Democracy under pressure in PNG & Oz
Writing success not measured by money (but it helps)

Problems of our own need reforms of our own

Dr Joe Ketan -
Dr Joe Ketan - "Foreign consultants who piggyback on development aid have often been responsible for bad advice"


PORT MORESBY - A quick glance at Papua New Guinea’s recent history will tell you that there are certain things that you would have done it differently if you had your time over again.

But time does not stop or rewind, although sometimes history seems to repeat itself over and over.

Opportunities for individuals and countries to succeed come along once in a while.

However, not seen or not grasped they are lost, oftentimes irretrievably so.

It is in this context that I want to share with you my thoughts on development goals.

Countries either progress or disintegrate and descend into chaos, there seems to be no middle position.

Whether they move forward or decline depends on crucial decisions taken at the regular crossroads of the development path.

Constitutional independence came quickly in PNG and, for many people, unexpectedly.

And we did not fight for it. It was given to us.

In the 1960s and 1970s, our leaders, despite being inexperienced and mostly illiterate, focused on developing their country.

They were aware of their own limitations, but nevertheless were far-sighted, selfless and committed.

They knew their job they and worked towards undertaking it with purpose.

Particularly through the 1970s, they knew a nation had to be built.

After the first independence decade, perhaps just a little longer, and as our parliamentarians learned the ropes of government, things began to go backwards.

This quickly became the case when MPs took control of sectoral funds, initially in transport and agriculture.

The control of development funds, coupled with the abolition of the Public Service Commission on the advice of an irresponsible World Bank, led to the politicisation of the public service and the growing misappropriation of public funds.

Our leaders thus succumbed to the spoils of office and forgot or set aside their role as custodians of the commonwealth, the people’s wealth.

International development agencies and financial organisations, led or influenced by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, have been mainly responsible for development failure in Third World Countries.

Papua New Guinea has been the recipient of both technical and financial assistance from these organisations.

Foreign consultants who piggyback on development aid have often been responsible for bad advice that has also contributed to poor development outcomes.

A team of researchers operating out of a local think tank advised the PNG government on the reviled OBE - outcome-based education - policy reform.

Over 20 years OBE has contributed towards the terrible state of education in this country.

Similar reform failure in other sectors can also be attributed to poor advice.

The United Nations recently published two important volumes on the global development experience.

Their resounding conclusion is that governments in Africa and Oceania were misled by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Nation states were persuaded to commit huge sums of money and time to fixing governance issues, whilst Asian countries raced away irrespective of governance principles.

Good governance often follows development, not the other way round.

The UN’s Millennium Development Goals are unrealistic.

So too are the PNG Vision 2050 Roadmap and the Development Strategic Plan.

Politicians and bureaucrats, even academics, talk about these and other plans without understanding how they might be applied.

Planning and budgeting without understanding their consequences are legacies of these unrealistic planning methods.

And so PNG has consistently got things wrong. And we continue to go backwards. We have nothing to show for our wealth.

There is a simple reason for development failure in PNG. We have not sought the advice of the people who know best.

Our people know what they need. Why do we always pretend that we know them and their needs better than they do?

Our education does not give us the right to determine what is best for them.

We must ask our people what is good for them. We must learn from them and learn to integrate our skills with their needs, not the other way around.

In this context, I suggest our prime minister and his wayward government spend money on a nationwide stocktake, or a physical audit, of development and governance facilities in all districts and local level governments across the country.

This exercise will provide us with benchmark information for planning and budgeting.

Whilst undertaking this program, we should seek advice from village people using a basic needs approach methodology.

What do we need most? This question should form the basis of planning and budgeting. It should be simplified. Everyone should be involved.

All development planning and budgeting, with annual reviews, should be based on actual rather than assumed data, which will be collected and analysed by trained personnel.

Our personnel. Keep foreign consultants out of this.

We have some good people in the public service: Dr Eric Kwa (Justice & Attorney General), Dr Mange Matui (Constitutional & Law Reform Commission), Dr Ken Nangan (Finance), Dr Alphonse Gelu (Integrity of Political Parties & Candidates), Dr Andrew Moutu (PNG Museum), and many more who are willing to do what is right for PNG.

Let us give these people the opportunity to help turn this country round.

