PORT MORESBY - Among the things to be mastered in Papua New Guinean politics are the subtleties and allusions of conversation, figurative speech, presentation and present-giving.
It’s a form of speech known as ‘tok-bokis’ – to speak in metaphors.
On one occasion, villagers gave a provincial governor, since retired, a traditional bilum (bag) full of corn and a tied green lizard during a ceremony he had been invited to witness.
The ignorant governor took the present believing the electorate was happy with his performance.
But the gifts had a meaning beyond the obvious.
The corn (kon in Tok Pisin) signified lies or unfulfilled promises.
The lizard has a tongue that splits in two at the tip.
It signified something similar to kon, a promise not kept.
Best not to be like the green lizard (kundu palai) in PNG. Don’t have a double tongue.
Say what you mean. And mean what you say.
The presents offered to the governor were a way of the villagers saying he had failed to keep promises made during election and that he had changed positions on issues he campaigned on when they became convenient to him.
There’s another popular tok-bokis you hear around this election time: thunder without rain.
This is used to associate a politician who is very vocal in speaking out on national issues while his electorate suffers from a lack of basic necessities.
Note to non-Papua New Guinean readers: PNG voters see the primary role of their MPs as service delivery, not law making.
This means MPs can be vocal on important national issues and still lose voters’ trust if they do not deliver tangible assets like roads, ports, hospitals, schools and suchlike.
The voters cannot be blamed for prioritising service delivery over national issues.
The 1995 reform that abolished provincial representatives brought with it the responsibility of national MPs also running the province and bearing the dual responsibility of service delivery at the grassroots as well as duties to the nation.
If an MP focuses on national issues but fails to deliver services, he is referred to as ‘Thunder Without Rain’ (klaut i pairap nogat ren) or ‘Lighting Without Showers’ (lait bilong klaut nogat ren).
You can see Lightning on television and his name may be frequently in the newspapers, but he never delivers services.
You can see Thunder in the bar, drinking and laughing with his wantoks, but you’ll never see the road he promised.
We’ve had few vocal members in this tenth national parliament of Papua New Guinea who are accused of being a Thunder.
It will be interesting to see how they go in the election scheduled for 11-24 June.
Maybe the pairap na lait will be seen among the voters.