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Stories from our new year: 2012

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1 January 2012 - Mipela ino inap? What the f***? (Martyn Namorong)

Why do organisations run by expats generally do better than those run by Papua New Guineans? And why did Papua New Guinean civil servants and disciplinary forces perform better under the colonial administration than they do now?

I suppose this discourse is a meditation on a story a heard recently about a recent university graduate who was too scared to present to a white man, so he’d tell his female colleague to “test the waters” ahead of him. Perhaps it was his inferiority complex that made him strive for perfection to please that white boss.

I also recall earlier this year, at the Institute of National Affairs, researcher Amanda Watson from Australia was presenting her PhD thesis on mobile phone usage in Madang Province. After her presentation, a senior officer from the Bank of Papua New Guinea thanked her and suggested she should do a second study to compare with earlier work.

I was horrified! One would think that a senior central banker would be in a position to organise such research activity if the information was relevant to the bank, particularly regarding mobile-based financial services.

It is an all too familiar sight at conferences, workshops and seminars that one sees a crowd of high ranking Papua New Guineans stating their own disempowerment and expecting some messiah to solve the problems and that of the country.

They focus on what they ‘lack’ as opposed to the power and influence they have by virtue of the positions they hold in wither the public or private sectors.

And I recall at medical school how a colleague asked me why I was reading on project management and proposal writing. I told her that doctors were highly respected and influential members of the community. As such, there exists a potential for doctors to use their standing in the community to advocate change and bring about community development.

Furthermore, the doctor should be knowledgeable about dealing with development partners in achieving public health outcomes in community projects like water and sanitation. I envisaged a much broader role of a medical practitioner than just the narrow focus that limits most doctors to clinical medicine.

There is a perverted psyche prevalent through wider society that the sheeple apply upon themselves religiously. It is expressed in phrases such as: mipela ino inap, ol lida mas wokim, lack of funds, lack of capacity, nogat moni, mipela mas kisim tok orait pastaim, etc.

Yet all of a sudden, if a foreign missionary, technical advisor, general manager or aid worker gets involved, there is a lot of activity as communities, organisations and individuals rally around the foreigner.

I reckon what happens is that a people who for whatever the reason think of themselves as inferior, now have to prove their worth to an external adjudicator. Communities want the approval of the foreign missionary, local workers want to prove their worth to the foreign boss, and so on.

Once the foreigner is gone and replaced with a Papua New Guinean, the juice runs out and everything falls apart.

Sadly, the Papua New Guinean replacement gets labelled a poor manager. Or conversely, the Papua New Guinean manager lacks self-confidence and ends up serving his or her own interests in isolation, leading to the collapse of the project.

The most imprisoning thought is that of “mipela ino inap mekim dispel samting” or its English equivalent, “lack of funds and resources”. I didn’t study economics in school but that is no excuse for me not understanding the basis of the study of economics and that is - how to best apply scarce resources to satisfy unlimited human wants.

Somehow, the people running this country haven’t figured out that they will always lack funds and resources. This issue therefore is not the lack thereof of funds and resources but how one administers limited resources to achieve development goals.

The other imprisoning state of mind is the perspective of time as circular as opposed to linear time. I’ve written about this matter already. The Europeans had inherited from Judeo-Christianity the notion of linear time – thus the need to have calendar years.

The liturgical calendar of the Church also aided in this long-term thinking. This was not the case in the context of animist Melanesia and its circular time.

The saying “mipela ino inap” stems from the assessment that the scarce resources that are available now cannot cater for achieving a desired outcome within this circular time, therefore it is impossible to do anything to solve an issue.

Thus members of parliament still complain that their slush funds are inadequate even though they were getting K10 million. If it cost K5 million to build a road, they’d say there are lack of funds therefore “mipela ino inap long wokim ol rot na bris”. They don’t usually think alternatively that they could build the road over their five year term, spending K1million per year.

A lot of money was allocated for improving infrastructure in schools – the RESI Funds, there is very little to show. Remember the controversial private hospital project at Bautama. It was to be built using Chinese funding that was meant for other hospital infrastructure. Since the project flopped we hope the funding was put to good use.

The reality is that at any given point in time, there will never be enough funding to meet all demands for development in Papua New Guinea. The challenge is for people to start thinking about how they apply what they already have to meet their development goals instead of bitching about not having enough.


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