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The hard task of striking a balance in our views of PNG

Fr Garry Roche - "Can we proclaim the many good things happening in PNG and at the same time not close our eyes to the many difficulties"


DUBLIN - Phil Fitzpatrick has raised the important question of the legitimacy of his views on Papua New Guineans or Aboriginal Australians, since he is ethnically neither of those people.

“This fact has occasionally been used to criticise what I write,” Phil has told PNG Attitude readers, “and I admit that such an argument has relevance.

“I don’t know what it’s like to be a Papua New Guinean or an Aborigine. All I can do is use what I see and hear, and guess what it feels like," he said. "Some people might say otherwise, but I don’t think this invalidates what I write.”

My own view, having lived in PNG for very many years and now back in Ireland, is that perhaps our criticisms of PNG would be better received if it is clear we also see the good in PNG and we acknowledge the good achieved.

I personally think PNG Attitude does achieve a balance between the negative and the positive, but it is an issue that has to be noted.

The current social and political scene in PNG has given rise to plenty of comment that has been generally somewhat negative.

The world’s media seems likewise to have become more negative and complaining about almost everything.

Perhaps at times our words might be judged to be coming from ‘whingeing expats’ or ‘whingeing elites’.

What response can writers or commentators give to allegations they are no more than a ‘whingeing expat’ or a ‘whingeing elite’?

Some of the complaining may arise from a genuine concern for PNG. It may arise from an awareness of how things could be much better.

In my opinion, one needs to keep in mind a basic question, namely, “What do I want to achieve as a result of my criticisms or complaints?”

There may be more than one justifiable reason for being critical.

Do I just want to let off steam?  Do I want to expose corruption?  Do I hope to inspire efforts to improve the situation? Do I want to draw attention to poor service? Do I just want to express my frustration at the deterioration of services?  Do I want to honestly air my opinion?

In addition it is certainly useful to ask the questions like “How will my complaining be received and perceived by the people living in the country?” and “How can I make my complaint most effective?”

A complaint raised out of genuine concern for the people may in fact be interpreted by some locals as biased or racist.

A complaint that exposes corruption may be met by hostility by those who are benefiting from corruption, but this does not negate the need to expose corruption.

Some PNG based anti-corruption campaigners may be genuinely very happy that somebody from outside is speaking out. A complaint that seems to lack objectivity may be simply ignored.

In my opinion the churches should be in the forefront in fostering honesty and exposing corruption.

Yet at times the churches seem to be caught between their reliance on government funding for health and education projects on the one hand, and on the other hand their obligation to speak against corruption.

Personnel from non-government bodies may be in a similar dilemma. They may see the problem but at the same time be reliant on government funding for survival.

Some individuals may feel they can act more effectively by challenging officials face-to-face rather than speaking out publicly.  We do not always know to what extent some leaders have tried to battle corruption in a more private person-to-person way.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” ― Edmund Burke. (1770)

“Yet is it far better to light the candle than to curse the darkness” ― William Lonsdale Watkinson. 1907 (apparently this is also an old Chinese proverb)

“Keeping quiet in such times is the wise thing to do, for it is an evil time” ― Amos 5.13 (some would interpret Amos as being sarcastic!)

Taking action or lighting a candle? Can we point to failures and endeavour to be encouraging at the same time? Can we see the good amidst the corruption and  the decline of public services? Can we continue to see and proclaim the many good things happening in PNG and at the same time not close our eyes to the many difficulties.

As I said, perhaps any criticisms of PNG that we do have will be better received if it is clear that we also see the good in PNG and acknowledge the good that others have achieved.


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