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Political staff - the big time destroyers of PNG politicians


An entry in the 2016 Crocodile Prize

IMAGINE you have genuine business to conduct with your provincial Governor, the man people like you have given a mandate to serve.

Say you want to follow up on the K100,000 he has committed to your group’s community-based vegetable project under the special agriculture grant roll out.

The money has been budgeted but not released and the year is about to end.

Your group members are frustrated and pressure you as chairperson to personally meet the Governor and collect the cheque.

You get up early one morning and walk up the mountain, along the valley and cross swamps for three hours fighting the chill and mosquito bites. Then you reach the nearest main road. You wait an hour for a PMV to arrive.

By the time you get to the provincial government headquarters, half the day has gone. You spend another two hours standing in a long queue, all of it wanting to see the Governor.

As you stand there, the atmosphere starts to get tense and eventually the people in front of you become rowdy.

The security guard and one of Governor’s sidekicks at the entrance to the great man’s office are answering the people’s queries and forcing them to go away.

The people are not satisfied with this. They are angry and want to force their way into the Governor’s office.

The guard threatens to call the police if they don’t leave immediately. Knowing what the police are like –brutality first; talk later - the people slowly and reluctantly leave, thoroughly dismayed.

Only a few, people who appear to be the Governor’s acquaintances, are allowed to see him.

By now you are thinking hard about how you will convince the guard and get in to see the Governor. You feel more uneasy as you move closer to the top of the queue.

After what seems to be a million hours, your turn comes. The first question shoots at you like a missile: “What is it you want to see the Governor about?”

The missile is delivered with a tone of power and authority that you did not expect. Your heart beats faster.

After a moment of silence, you give your reason.

“There is no money. Come back next year.”

“I want to see the Governor,” you insist.

“I told you, there is no money. Are you deaf? Now get out and come back next year. Stop wasting our time.”  It’s the sidekick.

“When exactly next year will I ...?”

You haven’t finished your question and the guard shouts out to the next person who shoves his way to the front.

Feeling lost and disgusted, you take the slow steps like those who went before you.

“If only you knew where I come from ….”

The thought sweeps back to swamp, mountain and mosquitoes. You are engulfed with feelings of sadness then anger and hatred.

You look to the sky and the grand old sun is about to perch on the western mountain top. You check your mobile phone and it is four o’clock.

The thought of the long and gruelling journey back home enervates your soul. Nevertheless, it has to be done, as you have no friend or wantok in this town.

You force your legs to stride to the PMV stop and get on the back of an old and battered Land Cruiser. You know the vehicle is a road menace but you risk the journey anyway because at this time of the day you have no choice.

Finally you reach home around midnight, feeling sore, tired, hungry and disheartened.

Next morning your happy group members gather at your house to welcome the K100,000 cheque from their honorable Governor. Instead, to their increasing dismay and detestation, you tell them the story.

They feel sorry for you and hate the Governor to their bones. They grind their teeth and vow to get even at the next election. Ol i kaikai tit the tok bai ol i lukim (mekim save) long taim bilong nupla ileksen.

Have you ever experienced or come across stories like this? People who have genuine business matters to discuss with the Governor or some other elected leader are handled by secretaries, security guards, drivers, tea boys, briefcase carriers and sidekicks.

People don’t go to the politician’s office to be seen by these ignorant and arrogant fools. They go with one thing in mind, and that is to get an answer from the mouth of their mandated leader, be that answer negative or positive.

Only then they will be satisfied.

Instead the nincompoops guarding the door are the mouthpieces. They demand to know the reason to see the grand personage and, when they are told, they provide an answer as if they are the MP himself.

When people tell them that they are not satisfied and want to hear it from the MP’s own mouth, these lunatics say that they are telling them what the MP is going to tell them.

When the people insist, they are ordered out or simply ignored. In extreme cases , they are ushered to the gate which is shut in front of them.

This is real and happening all the time at Kondom Agaundo Building, the Simbu Provincial Government headquarters in Kundiawa. It is also happening elsewhere in our country.

The briefcase carriers or sidekicks think they are doing a great job. What they don’t realise is that they are destroying the MP who employs them.

Those same people who have given the politician the mandate return home with anger and hatred. This will not be forgotten at the time of the next election.

Papua New Guinea has a high turnover of politicians at each election. And this is one of the reasons that contributes to their downfall.

It’s up to the politicians to ensure their electoral staff facilitate the process of accountability and answerability to the voters, not trash it.


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John K Kamasua

Yalwai Mathias you have painted a very sad picture indeed!

Thank you for being frank and forthright. I admire that. Simbu province belongs to all the people, including you and me.

When the Governor's office invited elites and academics to submit one-page proposals, I submitted one as merely a concept; to assist the province put in place a Information Management System. Not to be stand-alone but integrated into the existing system and structure.

