KELA KAPKORA SIL BOLKIN
PORT MORESBY – I want to talk about the kind of people who aspire to be national leaders and what might make them good leaders or not.
Leaders shape our local level governments, districts, provinces and ultimately our entire nation.
But the poor results on the ground are evidence that many of them, perhaps most of them, have not served our people well.
When we can see that the downtrodden, the disabled and the women and children have lives of quality then, and only then, can we boast that we have quality leaders.
So we need good leaders to guide us and make those important large-scale decisions to keep our society safe and progressive.
However, in PNG at this time, ‘national leadership’ is a notion that has little or no meaning to a society which has been acephalous since time immemorial.
Leading the tribe or the clan is well understood. But a thousand tribes?
An acephalous society has a political system that with no centralised state authority. PNG is not by tradition or culture or long-standing custom a nation-state. These things take time.
The structure of acephalous societies also means it’s difficult for different ethnic groups to understand and trust elections for someone to lord over them in a nation-state.
Leadership of a nation of many tribes does not come automatically with meaning. Its meaning has to be provided.
Tragically, the village folk have been conditioned to think that a ‘headed’ national society is one where ‘leadership’ is represented by a person – mostly a bearded, pot-bellied man wearing a cowboy hat – who hands out free cash.
The same man also provides free rides in one of his LandCruisers, shouts free beers and even buys coffins for the dead. He also seems able to marry and remarry whenever he wants to.
As a result, modern democratic elections create cynicism and confusion which results in the paradox of elected leaders since self-government and independence mostly not being very capable leaders at all.
Anyhow, this festive season takes us closer to another national election in June 2022 where good and bad people alike will join the contests for five years in parliament. People are already campaigning, as is the Papua New Guinean way.
Most have announced their intentions on Facebook and through other social media, forums. Some of them seem to have been hibernating since the 2017 election but on the eve of the next election, well and truly rested, they have emerged again.
They’re posting their opinions on many matters to show they have depth and leadership acumen: they discuss Covid, vaccines, the economy, climate change and COP26 and the various bills passed into law by the current government.
A few aspiring candidates have already resigned from their public service jobs where they have been at various times efficiency wreckers, 10% commission mongers and plunderers of state resources.
They have announced their intention to contest and are ready to share with voters some of the wealth they have pillaged and hoarded just for this moment.
They will take their place amongst the eight definable groups of candidates about which I’m delighted to be able to educate you in this short piece.
The first group contesting the 2022 election I want to consider are the ‘brief-case carriers’ who have made a living since the last election by pimping and facilitating various matters most of which turn out to be fraudulent.
These worthies claim to have a university qualification or something thereabouts but have not ever successfully managed to secure a job on merit or indeed work as a professional anywhere at any time in any capacity.
They mostly bask under fluorescent lights in the halls of Waigani, prowling around City Hall or scavenging through Sir Manasupe Haus, the nerve centre of government, burying their heads in newspapers and intently staring at Facebook day after day, month on month, without a public service contract.
They impersonate business and high level engagement and stunningly tell anyone who will listen of this important ‘expert work’.
All around the country they have bills to settle but are confident of shortly being in receipt of a lucky lotto win or securing a million-kina contract, or perhaps even a million-dollar contract, somewhere in the corridors of Waigani to repay their debts and use the rest of this windfall to fund their nomination and campaign.
There is a group of decoy candidates you should be told about. These are sponsored by sitting MPs or the more superior, better endowed candidates to do some important work for them.
The decoys are there to create leaks in a strong rival candidate’s base vote so the sponsors can keep their own base vote intact.
The third troupe consists of young graduates who finished their degree recently – say in the last 10 years.
They have absolutely no experience or wealth to enable them to win, but are betting on the bit of savvy they do possess and a streak of demagoguery they have copied from real MPs.
It has been my observation down the years that the young graduates’ usefulness – their utils - declines each time they contest until they have exhausted all their utils and give up politics altogether.
In the fourth group are the street bureaucrats such as community health workers, school teachers and infantrymen who wish to contest the imminent national election because of a belief in their aptitude for public service.
Unfortunately they will find an election win is a bar too high to leap over but they have opted to commit financial suicide anyway on the off-chance that Lady Luck might be smiling upon them.
In fact there are countless street bureaucrats in our communities who have contested elections and lost their superannuation savings and forsaken their livelihoods.
They then flee to far-off parts of the nation to escape the debts and the reciprocity that communal living demands.
The other group comprises the tribal chiefs, those traditional men of great influence in their own lands and districts.
Although mostly not well educated, they will contest since they have ruled their vast communities and have been respected by allies and have guided their people through the troughs and peaks of communal life.
In the next cluster are businessmen who depend on their wealth and brawn then brains. They give cash to village and youth leaders, churches and the disciplined forces and use coercion to flip the election in their favour and they will do so again.
The seventh other group consists of a range of clergy – priests, pastors and reverends.
Churches and missions, with or without government support, have erected unshakeable infrastructures and those electorates that depend heavily on their services will elect men of faith as we have seen in past elections.
The final cluster in my analysis are the decent professionals with genuine patriotism who choose to leave good jobs and spend their hard-earned cash to contest and serve as legislators.
Problems arise when the wreckers (the Waigani corridor con-consultants, pimps, briefcase carriers, bent public servants, womanisers) turn up in the villages and boast of being super consultants that the prime ministers, ministers and bureaucrats listen to and hire for their advice.
Sadly, the typical villagers view Port Moresby on television and see the genuflection, the narcissism, the accolades, the self-importance, the celebrity such as it is and choose to cast their votes for the wreckers.
It will happen again because the villagers cannot identify the wreckers from the time-tested and honourable professionals.
Ideally, of course, the people should elect patriotic, knowledgeable, experienced leaders, men and women of good judgement who know the job and can do it.
A national parliament needs MPs who are able to legislate and provide strategic direction for the nation, provinces and districts and bring about sustainable public good through the machinery of the public service.
The truth is that most well-educated, experienced and ethical professionals do not want to leave their jobs and contest an election where voters are naïve, live a hand-to-mouth existence and have a distorted understanding of leadership.
This leaves space for the wreckers to nominate and contest. They are desperate to try their luck, win and escape their hitherto unsuccessful lives of scavenging and basking and pretending in the corridors of Waigani or sitting on unearned laurels when they return to their village and promise the good life.
Since 2017, PNG’s 111-seat parliament has had no women representatives. Women candidates for next June’s election must cope with the pressure of electioneering among the field of wreckers.
The patrilineage dictates that, once again, many obstacles will be thrown in the path of women as they seek to win a seat in parliament.
With a tradition of societies no bigger than the tribe and perhaps its allies, with little conception of the workings of the nation-state, with a continuing disillusionment in what government is achieving, with many rogues of tainted soul presenting themselves as men of substance, and with the reluctance of educated, ethical and dignified citizens to contest elections, it seems the leadership crisis Papua New Guinea chronically experiences will continue into its eleventh parliament.