The Epic of Jonah and The Great Repentance
Sir Peter Barter, great figure in PNG, dies at 82

When your guardians become grand thieves

Do the people understand exactly what is happening – and how it is happening, and to the benefit of whom? No, too often they don’t. They are not told. These things are not explained to them

Oates cartoon

CLEVELAND QLD –There is an argument put forward that, if everyone knows their taxes and public resources are deployed in a transparent and ethical way, where then is the corruption?

And if people vote on issues that have been fully explained to them by their elected representatives, where then is the ignorance?

After all, the trickle down of funding and information from government to public, so providing what the people want, is a major function of what government is all about.

Problems arise, however, if the people who in a democracy are supposed to control those who govern them lose sight of the money and resources and are not informed, or are improperly informed, of what is happening to them.

This loss of control and lack of knowledge denies the people an informed opportunity at the ballot box to decide whether there has been appropriate responsibility and accountability.

Just recently in Australia, we saw a government lose its privilege to govern because a sufficient number of those governed exercised their dissatisfaction with how it was governing.

But how do bad governments operate? Let me share an example with you.

Suppose a government leader, a minister, is offered an secret personal 'incentive' to make a favourable decision over a public resource without first seeking public opinion through an open and transparent consultative process?

For example, a timber company avoiding honest environmental appraisal and genuine consultation with landowners, instead choosing to get what it want by bribing the appropriate minister and his cronies.

If the landowners don't want to lose their forest and don't know how a strange company came to be able to remove their trees under the protection of government police, clearly the proper relationship between government and people has been abused and corrupted.

The landowners lose a precious resource by means beyond their control and for which they are unfairly and poorly compensated.

At a national level, this process is said to provide jobs, provide development, provide exports and provide wealth.

In reality, it might do each of these things but not fairly or equitably or in a way that benefits a small conspiring group not the vast bulk of the people and certainly not the people whose land and resource have been exploited.

So to whom do the former owners of the now disappeared forest turn to fine compensation and justice?

Why, it is to the same representatives of the government who had conspired corruptly to effectively steal their forest.

Different forms of this same example can apply to most national resources like fish stocks or minerals under the ground.

There are variations on this theme when we consider public money spent in infrastructure.

Did that road or building really cost all that money? Or what happened to the money granted for that bridge that was never built or hospital that was left unfinished?

And suppose a government needs to undertake important business like paying salaries and running airports and purchasing vital medicines but has spent all of its money. What happens then?

Well it may be given money or material by other countries or it can negotiate loans from banks or other countries, which will, of course, have to be paid back at some time.

And if there is no money to pay, what happens then? Well, the country or company may demand something in return – like a port, for example.

And do the people understand exactly what is happening – and how it is happening, and to the benefit of whom?

No, too often they don’t. They are not told. These things are not explained to them.

In a democracy, properly governed, the people should know. But they don’t know and the reason because if they did know they would be horrified and want to get rid of the people who were effectively stealing from them and keeping their country or state or district poor.

Whether we live in a developed country or a developing country, we are the victims of much poor governance that misuses our money and our resources and, because it knows what it is doing, it misinforms us to cover its misdeeds.

In 2022, faced with enormous problems of disease and a rapidly degrading environment, the people of our planet are, for the most part, shockingly ill informed.

In Papua New Guinea, resources are being plundered with the knowledge of those who govern the country.

In Australia, a serious disease has been allowed to spread with the knowledge of those who govern the country.

And in each case the people have not been informed clearly or at all – and not been able to understand - what has happened and what has been agreed to in their name.

Sometimes it seems like a bad dream. But it is only too real. And it can so easily turn a good life quite sour.

People everywhere need to be alert for this. We don’t want those we elect as our guardians to become the grand thieves who not only deny us what is ours, they can also lead us into the most dreadful predicaments.


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Stephen Charteris

Well, surely here is the rub. The fine ideas contained within the PNG Constitution bear no relationship to any lived reality. I would challenge anyone to show me where these ideas are acted upon.

On the contrary, the 'bikman' (presently there are no women) elected by processes more akin to the dark arts than anything resembling free and fair, are for all intents and purposes place holders for big men in the traditional sense. And big men do what they must to be re-elected.

So why would anyone be surprised by the outcomes: rampant corruption, collapsed services, few job opportunities and an increasingly disaffected youth.

I believe it was not without significance that the ABC reported that part of the message received by Minister Wong during her recent visit to the Solomon Islands was to direct development assistance towards empowering communities. (Read not just government).

Lindsay F Bond

Who said the gavman owns each tree?
Who is custodian of oral history?

Is it not true that oral history was, and much still, shared and owned by all or at least a broad swathe of the population of each clan?

The benefit is not only knowing but also in not losing if any one or several persons pass away (or might try to mislead). Thus it is for each language group in recollection of past events and knowledge of each.

What principle of ownership guides the nation Papua New Guinea for physical possessions?
Of rights and values of physical resources at every square metre of terrestrial possession, is the question 'done and dusted', or has it yet to emerge?

After all, nationhood was offered and adopted, but conceptually was terrestrial possession actually assigned to a system where distant 'officials' might inequitably enrich the robbers of rights?

Michael Dom | Ples Singsing

"This loss of control and lack of knowledge denies the people an informed opportunity at the ballot box to decide whether there has been appropriate responsibility and accountability."

"An informed opportunity at the ballot box"... How to get there at 64% illiteracy and the majority functionally illiterate?

It's a hypothesis I'm working on so I accept the offtrack comment and blind leap in logic, but reject the conclusion that it will not help me.

It's very interesting that you should think that way Keith. And you may be right, by deductive reasoning.