The idea was to train staff from the district and the province, to collect and collate data/information, then analyse and store for easy retrieval to assist in all development planning and decisions for the province.

The initial data sets would form the baseline, and subsequent data/information would then be compared with the baseline and in that way measure the development progress in each sector. Data and information would speak on the status of development in the province.

I am not sure whether this was deliberated upon just like the others. But I am glad, it did not. Losing credibility by being engaged in a public office to me is a big thing.

We need to speak out like that .......maski lo hait na "beat around the bush."

mathias kin

Governor Noah Kool is a politician. Word politician comes from policy. Policy means legislations, laws etc. So in essence the Governor is a person who sits in his important chair in office and makes important legislations for the wellbeing of the people of Simbu. That's his mandate - that's that.

Now problems arise when politicians also become program implementer, project manager, paying clerk (that low? Yes its happening here), finance officer etc.

As you all mentioned here, the professionals in the public service have been ignored. In 2012 when the governor came into office, he decided to have his own system bypassing the existing Simbu provincial administration and the Simbu Treasury. They brought in 30 consultants for each sector; health, education, works, law & order, even a finance consultant (treasurer), etc. Within months, the whole place was in chaos. The public servants could not provide that advice that what the governor is doing is not right...they are worried they may loose their jobs.

In 2014 they realised their best intensions resulted in millions of kina wasted and projects incomplete. They eventually stoped this stupid idea.

But the point Francis raised is still current. As soon as the good man is in office, the crowd at the Kondon Adaundo building bulges into the hundreds.

I think it has to do with old, simple and smart management; delegation of responsibilities. If the governor takes on all the jobs; legislator, finance officer, program manager etc, he will continue to face problems. He must delegate and in that way share his problems he has created.

But then again as Francis's people have said; Ol i kaikai tit the tok bai ol i lukim (mekim save) long taim bilong nupla ileksen.

Francis Nii

Agreed, John. Em tru.

John K Kamasua

Francis, I take your point.

The worst of them all are the political opportunists who have managed to put their feet through the door, because they claimed to have been instrumental in the win of the MP.

We Simbus have in the recent years taken this to a whole new level.
Does not matter if the MP is morally upright and wants to do things by the book.

We always want to find ways to come up with paper projects to enrich ourselves and our own kind.

In the coming elections, all good thinking people can vote, but if we cannot weed out such people from the MP's office, then our votes cannot count!!

Paul Oates

Excellent point Francis. When I worked in various Head Office Departments in Canberra we used to dread Friday afternoons. Around 4 o'clock just when we were thinking about a quick dash out the door and a possibly free weekend with the family, inevitably the telephone would ring.

'This is the Minister's Office. The Minister requires an answer to this matter to be on his desk by Monday morning. A courier is bringing the letter over to you now!"

In fact what had really happened is that the staffer had been slack and not done any work and suddenly realized he/she needed to get something done in a hurry to meet the imposed and official deadlines on complaints to the Minister or a Parliamentary Question.

The staffers often ended up being disappointed as the matter required discussion with the coal face and that couldn't happen over the weekend. The department and therefore me/us then of course got the blame for being inefficient and creating delays and the petitioner got another official 'snow job' signed by the Minister saying the matter was being looked into and a reply would be forthcoming soon. Or words to that effect....

If only the Ministers knew how they were being manipulated by their own staff they might be better at their jobs. Unfortunately, for some reason they never consulted those who knew what was actually happening. Chris' point about Credlin and Abbott is very apposite.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I'm not sure what Vikki John is smoking, drinking or ingesting but it's getting a bit bizarre.

Who on earth is Bob Marley?

I think I can assure readers that, as I see it and I think they would see it, Ms John has demonstrated aggression, arrogance and lack of maturity in her approach to this blog. There is no merit in these contributions and there is no useful purpose served in having this rubbish published in PNG Attitude. I leave it where it is, uncensored and unedited, only as an exemplar of her bad manners. So Vikki becomes only the third person blocked in 10 years. Accordingly, we say farewell, goodbye & adios - and warn the good people of Bougainville to be wary of this self-professed champion of their cause - KJ

Vikki John

Bob Marley proudly says "movement of the People"
And the people of PNG will appreciate this Movement too.

Exodus: Movement of Jah people! Oh-oh-oh, yea-eah!
Men and people will fight ya down (Tell me why!)
When ya see Jah light. (Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!)
Let me tell you if you're not wrong; (Then, why?)
Everything is all right.
So we gonna walk - all right! - through de roads of creation:
We the generation (Tell me why!)
(Trod through great tribulation) trod through great tribulation.

Exodus, all right! Movement of Jah people!
Oh, yeah! O-oo, yeah! All right!
Exodus: Movement of Jah people! Oh, yeah!

