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The deadly damage of naïve consultants

A 1959 report on kiaps by Sir David Plumley Derham KBE CMG (1920–85), Australian jurist and university administrator, was misused to enhance police powers and weaken kiaps' more measured approach to pacification and administration in PNG


TUMBY BAY – For decades Papua New Guinea has been a happy hunting ground for the consulting industry.

Careers have been built on providing often gratuitous advice to governments in both PNG and Australia, not to mention the purchase of the odd sports car or coastal retreat.

It’s not a post-independence phenomenon as many people assume. Consultants have been active in PNG since the 1950s.

In 1959, the then Territories Minister, Paul Hasluck, asked Sir David Derham, professor of jurisprudence at Melbourne University, to report to him on the administration of justice in PNG.

Denham spent 37 days in the country in late 1960. His report was particularly critical of the lack of legal formality of the kiap field administration system, which Derham misunderstood.

His report was a starting point for the gradual decline of the kiap system.

As a result of Derham’s report, Ian Downs later wrote in his book, ‘The Australian Trusteeship Papua New Guinea 1945-75’, “successive police commissioners were in the forefront of moves to reduce the authority of district commissioners and to extend police activity in areas for which the force had not been trained.

“The police force was wholeheartedly in favour of what was disclosed of the Derham Report, and eager to take over.”

It was a monumental mistake and one that had long lasting ramifications for PNG.

One of the central initiatives of the pre-independence kiap system was to replace traditional tribal payback and warfare with a system of law and justice.

Payback is essentially about revenge and has no or little relationship with justice.

Revenge is an emotional reaction to a perceived affront; justice is rational.

Revenge involves anger, hatred and malice; justice seeks rectification of wrongs in a context of minimal harm.

Justice is the process of law that provides fair judgment and gives criminals appropriate punishment.

Justice is associated with moral integrity, equality, fairness and decency.

Before the kiaps arrived in PNG, justice, as opposed to revenge, was traditionally negotiated through compensation.

This was understood by the kiaps as a useful and relatable method of dealing with both criminal and civil offences and avoiding warfare.

Compensation became part of their law and order toolkit.

When the kiap system was done away with after independence in 1975, the system of justice they had established, particularly in rural areas, largely went with them.

There was a significant reversion to the old ways of payback and warfare.

The key to the success of the kiap justice system was their physical presence in every corner of the country.

Village courts were set up in 1975 in an attempt to fill the void left by the departure of kiaps but they are concerned mainly with mediation and cannot rule on more serious crimes like rape and murder. Nor can they effectively refer cases to higher courts.

At the same time the police force, which is undermanned and underfunded, is reluctant to venture very far beyond the town boundaries.

Lack of ‘boots on the ground’ is a post-independence phenomenon that contributes to PNG’s problems and is particularly challenging in law and order.

This has left people in non-urban areas of PNG, and that is most people, without easy recourse to the courts and justice.

It has meant they have fallen back on traditional justice, including payback - which often leads to warfare - and compensation.

Works for meIn 1975 Professor Derham offered a mea culpa of sorts about the way his report had been used and explained how he remembered the kiaps with particular respect.

That in itself should have raised a red flag about the use of foreign consultants with little in-country experience.

But that didn’t happen and consultants have happily continued to leave in their wake the wreckage of their ill-advised advice.


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Chips Mackellar

One result of the Derham Report was that we were told to hand over the investigation of all major crimes, wherever occurring, to the uniformed police at the major centres.

When I was Assistant District Commissioner (ADC) at Menyamya, a murder occurred at a remote village. In accordance with standing instructions, I reported this crime to the Police Superintendent at Lae.

In due course a young Australian officer resplendent in a Sam Browne belt and with gleaming epaulettes arrived at Menyamya to investigate. He was one of the new batch of uniformed officers recently recruited to take over the police functions from the kiaps.

It transpired that his only police experience had been as a motorcycle cop in Melbourne. When I told him the location of the crime scene he said, "I'm not going up there, it is to far in the bush," and he delegated the task of investigating the crime to a police sergeant under my command.

That police officer could not speak Pidgin, so I had to interpret for him. He then returned to Lae, mission accomplished.

The sergeant did a good job rounding up the witnesses and all that but there was nobody to do the court presentation and so forth, so I again contacted the police superintendent in Lae.

Fortunately by then, commonsense had prevailed and the superintendent announced that what the Derham Report had given him was the responsibility to delegate such tasks to the best officer available.

In this case it was me, and so the police function at Menyamya was restored to the kiaps.

Chris Overland

A seminal idea that underpins neo-liberal capitalism is that private enterprise is always more efficient and cost effective than a public entity.

This notion informs much of the decision making surrounding the hiring of consultants. Far too often, there is little confidence in public servants who often have years of painstakingly acquired experience and knowledge in the matter under review.

While consultants can sometimes add value by bringing a fresh perspective or because they possess very particular expertise, it is usually a case of them 'borrowing your watch to tell you the time'.

I have seen countless consultancies over the years and very few of them ever led to any genuinely useful change.
This is especially true where the recommended changes would upset entrenched interest groups or, worse still, supporters of the government of the day.

Also, consultants sometimes arrive with a preconceived view about what is needed and then find evidence to support that view.

This approach usually ends in recommendations that are not necessarily well grounded in reality, much like the efforts of Professor Derham, who lacked both knowledge and experience in relation to the problems inherent in trying to police a country with many geographic and cultural characteristics that were quite beyond his understanding.

