The personal & professional struggles of Dr Kevin Pondikou
Papua New Guinea expresses gratitude for Australian support

True greatness is not edifices but the welfare of the people

Edifice complexCHRIS OVERLAND

MATHIAS Kin commented in PNG Attitude: “That we need eye-catching buildings to get recognition is not the direction our mostly rural-based people need. Let the world do it their way, we can achieve greatness from what's around us.”

I support Mathias's comments. To my mind he is absolutely right. PNG's leadership need to focus on the basics, not upon building vast edifices.

The edifice complex is a well understood condition that appears to afflict otherwise perfectly rational people who enter politics.

Those afflicted seem to believe that the erection of huge stadia, monuments or sky scrapers is necessary to proclaim their and their nation's greatness.

Those who do this are almost always men, so it is safe to assume some type of phallic symbolism is involved.

Sadly, this condition has been around almost since humans could even build such edifices.

Thus, the bible records the construction of the Tower of Babel, while the Pharaoh's constructed huge pyramids to demonstrate that their power and divinity could even transcend death.

Later on, the Emperor Vespasian ordered the construction of the Colosseum as his gift to the Roman people. Vespasian was personally under no illusions about his basic humanity but understood the power of symbolism perfectly well.

Still later, the Kings of France undertook the construction of the Palace of Versailles, which was consciously intended to be the most glamorous and awe inspiring symbol of royal power anywhere in the world.

The thing is, all of the edifices that I have mentioned have either long since vanished or are museums and tourist attractions. We can still marvel at them, but any political power or symbolism associated with them is long since gone.

The politicians and thinkers who have really made a useful difference have almost invariably left us a legacy of important ideas, not buildings.

Most especially important are those ideas that have led to increases in the freedom, wealth and well-being of the following generations.

So, what really endures from the days of the Pharaohs are things like the concept of a written language, while the Romans bequeathed us both their language, engineering knowledge and, perhaps most importantly, the idea that a huge and diverse population could be governed under a consistent, systematic body of written laws.

Bearing this in mind, the finest legacy that PNG's leaders can hope to leave behind is a system of governance which is honest, competent and focussed on achieving the greatest good for the greatest number of the country's citizens.

Only by liberating PNG's peoples from the tyranny of poverty, ignorance and ill health can the country's true potential be realised.

This means focussing with laser like intensity on the basics like health, educations, transport and so forth, not building yet another sky scraper.

This is not glamorous work and sometimes even thankless, but it indisputably works.

Just like Britain, Europe and the USA in the 19th and 20th centuries, the truly successful countries in Asia like China, Singapore and Malaysia have done exactly this and the results are plain to see.

This is the great lesson of history, if only those in power can see it.


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

Mathias Kin

Great article Chris.

Simon Davidson


TI agree!This is a brilliant insight. Ideas are more powerful. Ideas are gold. ideas create revolution. Why couldn't the government spend such money on building cutting edge research facilities to generate new ideas and knowledge to harness our vast natural resources and generate wealth, rather building colourful edifies that will decay in a few years.

Jordan Dean

Reminds me of a term I came across before. 'Venotia' syndrome. Roman emperor's built huge colosseums to entertain people to avoid criticism.

An iconic skyscraper can be a national pride and spectacle. Just saying...

But while we're investing heavily in infrastructure, our aidposts and health centres are not maintained. Progressing or regressing?

Trish Nicholson

Excellent post, I couldn't agree more. It's not just male egos though, these edifices generally involve foreign consultants and construction companies, and of course, kickbacks - gris.

And one other example you might like: the great Greek statesman, Pericles, is quoted as saying: "What you leave behind is not what is engraved on stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others."

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.)