Yeah-yeah-yeah, well!
Uh! Open your eyes and look within:
Are you satisfied (with the life you're living)? Uh!
We know where we're going, uh!
We know where we're from.
We're leaving Babylon,
We're going to our Father land.

2, 3, 4: Exodus: movement of Jah people! Oh, yeah!
(Movement of Jah people!) Send us another brother Moses!
(Movement of Jah people!) From across the Red Sea!
(Movement of Jah people!) Send us another brother Moses!
(Movement of Jah people!) From across the Red Sea!
Movement of Jah people!

[Instrumental break]

Exodus, all right! Oo-oo-ooh! Oo-ooh!
Movement of Jah people! Oh, yeah!
Exodus! All right!
Exodus! Now, now, now, now!
Exodus! Oh, yea-ea-ea-ea-ea-ea-eah!
Exodus! All right!
Exodus! Uh-uh-uh-uh!

Move! Move! Move! Move! Move! Move!

Open your eyes and look within:
Are you satisfied with the life you're living?
We know where we're going;
We know where we're from.
We're leaving Babylon, y'all!
We're going to our Father's land.

Exodus, all right! Movement of Jah people!
Exodus: movement of Jah people!
Movement of Jah people!
Movement of Jah people!
Movement of Jah people!
Movement of Jah people!

Move! Move! Move! Move! Move! Move! Move!

Jah come to break downpression,
Rule equality,
Wipe away transgression,
Set the captives free.

Exodus, all right, all right!
Movement of Jah people! Oh, yeah!
Exodus: movement of Jah people! Oh, now, now, now, now!
Movement of Jah people!
Movement of Jah people!
Movement of Jah people!
Movement of Jah people!
Movement of Jah people!
Movement of Jah people!

Move! Move! Move! Move! Move! Move! Uh-uh-uh-uh!
Move(ment of Jah people)!
Move(ment of Jah people)!
Move(ment of Jah people)!
Move(ment of Jah people)! Movement of Jah people!
Move(ment of Jah people)!
Move(ment of Jah people)!
Movement of Jah people!
Movement of Jah people!
Movement of Jah people!

Francis Nii

Chris Overland’s point on career public servants being replaced by political appointees and exemplified by Paul Oates is true. In some cases public servants are displaced and made weak by the political appointees that there is no due diligence and efficacy in service delivery and policy implementation. For example, Karimui Nomane has a District Administrator who is a career public servant and a deputy DA who was appointed by the MP. The latter is calling the shots and giving orders and the former is spectating from the sideline. We often hear about thousands and millions put into this and that but onsite, there is very little or nothing physical worth the value of the money we hear about. Wantoks rubbing arses and serving each other...

Many times we talk about public service ineffectiveness and this is one contributing factor - professional people in service being pushed aside and made idle by political appointees who cannot perform and deliver services because of nepotism, self interest and inexperience.

Simbu Governor is ok. He doesn’t reject anyone wanting to see him. He has time for anybody unless he has an urgent matter to attend to which is understandable. His weakness is his inability to monitor and control what the people he has appointed to work for him are doing.

These people take advantage of the ignorance and make big decisions which are irrational, irrelevant and many times self serving and are becoming stumbling blocks. For example, people who are supposed to be implementing approved projects will stall and delay it until their interest is met. And then they would do their job. And by this time many factors would have changed and thus the costs. In the end we get poor results. I don't know whether the Governor is realising this.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I can remember back to the kiap days when first thing each morning there was a line up at the office door of people wanting to talk to me. This was particularly so in the highlands.

In many cases the supplicants were accompanied by their luluai or tultul, who would act as a kind of mediator or adviser for them.

These people generally had to negotiate their way past the office interpreter and/or the police sergeant before being allowed access to my magnificent beneficence. No doubt many were turned away at the door.

In may ways I was grateful. Getting tied up in these endless claims on my time was pretty wearing. I guess I trusted the interpreter and policemen too much but it was a matter of priorities.

The only time I really got to sit down with the locals was out on patrol when I was effectively their guest. These were rewarding times. They were mostly casual affairs round the fire or the steps of the haus kiap in the evenings.

In that sense I can sympathize with the Governor of Simbu. I understand he is a nice guy, conscientious and willing to help. But I also imagine he's under lots of pressure.

Maybe he should take the occasional break and travel around the province. That way he might also find out what his gatekeepers are doing.

I think the Governor of Simbu knows very well what his gatekeepers are doing. Indeed, I thin k in the way of modern politicians he has instructed his gatekeepers to keep 'disruptions' to a minimum. It's the same in Australia. Paid lobbyists earn a fortune in gaining access for punters who don't know their way around the traps - KJ

Paul Oates

It's almost as if there is an inevitable force that is dynamically driving an unconscious desire to end up in a war.