My observations are leading me to other conclusions but I need more data (inductive reasoning in progress).

I am not setting out to prove what is 'right', rather I am trying for what is 'true'.

Also, improbability is probably what writers deal with all the time, or at least poets do.

Our very existence is an improbability, we are born of it.

"Somehow, through forces not evident or apparent, in Michael Dom Papua New Guinea produced a world class poet."

Improbable, maybe, maybe impossible, maybe not worth the text I am typing in.

I didn't set out to become some great and glorious poet (vomiting violently), neither did Francis Nii, the great essayist.

When we began writing, getting read was improbable.

Without making too much of a fuss about the improbable journey, I'd like to realize that ples singsing which we should have reached before independence in 1975.

It is impossible for Francis Nii or Iambakey Okuk or Michael Somare to return from the dead.

We need to create more of them. That is possible.

This is the quickening.

Ross Wilkinson

And, of course, Ministers forming private companies to be awarded government 'tenders' to capture the rest of the money that hasn't already passed through their pockets.

Over-inflated invoices then bleed the project allocation dry with non-completion or inferior work the result.

Terry Gilsenan

The third word in the title sums it up: 'Guardians'.

Anyone treating the government (Public service and politicians) as leaders or guardians, has only themselves to blame.

The correct relationship between Citizen and Public Servant, is in the word 'Servant'. The government is the employee of the citizen.
When this relationship is confused, the corporation (Nation) is subject to the rules of Agency Theory.

We need to educate the people.

Well Terry, I'm afraid your views do not constitute that 'education'. It is necessary to refer to the Constitution of PNG to correctly determine the relationship between the people and their constituted leaders.

In everyday management parlance, the executive of government would be called 'servant leaders', and servant in this sense is not the person downstairs who answers the bell when you ring it.

The Preamble of the PNG Constitution asserts (its word) "that all power belongs to the people - acting through their duly elected representatives". So the people give their elected representatives agency - and power - through the electoral process.

And to reinforce this, the Constitution (Part VI, Division 1, 99) declares "the power, authority and jurisdiction of the People shall be exercised by the National Government".

And this becomes more specific (in Subdivision B, 141, b) which states that "the Ministry is collectively answerable to the People, through the Parliament, for the proper carrying out of the executive government of Papua New Guinea and for all things done by or under the authority of the National Executive".

In short, the People yield their own authority and power to an elected government and particularly to its Ministry.

So the government is not "the employee of the citizen", as you assert, nothing like it. Once elected and formed a government has considerable authority over the citizen and cannot be ordered to bring you your cup of tea in the morning.

Those elected are your representatives and not your servant in the sense that you have used the word as "a person employed by another". Nevertheless they are accountable to the people and the main way this accountability is offered is through the electoral process.

But those elected are instructed to exercise their power according to the Constitution and the law. It is in this sense they have been given guardianship as the headline describes it - KJ

Michael Dom | Ples Singsing

I used to get worked up about all the political nonsense and official corruption that occurs in PNG. Oftentimes, I still do.

But I've found a better way, for me, to address that issue more productively, not discounting my polemic poetry pastime.

It's my hope that other writers also find this pathway meaningful., and join us at Ples Singsing.

As Caroline Evari, one of our Masterminds, has eloquently expressed today "To be able to speak better English one must read. To be able to write better English one must read. Having access to books makes these possible".

So, by default the writing in these books has to also be good or at least be legible enough so that the ideas can be assimilated, digested and responded to.

Better writing requires more reading and thinking.

Writing also facilitates thinking.

Writing helps us to gather our thoughts collate the ideas we want to express, formulate the story we want to tell and convey the message in a manner that allows our readers to follow us down the pathway of meaning.

That activity has real implications in our daily lives because through it we are learning.

And we are learning more and better too, to gain knowledge and understanding that helps us make better decisions.

In order to make make better choices and decisions we have to know of what better means.

In order to know better we have to learn better.

It's a cycle. And it builds upon itself.

Because all that reading, thinking and writing helps us to learn better.

From ancient times in every human society, learning was fundamental to survival.

In modern times education has converted learning into an economic activity aimed at 'getting a job'.

Nevertheless, the fundamental basis for learning remains the same, as we all find out when we want to exit the fecund unemployment fields after college or university.

I don't know precisely what a better PNG would look like but I do know that we won't ever find out if we don't start thinking better.

So, we need to encourage our younger generation to read and think and write better if we want a better Papua Niugini.

Em long dispela as tasol na Ples Singsing i sanap pinis.

Michael, these are good thoughts well expressed, but they are off topic and your introduction takes an improbable leap in logic when you claim: "I've found a better way, for me, to address that issue more productively"

If this is your way, I wish you luck, but it is a formula that offers only 'encouragement' to read, think and write as a strategy to combat "political nonsense and official corruption".

Em bai no nap halivim yu gut.

I believe PNG's senior and celebrated writers need to be a constant force in using their God-given talents and wise understandings to enter the field of combat against corruption and incapability. Now.

In this regard, I think of our great friend, the late Francis Nii who frequently addressed these issues with cleverness and vigour.

In the tribute volume, Man Bilong Buk', we republished some of Francis's glorious essays in which he chose to do just that (pages 152-238 being especially relevant). It may be a slow and grinding process but, if PNG's writers made this a priority for now and set an example to next generation writers, it would do far more good than 'encouragement' in the hope that something may change in the future - KJ

Bernard Corden

Networks of influence/power – tracking the movements of politicians, people of influence, bureaucrats, lobby groups, and big business/industry.

More than half of politicians retire to positions of power in lobby groups or big industry:

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