CAIRNS – Michael Dom is right (Two questions long struggled with) in asking how can Papua New Guinea return to cooperation and how can the common people hold power to account and keep it responsible?
No one doubts the absolute necessity for a strong well-governed and administered political centre.
A modern nation state does not exist without it.
Allegedly 85% of PNG’s population of about eight million people live in rural communities and they determine the composition of parliament every five years.
It could be argued that they are not true participants in the political process in the accepted sense.
Elections are often determined by who hands out the greatest number of K50 notes.
And thus begins another five-year round of musical chairs.
As I see it, the weakness lies in the disconnect between the people in the ‘bush’ and those in power.
It seems to me that if voters were truly able to make choices based upon the performance of an incumbent politician in matters such as health, education, law and order and infrastructure, the outcomes along the value chain might be different.
But there is a weakness in this argument.
The PNG government is not so flush with cash that marked improvements to rural services are even possible.
I believe the whole concept of bikman politics, where the leader looks after our interests, is out of step with reality and the much-flawed District Services Improvement Program funds stand testament to that.
Nation building is a compact between the government and its people.
Rather than government, it is actually the people who determine the outcomes.
The whole dynamic needs to be turned on its head.
That is to say, communities and groups of communities must lead the effort to improve local service outcomes by leveraging heavily off the community cooperation Michael Dom refers to.
I think it is pertinent to highlight the many examples of local effort that constructed roads, cleared airstrips, built classrooms and facilitated all manner of improvement without government intervention.
And I think this ‘pride in place’ and self-help model still applies.
I suggest that real leadership would seek to facilitate these activities everywhere, with the national government seeking to partially fund or support them with staff, training and equipment within the broader framework of applying its policies and standards.
And this is where I believe a significant slice of aid dollars should also be directed, along with better coordination and coupling with banks and enterprise incubation hubs to strengthen resilience across all manner of sectors.
So I come back to the general thesis that empowering communities to have a direct hand in the quality, scope and distribution of services they receive is an essential component of development.
Ultimately this might also influence the quality and vision of the people elected to positions of power.