Donald Trump, the world’s greatest loser
Shy PNG artist's mentor became his subject

Understanding can come late in life

Cross-cultural1PAUL OATES

GOLD COAST - In case you haven't read much of my writing, my fellow author and former kiap Phil Fitzpatrick will confirm that for many years I have been banging on about responsibility and accountability.

These are two seemingly inviolate pillars of responsible government. They are something many of us trained in the Australian public service discipline hold near and dear.

These same concepts can be somewhat flexible, depending on a person’s background and cultural perspectives.

In the boardrooms of big business other matters like tax minimisation and profit margins are also of prime importance. 

My friend, the late Doug Robbins, who wrote occasional pieces on his life as a kiap for PNG Attitude, enunciated some of our frustrations over how the PNG experiment seems to have deviated from the system we thought we had bequeathed to the new nation on our departure around independence.

“We thought we’d done enough!” Doug lamented, when it appeared that each year, PNG’s government services and increasing financial dilemmas kept diverging from the immovable benchmarks we thought we had left in an easily followed road map for the future.

Where did we go so wrong, or did we go wrong?

Our concepts of so called ‘western’ government and financial integrity are built upon a system that stems from hundreds of years of trial and error.

In fact, no one could ever say today that this system has been entirely perfected, since there is a continuous stream of convictions over financial dealings, when some government employees have drifted over the line of what is legal.

That is, those instances where wrongdoers are found, taken to court and convicted.

So what aspect did we, who thought we’d done enough, get things so wrong?

Clearly, the mistake was that in our ivory tower of cultural hegemony we believed we'd developed a sound system of government.

We thought the rules and regulations we espoused would be emulated and set in place for the future because they had worked so well for us.

The mistake we made was that we expected that our vision and beliefs would be accepted like those in a religious liturgy.

The problem for those the Papua New Guineans we handed over to was that our concepts and perspectives were not seen in the same light.

What seemed so straightforward to us was in fact complicated and at odds with long-standing cultural norms based on an entirely different set of beliefs, experience and priorities.

Who were we to expect that our perspectives and concepts of good government were the right ones to follow? Clearly our thinking was muddled and with the benefit of hindsight, not well thought out.

Perhaps it’s now time to admit that our system of government is not only flawed but could and perhaps should be replaced by a better one?

But where do we find such a better example to follow?


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

Stephen Schmidt

Wantok Paul...what you say is very true. This is something that most PNGians say and think. It was rushed and pushed on from different directions for many varied and mostly selfish reasons. We now have what we have but this does not mean that improvements and changes cannot be made. The only obstacle is that many people in high places have grown fat & content by milking the system that they will fight tooth & nail to keep this corrupt, wasteful, decaying system in place.
It will take people power and good thinking leaders to work together to effect badly needed changes to our political system.

Philip Fitzpatrick

As I recall it was all done in a great rush.

The United Nations was hassling.

Whitlam was hassling.

And Michael Somare was hassling.

And they all had different reasons, none of which particularly considered the ordinary people out in the villages.

If a referendum had been held I'm absolutely sure the verdict would have been "not yet - we need a few more years".

Paul Oates

Tru yet poromon Stephen. Tasol the problem is that the system of central government bequeathed to PNG at Independence allowed the wrong people to assume power because the population weren't experienced enough to operate the checks and balances required to stop what you describe has happened. From a cultural perspective, this was a foreign concept.

The wrong type of people you describe are always present in any society. The Westminster system of government took centuries of trial and error to evolve. That system was then foisted on PNG before her people were ready and educated to truly understand it and to be able to ensure the mistakes of the past weren't recreated.

The problem was as I suggest, that no one at the time really understood (or wanted to understand), this aspect.

A better system would perhaps have seen a natural progression from the Kiap system to one of respected village elders and leaders meeting as regional councils and not as an all powerful central government for all the nation. That concept should have first progressed naturally into Provincial governments that would have been closer to their electorates.

This concept of a all powerful central government was regrettably not allowed to gradually develop due to political expediency and ignorance. Those making decisions about this aspect were simply not in touch with the people at village level.

Stephen Schmidt

All man made systems have faults and loopholes,especially systems involving the rule and control of people and money.

We are glad that we had mostly good people in PNG before independence planning the way ahead and yes after 45 years people can see and say "what if " this was done or that was implemented instead.

Life goes on and hopefully we can learn from our past, our mistakes and failures and our triumphs.

PNG is a great and proudly democratic country and people value this freedom. Citizens however are becoming disillusioned, frustrated and angry about the clear corruption, stealing and siphoning off of public funds for private gain by our politicians and people holding public office.

It has been happening for 45 years and nothing has been done to plug this hole or hold people to account and retrieve these ill gotten wealth.

Until corruption is addressed, PNG will continue to see billions stolen by our own people trusted to do right while majority of PNG citizens suffer.

In time it will boil over and explode. PNG leaders must step up and start now to address these issues such as corruption, law & order, health, education, employment, sustainable development and agriculture in rural areas.

These are the "bread & butter" issues that affect all people and their daily living, their hopes, their dreams, their happiness, contentment and way of life.

People do not want grand gestures that mean nothing and have no substance. People are usually happy with the little things that can sustain them and their families.

PNG is an island of gold, floating in a sea of oil and gas. We have it all and yet we have squandered most. It is not the system that has failed us but the people in control of this system.

Tingting blong mi tasol.

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.)