As a consequence, he recommended culturally and operationally inappropriate solutions to what he perceived as problems with the administration justice which were, in fact, not problems at all. In doing so, he materially damaged policing and the administration of justice in PNG in ways that persist today.

Sometimes at least, consultants arrive with an open mind and then proceed to interrogate the public servants deemed unable to carry out the task in order to understand the problems and develop solutions. This approach is more likely to result in recommendations capable of being implemented provided there is a broad consensus about what needs to happen.

Unhappily, modern governments have become over reliant upon consultancies as a means of solving (or appearing to solve) difficult problems.

Sometimes this makes sense but, all too often, it is just a case of wanting to appear to be doing something whilst actually avoiding making difficult decisions or, worse still, seeking the justification to make decisions that are favourable to their political allies and supporters.

On the bright side, many smart public servants have left government to join the large consultancy firms and thus make a handsome living hiring themselves back to the government at a hugely inflated cost.

An exemplar of this was a Commonwealth government decision some years ago to seek private providers for orthotics and prosthetics for veterans.

The Liberal government of the day, consistent with its neo-liberal ideology, thought that the inhouse public service unit that carried out this work was too slow and expensive.

A public tender was duly called, causing initial consternation to the public servants who did the work. That was until they realised that there was no private sector equivalent to their unit. They therefore decided to form a private company and submit a bid for their own work.

The bid vastly inflated the cost of doing the work in order to reflect the need to make a large profit as well as to compensate for such things as foregone superannuation entitlements and the notional loss of job security involved.

Incredibly, the new company was duly selected to do the work and the public servants involved all immediately applied for redundancy pay outs. Having secured these rather generous benefits, they promptly set up their new company premises and carried on doing the same jobs they had previously been doing.

There are more than a few stories like this so the increasing reliance upon consultancies has not been all bad news for those public servants who have succeeded in leveraging the knowledge and experience they gained in their departmental roles to become highly paid consultants.

Lindsay F Bond

Just because it's effective doesn't always cut it as rite.
Else Monckton? So compare James Chalmers.
Who actions and on what authority? Ask lower-leg amputees.

Yet congratulations to every earlier kiap, and not only for enduring and rendering beneficial effect, with few such exemplary historical comparables.

Paul Oates

Good talking piece Phil to get the discussion going. It reminded me of the recent comments about why today's newspapers are so thin. They only tell half the story.

The other side of the story is one we, who were part of the story, were always shut out of.

The crux of the problem in sending consultants to PNG, when they knew very little about the culture and people, was that they naturally and automatically confined themselves to a very narrow approach to a very broad issue.

Their obvious qualifications clearly didn't include years of field work with the actual people involved. Just look how successful a recent Australian High Commissioner was who had actually grown up in PNG.

Those who select consultants are the real issue. The professor had 37 days in PNG and he thought he knew the full story. Wow! We were just starting to get to know how to deal with PNG problems in a mostly successful way after two plus years.

There are none so blind who will not see! The notorious Canberra bubble hasn't changed all that much has it?

Bernard Corden

"I have never seen a situation so dismal that a policeman couldn't make it worse." - Brendan Behan

Bernard Corden

All the usual suspects spring to mind.

The roll out of the cataclysmic home insulation program in Australia involved several of the big five accounting firms.

The recent spectacular collapse of Carillion, a transnational facilities management and construction services company in the United Kingdom was described as an unprecedented trading liquidation with liabilities of almost £7 billion.

The organisation was established in July 1999 and via a series of aggressive strategic acquisitions it became the nation’s second largest construction company with approximately 43,000 employees.

Despite several reservations regarding its extreme financial predicament the company continued trading until it went into compulsory liquidation.

The catastrophic failure and insolvency led to multiple parliamentary inquiries with penetrating questions regarding the woeful performance of directors and egregious theatre from its internal and external auditors.

During one of many intense exchanges throughout the inquiry a labour party minister stated… "He wouldn’t allow KPMG to do an audit on the contents of his fridge."

The government’s privatised outsourcing of public service schemes and Carillion’s dark alliance and unhealthy relationships with regulators received excoriating condemnation.

Its collapse was a litany of recklessness, hubris and greed underpinned by an assiduous mercenary business model, which was exacerbated by impulsive acquisitions and escalating debt.

It also involved rampant exploitation of suppliers and impetuous expansion into new markets without any concept of due diligence. Authorised accounts substantially misrepresented commercial reality and annual dividends increased come hell or high water at the expense of funding pension schemes. Even during the airing of its dirty linen, executives were more preoccupied with increasing or securing their gratuitous performance bonuses.

Its leadership team was merely a cast of delusional characters. "Oh the buzzin’ of the bees in the cigarette trees and the soda water fountain, where the lemonade springs and the bluebird sings in the Big Rock Candy

In the US, the the Purdue Pharma marketing strategy for oxycontin or hillbilly heroin was devised by none other than McKinsey & Company.

Its fingerprints can be found at the scene of some of the most spectacular corporate and financial debacles of recent decades. The energy-trading firm Enron was the creation of Jeff Skilling, a proud McKinsey consultant of 21 years.

This wasn't guilt by association. Enron, under Mr Skilling, was paying McKinsey $10m (£6m) a year for advice. McKinsey fully endorsed the dubious accounting methods that caused the company to implode in 2001.

Greg Hunt, the incumbent federal minister for disease in Australia worked with McKinsey and Co for almost three years,

During this sinecure he became an engagement manager and specialised in telecommunications, start-ups, government reform and the banking sector."Si monumentum requiris circumspice."

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