Our own institutions, including the Institute of National Affairs, National Research Institute, University of PNG and other universities, must be invited by our government to participate in setting development agendas.

As pointed out by Dr Lawrence Sause of UPNG, the level of hypocrisy in politics is killing this country.

I hope that after this year’s election, our prime minister and government can rise above parochial politics to set development standards for PNG in coming years.

People like Dr Thomas Webster, Gabriel Pepson, Meg Taylor, Robert Igara and Clant Alok still have much to contribute towards the development of this country.

The East Sepik governor Allan Bird and Oro governor Gary Juffa are doing a good job in parliament and I’m pleased to see the young Eastern Highlands governor, Peter Numu, working with them.

I have not forgotten his role in the change of government.

Hopefully, we will see more good men and women in parliament after the forthcoming elections.

Rwanda has done so well to ensure a strong voice for women in politics: 60% of the Rwandan parliament is made up of women, which has a 40% female quota written into law.

I am well aware that the problems of this country are big, but they are not insurmountable.

Public sector reforms are needed to fix the most glaring problems in health, education, governance, and other areas (again, keep out foreign consultants and their ideas).

We, as a people and as a country, have suffered enough from bad advice and from culturally entrenched patron-client networks of corruption at all levels of government.

We have not been kind to ourselves, so it is now time to make amends.

We must make decisions, initiate reforms and live by the consequences of our own decisions.

We have no other country to seek shelter in if we sink this one.



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Kindin Ongugo

The simple fact is there is major accountability deficiency syndrome across most sectors in PNG.

Many people are not doing their job well and that includes searching for appropriate consultants.

Michael Main

They all come to take from Papua New Guinea. Even when intending to give, they take. Myself included, when I first went to PNG working for a consultancy.

I realised that all I am doing here is taking from this country. Doing a job that could be better done by the people themselves.

Dr Main is an anthropologist at the Australian National University. He is a former geologist and environmental scientist – KJ

Laurie Patton | Journalist

Much the same here in Jaspers Brush, NSW. Well-meaning bureaucrats presuming to know what’s best for our First Nations people.

Philip Kai Morre

PNG need to reform its outlook by changing our behaviour so it will, in turn, transform our society.

So much planning using foreign concepts and ideology does not work. A planning matrix needs to be a home grown and integral part of our holistic development.

We cannot work on somebody else's ideas that they say can work. Imposing upon us to do what consultants think is best and will work is paternalistic and unrelated to our way of doing things.

Our mode of development is spiritually, environmentally, culturally and kinship based. It's our form of sustainable development.

Our planning should be guided by Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs - from basic needs like shelter all the way along to self-actualisation.

I hope development workers and planners have a fair idea of Maslow's humanist psychology.

Philip Fitzpatrick

There are consultants and then there are consultants I guess, Keith.

Most of the consultancy work I did was for private companies but I did do a few jobs for governments too. Thinking about it, that government work could have easily been carried out by public servants.

Unfortunately those governments had let go the people who had the necessary talents. I know this because I was one of them.

One of my first jobs after taking a redundancy package was for the government branch in which I had previously worked.

Probably, as you did, I provided my clients with more of my time and resources than I ended up charging them for. And I certainly got out to talk to all the stakeholders no matter how difficult it was to contact them.

In contrast a lot of the consultants used by government agencies like DFAT are either too lazy or too afraid to get out and talk to stakeholders.

That I think is the worst of both worlds. A lazy consultant employed by a lazy government.

Anyway, here's a hurrah for all the conscientious consultants. I think I was one of them.

Stephen Charteris

“We have the local knowledge, we live it.” Dr Momia Teariki-Tautea

Thank you, doctor, for this truism. But I would ask, have you (collective noun) applied it?

I suggest the knowledge you speak of is ignored by nearly all administrative arms of government.

Time and again we find public servants ensconced in their offices and rarely in the field where they are needed. When asked why, their response invariably involves a lecture on a lack of resources.

If you offer to provide transport on a day convenient to them, you can expect to be told they are unable to accept because they have important meetings to attend.

Have I experienced this? On too many occasions to recall.

On one, I facilitated an air charter to enable a school inspector to travel to a rural airstrip to visit schools that had not been inspected for 10 years.