I agree with Chris' view that the removal of career public servants and their being replaced by political appointees has led to today's situation where a minister's staff end up being filled with 'Yes' people who will not give full and frank advice even if they are aware their minister is on the wrong track. Just look at where this has the PNG government today.

The dramatic change in the Australian public service accelerated when Paul Keating couldn't get his own way and do what he wanted so he instituted the Block Review that recommended annual contracts for senior staff and incentive payments for those middle range managers who proved their 'efficiency'. Time was when efficiency was expected and that was the only reason why public servants were paid.

There is indeed a weakening of the world democracies and there has never been a more important time for them to hold the line. Weakness never won the day. Just look at Joe Chamberlain's 'Peace in our time' claim that helped start World War 2.

As Maggie Thatcher reportedly said to George Bush senior, 'Now is not the time to stumble'.

From a PNG perspective, the 2017 general election is not the time to elect those who don't have a proven history of being able to manage and demonstrably only think of enriching themselves.

Chris Overland

When I first joined the public service, there was no such thing as a political staffer or, as they are more formally described, a "Ministerial Officer".

The public service provided all of the services required to run the Minister's Office and, of course, all of his or her policy advice.

Appointment to the position of Chief Administrative Officer in a Minister's Office was a much coveted promotion because it gave unprecedented access to both the Minister, the government and the Parliament.

Over time, politicians of every persuasion, became convinced that this system did not serve them well: public service staff and advisers were just a bit too resistant to doing their bidding they thought.

Slowly more and more ministerial officers and advisers were introduced until, today, a Minister's Office is run almost entirely by politically appointed people. They are thought to serve the Minister better because their continuing employment depends upon his or her success in the role.

Worse was to follow with the introduction of contract employment for public service executives. The overt aim of this policy was to get rid of the traditional "permanent appointments" to senior positions which had allowed public servants to resist implementing what they regarded as bad policy and decision making.

At one level, this was not an unreasonable move but the effect has been to make it much harder for public servants to offer "frank and fearless" advice for fear of having their employment abruptly terminated.

There is no doubt in my mind that this has degraded the capacity and willingness of the public service to offer good advice: toeing the government line is demanded and expected whatever reservations may be held about doing so.

The recent revelations regarding what, at a minimum, was an unhealthily close relationship between former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Chief of Staff, are symptomatic of how political appointees can end up dominating the policy development and decision making processes.

If those people are knowledgeable and skilled in their defined policy area, their contribution can be genuinely useful. However, if they begin to interfere in matters outside their competence and expertise, this can create major problems for the Minister and government, as it plainly did in Abbott's case.

To my mind, a public service system which had served the nation well for many generations has now been so seriously compromised that it is now working against the interests of the nation and, perversely, Minister's and government's themselves.

Francis Nii's story illustrates this very well. What is happening in PNG is the logical end point of this approach, where unelected and unaccountable "Deputy Ministers" are arbitrarily exerting their illegitimate positional authority.

For democratic politics to work properly there must be, amongst other things, due process in decision making; the provision of well informed, non-partisan, frank and fearless advice to governments; and reasonable public access to people in power.

I fear that the degradation of the political decision making process we see today is, partly at least, the result of the proliferation of political advisers replacing professional public servants.

Policy ideas and decisions that would never survive the close scrutiny of the usually thorough (if sometimes unduly protracted) pubic service processes, have been sprung upon an unsuspecting and then outraged population. Mr Abbott's creation of Prince Philip as a Knight of the Order of Australia is a case in point.

This is weakening the leadership of the world's democracies at the very time that new authoritarian and expansionist regimes are rising in places like China and Russia.

Quite how Australia and PNG will deal with this problem remains unclear to me. Perhaps the first step is to recognise, as Francis has, that it really is a problem, not just a question of voters whinging because they cannot always get what they want.

Paul Oates

Clearly any available money goes to pay the sidekicks and security guards.

Francis, the scenario you describe has been repeated all through human history. The longer it takes to change the inevitable build up of greed, corruption and malfeasance, the bigger the effort needed to do so.

It's like a log jam in the river that causes the river to divert until a big flood sweeps everything away.

The last 18th Century French King before he successor had his head cut off was quoted as saying in French what translates to something like: 'After me the flood."

The people who are benefiting from this human misery keep hoping they'll not reach a tipping point while ever they are enjoying their ill gotten gains.

Every freedom and benefit a modern society enjoys was won at the price of incredible and significant effort. The only way to change the system is to get organised and start from scratch. There is 'no gain without any pain'.

Alphonse Yuiyal

Very very true, it well describes what happens. You come all the way from Salt Nomane in the South just to get that answer.

Honourable Governor, you should read this article yourself as it perfectly describes your officers at the gates. They think they are the Governor.

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