TUMBY BAY - While the Covid-19 pandemic wreaks havoc, misery and death across the world, it is also serving to highlight major shortcomings in governance almost everywhere.
This is nowhere more prominent than in nations that have chosen the path of neoliberalism, with its emphasis on economic growth and the market and belief that government should keep out of the way and let society look after itself.
In Australia the Covid contagion has brought into sharp focus the sorry state of our health and allied services in the wake of successive government privatisations and zeal to slash public health budgets.
In Papua New Guinea, which is now entering an deadly and deeply worrying phase of the pandemic, a penetrating light is being shed on what can fairly be said to be a failure of the whole of government.
This catastrophic failure can be ascribed without any doubt to the corruption, greed, ineptitude and indifference of the ruling elite.
It appears that, although PNG is not yet a failed state, the pandemic may – and quite quickly - catapult it into that unenviable situation.
And I thank Dan McGarry in Vanuatu for reminding us that a state fails when conventional action to restore stability is largely futile because there is no state, worthy of the name, to interact with.
PNG has been steadily moving towards being an unmanageable state for many years.
The Fund for Peace, an American think tank, takes a special interest in such countries, which it now calls fragile states.
Fragile states have a weak and ineffective central government, they lack public services, there is widespread corruption and criminality, and they are in economic decline.
Since 2005, the Fund for Peace has published a highly regarded annual index of fragile states (it was formerly called the Failed States Index).
The index uses 12 factors to determine a rating for each nation. The factors include social cohesion, economic decline, uneven economic development, state legitimacy (lawful governance), public services, human rights, the rule of law and external influences.
It is worth evaluating where PNG is placed in relation to its strength and fragility in each category.
Considering each factor, Fund for Peace calculates a score for each nation ranging from 0 to 100.
Zero represents a totally sustainable and stable nation and 100 represents a totally failed nation.
The nation with the best stability in 2021 is Finland with a score of 16.2. The nation with the worst is Yemen with a score of 111.7.
Afghanistan comes next with a score of 102.1, the recent success of the Taliban making that fragility even more perilous.
Australia has a score of 21.8 (sustainable), New Zealand 18.4 (very sustainable) and the USA 44.6 (stable).
Papua New Guinea has a score of 80.9 (described as an 'elevated warning'), which is on the brink of slipping into the high warning classification. It has hovered around this mark for many years.
There seems every prospect of PNG edging into the high warning category in 2022 as the pandemic devastates the nation and politicians stand by prioritising their own, not the nation’s, welfare.
Next year also sees a general election and it is likely the usual bribes, intimidation and vote-rigging, when added to the impact of Covid, will worsen the nation's social, economic, political and cohesion indicators .
When faced with such reports and statistics, the usual response from Papua New Guinean politicians and elites is that Western standards of measurement are irrelevant because of cultural and lifestyle differences.
There is some truth in this contention, particularly when it relates to economic matters. The global financial crisis of 2007-2008, for instance, washed over the average Papua New Guinean with little impact, especially in rural areas.
The difference now, however, is that the pandemic represents a comprehensive crisis for which the nation is unprepared.
Lives and livelihoods are at risk for rich and poor, young and old, and urban dweller and villager.
And, unless you are wealthy enough to flee the country, there seems no escape from the pandemic’s consequences.
The other well-trodden excuse of blaming external influences doesn’t wash either.
PNG is not alone in being affected by Covid. It’s not in the minority. It’s not special.
Covid has threatened every nation and the world quickly learned that blaming the Chinese wasn’t going to help.
Every nation responded in its own way to the crisis.
No nation reacted perfectly and we are now beginning to see which nations seem likely to have been more successful.
Papua New Guinea, for most of the last 18 months, showed complacency, avoidance and denial when it needed to be getting ready.
Indeed, for much of last year, almost inconceivably, very many Papua New Guineans believed they had some special protection from the virus.
They watched on as the pandemic travelled around the world, devastating country after country, and did little to prepare for the inevitable time when Covid would infiltrate and gain control of their country.
As the nation now spirals towards the high warning category that marks the descent towards becoming a failed state, blame rests only at the feet of the politicians.
In addition to dealing with the daily crises PNG now faces, these same politicians should be planning how to make the country safe, not just for themselves, but for nine million people who need them to do much better.