLs, anti-Asian riots, medical supply rorts, dubious financial deals, dodgy payments and, of course, the big one – corruption.

If a committee of enquiry starts to look dangerous, the government will starve it of funds and, as a last resort, sack the chair and shut it down.

The beauty of the old kiap system was that there were no committees. The buck stopped with the kiap; if he didn’t do anything it wouldn’t get done. Mostly things got done.

But people who are prepared to make decisions and shoulder the load are a rare commodity in PNG these days – both in government and in the broader community.

The kiap was a benevolent dictator. It has been suggested that Papua New Guinea needs a benevolent dictator. Come on – get real. Where the hell are you going to find someone like that among all those camels?


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Paul Oates

OK. Given the thread of this article, here's a Latin suggestion for the current PNG PS motto:

'Nihil perficio'.

Anyone got a more appropriate one?

Baka B Bina

Committees work sometimes - slowly that is - if they sit regularly and get tasks done.

Phil Fitzpatrick

Missed that one Harry.

The big thing when I left South Australia was Aboriginal Heritage Surveys. Every low hill and sandhill in the country was a Seven Sisters Dreaming Site. People were getting $450/day to say that.

The other thing about committees is that at the end of the day everyone assumes someone else on the committee will see to the resolutions.

My response in the last few years when asked to sit on a committee or attend a meeting is, "Sorry, I don't do meetings".

I was out in the bush a few years ago working for Oilmin and I got on the radio to Hagen to talk to someone about something and was told they were in a meeting. As you may know Oilmin was run by exkiaps in those days. Everyone sitting around the radio, me included, fell over laughing.

Paul Oates

There is an earlier work along much the same lines as this conjecture. It is called the 'Abominable No man syndrome' and is part of the very piquant treatise produced by J Northcote Parkinson of Parkinson's Law fame. Parkinson explains that it's far easier to say no and then think of a reason why not rather than to get off your backside and agree to do something.

Some will recall another axiomatic Parkinson's Law that goes 'Work expands to fill the time available'. This is often confused with the Peter Principle where people in the Public Service are 'Promoted to their level of inefficiency'.

Perhaps there needs to be a practical review of the new, approved version of PNG government code of conduct for public servants when for example, the head of the Health Service has just been reappointed after presiding over the virtual collapse of the rural health system. We all know why. He will do exactly what his minister wants and ensures his subordinates also conform or face being sacked. (See past comments about the corrupt tender process to purchase and distribute pharmaceuticals).

'Sapos yu no lukim samting olsem, ino istap a? Em isi olsem lo pasim ai blo yu'. As a corollary, it is also abundantly clear that Australian government's engagements with the PNG government are directed to follow a similar line. What were the three wise monkey's famous for? 'See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.'

Now what's that old cliche? 'I'm from the government. I'm here to help you.' or translated into the vernacular: 'Mi blo gavaman na mi stap lo halivim you.' Ha!

Another saying loaded with cynicism is also: 'The cheque's in the mail, trust me.' Given those who have been waiting for the banks to have money in the account to cash their PNG government cheques perhaps that's now another hollow statement. It was reported that all government cheques made out last year are now to be cancelled.

So what could this now recognised and presumably accepted PNG government 'modus operandi' now be called?

Where are all you Latin scholars and rapier sharp wits who could make some practical suggestions?

Harry Topham

Phil - You failed to mention the most important issues, that is that ubiquitous matter of payment of traveling allowance read sit down moni.

In a past working life I net some remarkable local indigenous people here in Qld that made quite a nice sinecure by being professional attendees at conferences.

But then again in all fairness; my previous professional body/s main operating costs were quite handsomely subsidised by their members obligatory attendance at conferences. Em Tasol.

Gary Juffa | Facebook

Hahaha.... Phil is spot on!

Mathias Kin

I like this one Phil. Excellent stuff. I will cut and paste on the Simbu Discussion Group and the Simbu Development Fronts pages on FB.

O'Neill's government is so much into setting up committees, usually his own cronies. They want to be seen acting on national issues and public outcries. They never, ever get anything done!

What a bunch of slack balls!

William Dunlop

Francis - All controlled by PNG's Ali Baba O'Neill's largesse to the pollies.

Francis Nii

If we had 122 of Sam Koims, I think PNG could change. May God save PNG.

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