That leadership means occupying political office is twisted. That you can only make a difference if you’re an MP is delusional
| Academia Nomad
WAIGANI - Many young people are contesting Papua New Guinea’s national election due to start on Friday 8 July.
Some have graduated only a few months ago with new university degrees, whilst others have been working for just a few years.
Young people in PNG have been politically active since before independence.
Paias Wingti, left his studies at the University of PNG midway and contested elections and won. He went on to become prime minister.
Julius Chan was only 28 when he became PNG’s first finance minister. Michael Somare was just 39 when he led PNG to independence after being first elected to parliament at age 32.
Some current politicians like Gary Juffa, Allan Bird and Powes Parkop were at the forefront of student-led protests during their days at UPNG.
The trend continues of students developing political ambitions during protests against the government at university and later standing for election.
Several UPNG students contested the Port Moresby North West seat during the semester break, failed to get elected and returned to complete their studies.
It’s not uncommon for former university students to tell the populace during elections, “I fought for your rights and got shot at by the police”.
However, there is a distinction between what we’re seeing now and past generations.
The Somare-Chan era was different because at the time they were among the few highly educated Papua New Guineans we had.
Juffa, Bird and Parkop went from university into private and public sector jobs, gained the necessary experience, proved their worth and entered politics.
If you wonder why Juffa is an effective orator or Bird is so skilful in delivering services, it has to do with experience.
But unlike in the 1970s and 1980s, we have a large educated population and are in no desperate need for young graduates to enter politics.
The concern is that many young people who contest elections see politics as the only way they can make a difference in their communities.
In fact they see politics as the answer to every question. Phrases like ‘everything rises and falls on leadership’ are manipulated and grossly abused in PNG.
This misconception partly has to do with what our politics has evolved into: that it’s about money.
If you have money, you can solve any problem in your community.
Each year open electorate members of parliament get K10 million in district service improvement funds which they spend largely at their discretion.
Governors get K5 million multiplied by the number of districts in their province.
Most PNG politicians don’t see themselves as lawmakers. Nor do the people see them as lawmakers.
They’re seen as walking ATMs.
Everything from hauskrai [funerary] contributions to funding health centres is the role of the MP.
You hardly hear candidates campaigning to reform the 370 colonial laws that are still applicable in PNG.
Of course, young people have a right to contest elections. But the twisted view that politics is the answer to everything is troubling.
That leadership means occupying a political office is twisted. That you can only make a difference if you’re an MP is delusional.
I wrote in one of my Facebook posts:
“The day our musicians become international stars, our sports athletes win Olympic medals, our rugby, soccer, cricket teams start winning international trophies, our entrepreneurs and products become international brands, our literatures are made into movies, and our novels make the New York Times best sellers… is the day the number of PNG candidates who contest the elections will drop.
“At the moment, politics is the proven way one becomes rich and popular. Kids from a young age are introduced to three months of non-stop election frenzy.
“When they grow they want to be politicians. And the circle goes on. 2,000 plus candidates. Over a billion spent nationwide. All for what?”
Politics is seen as how rockstars are made (Juffa, Bird, Kramer). Politics is seen as where all the answers lie.
It is associated with leadership to the exclusion of other arenas. It’s a twisted view and it needs to change.
It’s unfair not to say that some young people do understand elections as a process of getting elected to make laws, the main role of politicians.
And it would be unfair to deny they don’t see a genuine need for political representation for their communities.
If you’re one of these people, the rant above doesn’t apply to you.
But keep your hearts pure. In Papua New Guinea, politics turns good men into evil men.