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Two questions long struggled with

Sweet potato farming in the Southern Highlands - communal sharing for mutual benefit is the Melanesian Way


LAE – Power, power, power. Yeah, sure.

In Papua New Guinea subsistence agriculture is a basic mode of living, resources are communally shared and political power is gained and maintained by the assurance of mutual benefit for all.

It can be challenging to understand that the infant national character (that which emerged through parliamentary democracy) doesn't know what to do about the vast wealth made available to it.

It has been that way since Somare.

The wealthy know what to do with wealth. The poor know only poverty.

Where does Papua New Guinea sit in reference to these two poles?

Only Bougainvilleans reverted to their true character when they realised that the power structures created by Western imperialists and adopted by PNG elites were leading to the destruction of their homeland.

That is why Bougainville wants independence and why their people bled for it.

They have learned a better way and their national character is born of harsh reality.

Bougainville is already independent.

The PNG government and the rest of the naysayers just haven't realised it yet because they cannot.

They have a different character.

It may be suggested that according to Melanesian society’s rules of cooperation, PNG should allow Bougainville independence, since no one is coerced to join with others if they don't want to do so.

Power forces its own way. Mutually assured destruction is its natural outcome.

Observe PNG’s resource use - from Somare, the other guys, to O'Neill and now Marape – but still no sovereign wealth fund.

Power in the hands of the people should not be power for its own sake, it should be the power of cooperation for mutually assured benefit.

I think that is called the Melanesian way.

Two central questions for exploring new governing structures should be: how do we facilitate a return to cooperation and what means do we adopt to keep power responsible?

And I think we've been struggling with these questions all along.


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Stephen Charteris

Michael is right. How do we return to cooperation and how does the common man keep power responsible?

No one doubts the absolute necessity for a strong well governed and administered centre. A modern nation state does not exist without it.

Allegedly eighty-five percent of the population, approximately 7.5 million people live in a rural community and they determine the composition of parliament every five years.

And 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.

The weakness as I see it 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 around 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 “bik man” politics where our leader looks after our interests is out of step with reality and the much-flawed DSIP stands 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 built roads, cleared airstrips, built classrooms and facilitated all manner or improvements without government intervention. And I think the pride in place and self help model still applies.

I suggest that real leadership would seek to facilitate these activities everywhere with government seeking to partially fund or support with staff, training and equipment within a broader framework of applying policies and standards.

And this is where I believe a significant slice of aid dollars should also be directed along with better coupling with banks, enterprise incubation hubs to strengthen resilience across all manner of sectors.

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 and ultimately it might also influence the quality and vision of the people elected to positions of power.

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