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Dependency Theory


CAIRNS – “We have the local knowledge, we live it -” Dr Momia Teariki-Tautea, PNG Attitude, 29 March 2022

I thank the doctor for his truism, but I would ask whether Papua New Guineans have applied it?

I suggest the knowledge Dr Teariki-Tautea speaks of is ignored by nearly all administrative arms of the PNG government.

Time and again we find public servants ensconced in their offices and rarely in the field where they are needed.

When asked why, the response invariably involves a lecture on their lack of resources. 

If you offer to provide transport on a day convenient to the officer, you can expect to be told it is unable to be accepted because there is an important meeting to attend.

I have experienced this situation on too many occasions to recall.

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

I took the gentlemen to the airport for his long-awaited flight to the bush.

Two hours later I 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.

This event was more remarkable by the absence of a mobile phone signal at his destination.

So having achieved the right to an office with a desk, a high-backed chair and an 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 operation.

No other entity, whether private, non-government or church is permitted to use its own initiative to address unmet needs.

If the officer cares not to act, it is not permissible for anyone else to do so either.

Meanwhile, this perpetual cycle of public service inertia and excuses combines with earnest but misplaced governance and capacity building activities to the benefit of consultants and their companies.

But, frankly, to the benefit of no one else.

Any survey of health or education indicators reveals that the costly development game has delivered no sustainable outcomes at local government, ward or community level.

Dr Ketan and Dr Teariki-Tautea are correct.

By any reasonable measure, development models have largely failed and what the two scholars say is trued: that the PNG people who “have the local knowledge & live it” must be brought into planning and implementation processes.

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


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