Kantri go we nau?
Children’s story collection well received in Enga schools

The budding of ‘Economic Man’ on the eve of a national election


A FEW affluent Chimbus, working in Papua New Guinea and abroad and long in the diaspora, aspire to be politicians.

Come election time they will resign from their jobs and return to their tribal lands to see if people still remember them from when they were kids growing up in the village.  

Once back home, to garner support for their candidacy, they are expected to do some charity work such as appearing at funerals, offering compensation and restitution, giving prizes for football games and even getting a few village councillors drunk.

These are the by-products of a collision between liberal democracy, Melanesian governance and Christian principles that an outsider might infer was characterised by socio-political and economic insanity.

A couple of seasoned big boys, or as the Chimbus say ‘Mr Sanap’, will contest as they always do. By now, they will hugely be inspired by the current Member for Kerowagi who contested every national election since 1982 until he won in 2012.

Hon Camillus Dangma, MPHon Camillus Dangma MP (pictured left) lost a total of seven national elections including a by-election before he was finally declared a winner four years ago.

The next group of people to announce they will contest are the itinerants. They have not worked in either public or private sectors and have not reported to any superior in their lives. In fact, they have mediocre CVs but the Chimbus will probably not worry about that too much. They never have before.

Interestingly, the itinerants are craving to take the most salivating job in the Land of the Unexpected. Instead of starting small and making their way up the rungs, they want to go straight to the Big Haus in Moresby.

They get their inspiration from a couple of young men who plied that route and landed themselves in the hub of liberal democracy without going to the hustle and bustle of seeking regular jobs in an unforgiving PNG.

At the last election, a new trend emerged in Chimbu where street bureaucrats such as aid post orderlies, elementary school teachers, community health workers, small tycoons and confidence men announced that they, the children of Chimbu, are experts in the game of politics.

They hog the limelight in their tribal lands and refuse to vacate their prominent roles and hand over to affluent Chimbus with a bank vault of money, better education and experience of public management.

The street bureaucrats know better and want to show their manhood as custodians of the tribal lands ready and able to contest for a national political position.

We can confidently call the typical example of these street bureaucrats cum wannabe politicians, ‘Economic Man’.

An economic man is a rational person who chases wealth for his own self-interest. Let’s have a look at some of the money-thirsty features evident in his wheeling and dealing.

‘Economic man’ is aware that the affluent candidates want to collect as many first preference votes as possible and shake at the thought of losing them to the street bureaucrats.

With this insight, the street bureaucrat can assertively put forward his demands (money up front and a job later) when the affluent candidate prevails on him to renege on his decision to contest the election.

The affluent will send a proxy to negotiate with the street bureaucrat to get him to renege on his decision. The common job lures are District Administrator, membership og the District Development Authority or a plethora of contracts should he quickly register a company and becomes a vendor.

Such opportunities encourage a mob of street bureaucrats to announce their intention to contest with the craving that an affluent candidate will pay them to stand down.

Another group of street bureaucrats will take a lump sum payment from a sitting member or a wealthy candidate to contest against a hot candidate from within the same tribe to dilute his vote.

That will happen again in 2017 and brotherly love will wither as guns blaze.  

More interestingly, in the 2012 national election some itinerants in Port Moresby announced to tribesmen in various urban ghettos that they intended to contest various electorates in Chimbu.

The tribesmen, who mostly did handyman jobs or sold betel nut, contributed money hoping the guy would win the election back home and return to Port Moresby where they would partake in his spoils.

A couple of these embodiments of ‘Economic Man’ then took the contributions and also accepted go-away money from affluent candidates and went into hiding.

Later, they emerged and announced the campaign had been handed over to the other guy and that their supporters should now cast their ballots for the affluent contender.

Whilst such wheeling and dealing spirals on amongst the fat and skinny cats, the common men and women in Chimbu will say, ‘ta tenan nendre tenamgra wo’ (we will eat and vote him).

Almost everyone will wait for some cash to swell their pockets before they cast their ballots. If nothing comes their way, that’s life. Credentials will count for nothing nor will the current scandal involving O’Neill and his mob much affect their vote.

If they don’t get free handouts, the people will not look far beyond the everyday Chimbu man when casting their ballot. That everyday man will most likely be a street bureaucrat or perhaps a priest.

Most Chimbus are not educated voters and so ‘Economic Man’ will weave through the rigorous campaigns and polling hassle-free and perhaps even win. It’s been known to happen.


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Jimmy Awagl

Registering a company and becoming a vendor in a formal means is another concept of Nere Tere (give and take) pathway in politics now.

Politics in urban centers are contrary to rural areas.

Mathias Kin

So true, Joe.

Michael Dom

The reality of elections in Simbu and elsewhere in PNG.

Thanks, Kela.

Marcus Mapen

Kela, it sounds hopeless (and maybe it is). This probably is the case in all parts of the highlands and also many parts of the coastal regions of PNG, largely because of ignorance.

But that must never stop you and me from trying to change it. As individuals we must try to explain to as many of the ignorant population as we can about how the systems in PNG and the world operate, what needs to be done and why. When you explain in a simple and understanding manner, people will understand (this is from experience). We will encounter opposition from the ‘economic man’ type of people but the truth will always prevail. People are not animals, they will see and learn.

This might not count as much but any chance I get, I tell people not to vote for people who give out money (and food). They can take the money but never vote for that person. The reason I give (whether asked or not) is that they will give you money now but when they get into parliament (later) they will steal much more than what they give you to replace the money they have given you (and accumulate even more for themselves).

Some people might not agree with me but the current NCD governor’s election to office the first time I thought was one of the few positive cases. From what I know, the first time he got elected to parliament his expenses were not very significant compared to some of his serious opponents. People voted for him not because he gave them money or food but because he was seen as the best candidate in the field (at least that’s what I thought). People got money and stuff from the other candidates but when the day came, they cast their votes for Mr Parkop. This I thought was a positive sign for this country because what it shows is that people are (slowly but surely) becoming more aware and knowledgeable, especially in urban centres.

So here is the motto for 2017 ‘you can take the money but don’t give the vote’. (I understand this may not work in the corridors of parliament though).

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