I took the gentlemen to the airport for his long-awaited flight to the bush and two hours later was informed he had come back on the return flight.

Naturally I was curious to know why. When confronted, he told me that upon arrival at the destination, he received a phone call telling him to return for an urgent meeting, an event made all the more remarkable by the absence of a mobile phone signal at his destination.

Having achieved the right to an office with a desk, high-backed chair and air conditioner, too many public service managers act as if the grassroots are beneath their dignity.

There is also a tendency for them to assume that they, and only they, are empowered to make decisions in their area of appointments.

No other entity, whether private, NGO or even church is permitted to use their own initiative to address unmet needs.

In the meantime, the perpetual cycle of public service collapse and excuses combined with governance and capacity building continues apace to the benefit of the consultants that deliver it and the entities they work for. But frankly no one else.

Any survey of health or education indicators reveals that the grand development game has delivered no sustainable outcomes at LLG, ward or community level. Absolutely none! Zip.

Dr Ketan and Dr Teariki-Tautea are right. By any reasonable measure development models have largely failed and “we have the local knowledge, we live it.”

It is past time to tap into that knowledge and with community participation derive solutions that meet their needs and are sustainable.

Philip Fitzpatrick

The use of consultants by governments is explainable by one simple term – laziness.

When a politician employs a consultant they are effectively bringing in someone to do their thinking for them.

The outsourcing of government functions to the private sector is similarly motivated by laziness, with the added incentives of rewarding donors and supporters and the opportunity to collect a few under-the-table bribes along the way.

The sale of government assets that are responsible for providing essential services to the public like health, education and transport is another form of laziness and the opportunity to reward mates and make a few bucks on the side.

Democracy, particularly under the Westminster model, supposedly practised in Australia and Papua New Guinea, is predicated on the existence of an efficient and unbiased public service.

Dismantling or limiting the effectiveness of the public service represents a weakening of democracy.

In severe cases, as has happened in both Australia and Papua New Guinea, democracy inevitably reaches a point where it can no longer be called a democracy.

When the functioning of a democracy is passed into the hands of private corporations and wealthy individuals it becomes a corporatocracy.

A corporatocracy is a term used to refer to an economic, political and judicial system controlled by corporations or corporate interests.

The United States of America is a classic example of a corporatocracy.

Government through corporatism is a feature of autocratic regimes, including fascism. It is a far cry from the practise and ideals of democracy.

What is happening now in Australia and has long been the case in Papua New Guinea is that the function of the elected government has been transformed from one serving the people to one serving and servicing the interests of their corporate supporters.

Where there were once healthy, largely unbiased and capable public services able to provide expertise and advice to our incumbent governments there are now simple sycophants and lackeys telling their political bosses what they want to hear.

Now that these politicians have effectively relieved themselves of the tedious business of actually governing they are free to get on with lining their own pockets and setting up lucrative pensions and sinecures for when they get voted out.

Unfortunately, a gullible public then votes in another lot with exactly the same intellectual laziness, and venal interests.

Phil has been a consultant, as have I. I don't believe laziness was a major factor in his employment or mine. Rather, we possessed particular skills that were needed by our clients at the time. As good consultants we would probably have begun our mission by listening to the landowners, coalminers, plantation workers, factory hands and many others who were supposed to benefit from our knowledge and situational understanding - KJ

Dr Momia Teariki-Tautea | Gold Coast, Australia

Thank you Dr Ketan. The failures, mismanagement and execution of development policy lies with the planning divisions of each respective department, e,g., Department of Health Policy & Planning Division etc.

It is incumbent on these divisions to guide and direct overseas donors as to the requirements on the ground and not accept unreasonable or unworkable development policies.

The issues here are numerous and would take a dissertation.

What is required is aligning development goals towards the basic deficiencies, e.g., infrastructure, health, education, transport and law and order.

We cannot lay blame solely on the international donors, we Papua New Guineans must have the final say on “our” development. We have local knowledge, we live it.

God bless PNG!

Ted Winn

Before blaming others, we must take a good look at ourselves. Indeed, the culturally entrenched patron-client networks of corruption at all levels of government will destroy us sooner or later.

Michael Dom

Good thinking.

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