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Bougainville is heading the same way as PNG

We live in a neo-liberal system that greatly benefits the few while harming the many who live in increasing poverty. It allows foreign companies to exploit and an elite to flourish while it subjugates the ordinary people by imposing limits on how they can benefit from development. It is a system that is unsustainable

Buka passage
The Buka passage (Pinterest)


ADELAIDE - It’s wonderful to read Leonard Fong Roka’s words about his beloved Bougainville once again. His is a voice that deserves to be heard.

Earlier this week, he drew attention to the grievous failure of Papua New Guinea's ruling elites to deliver anything of real substance to the people who elected them to govern (‘Independence? Can We Get There From Here?’).

It is undeniably true that, since PNG’s independence, huge amounts of resources have been squandered or stolen; a veritable treasure that should have been directed towards worthwhile, nation-building ends.

It is also true that PNG and Bougainville suffer from the same endemic incompetence and corruption that blights many other resource-rich developing nations.

This is part of an international pattern that we see repeated irrespective of the fine words - and even the genuine efforts - of the world's various ruling elites.

International corporations operating in developing countries fall into line with the demands of the host government even if they believe these demands unfair, corrupt or in some other way wrong.

This is, they say with a shrug, just the way business is done in these places. If we want to be here, we need to comply with the ‘local rules’.

There is some truth in what they say. In a neo-liberal capitalist system the important rule seems to be 'everyone for themselves and the devil take the hindmost'.

Or to quote that nicely sardonic Australian aphorism coined by football great Teddy Whitton, 'Winners are grinners and losers can please themselves'.

The manifestations of this ethos can be seen everywhere in the modern world and neither PNG nor Bougainville are exceptions to the rule.

My sad conclusion is that there can be no immediate relief from the licenced brigandage that now dominates the business world and increasingly the political world.

Matters have gone too far for the genie of unbridled greed, corruption and influence peddling to be squeezed back into its bottle.

Mount Bagana

This genie has accompanied neo-liberalism too far to be reined in by anything short of revolution.

Quite how this revolution might be brought about remains unclear.

Paradoxically, we live in a time when the beneficiaries of the public's growing anger and resentment at the inequity, inequality and unfairness are those who are the source of this fury.

They are what we call 'populist' leaders of one form or another. More correctly I think they should be termed proto-fascists: men of the ilk of Trump (USA), Erdogan (Turkey), Lukashenko (Belarus) and Putin (Russia).

Anyone with even the slightest acquaintance of history knows that fascism, especially when harnessed to virulent nationalism, has no benign form.

It is brutal and it always ends badly for ordinary folk.

The current Russo-Ukraine War is only the most recent vulgar demonstration of this.

It should interest us who live in and around the Pacific Islands that China's paramount leader, Xi Jinping, seems to have recognised the threat posed by persistent corruption and the related emergence of serious economic inequality within China.

Xi is clamping down hard on corruption both within the Communist Party and in the broader Chinese business elite.

He is proclaiming the urgent need for a more equitable distribution of wealth and opportunity within China.

Xi's actions are partly self-serving but also appear to include a genuine motivation to effect change within China. Whether his rhetoric is ultimately matched by the reality remains to be seen.

Leonard's observations about what is happening in Bougainville are a good fit for this wider pattern of development that suits the interests of developers, compradors and foreign corporations engaged in investment, trade or other forms of economic and political exploitation.

There are solutions which are open to Bougainville and other countries facing the same problems.

It is a generalisation, but a useful one, that either the prevailing system will have to be changed profoundly or things will go on as before until some indeterminate end point is reached – an end point which is unlikely to be happy.

As Leonard wisely predicts, national independence alone is no solution to such systemic problems.

He recognises that the attainment of independence alone will not rid Bougainville of the grip of these forces.

If Bougainville’s leaders already feel largely powerless to influence foreign corporations, things are unlikely to improve when an independent state is established.

We are not really talking just about Bougainville.

I would contend that we citizens, in whose name nation-states are created, are in the same boat as our cousins in Bougainville even if we do not recognise this.

The truth is that there is no way to deal with the many problems now confronting humanity without abandoning the neo-liberal capitalist system.

This system demands endless growth in consumption to support endless growth in production and endless growth in profits.

And we now see that this system greatly benefits the few, who live with increasing wealth, while it hugely harms the many, who live in increasing poverty.

It is a system that is unsustainable.

It allows foreign companies to exploit and an elite to flourish while it suppresses and subjugates the ordinary people by imposing limits on how they can benefit from growth.

That is not a stable system and it is not a sustainable system.

Singsing kaur (flute)
Singsing kaur (bamboo flutes)

A better model would be a political and economic system focussed upon long term sustainability, increased not diminished local equity, and the conservation of critical natural resources not the accumulation of wealth, assets and privilege for their own sake.

For those of us living in the so-called ‘developed world' this will necessarily mean living more economically constrained lives so that people living in the 'developing world' are eventually able to live in at least modest comfort and security.

This can only occur when the inherently exploitative aspects of the current neo-liberal system are significantly curtailed, probably through the application of regulatory controls that mandate fair and reasonable behaviour in such things as labour relations, housing, health services, education and so forth.

Of course, this will be vehemently and loudly opposed by the current winners under neo-liberalism.

These winners are currently protesting against the very modest industrial relations reforms being introduced by the Australian government in an effort to rebalance the current inequitable system.

I cannot see how the required reforms can be made unless and until the world of business is brought firmly under the control of government, not the other way around.

We elect our governments to govern in the people’s interests not to be captured by an elite or by business and then governed according to criteria which are not designed to boost the interests of the people.

My earnest hope is that the current ruling elites around the world will be smart enough to negotiate a new set of arrangements that preserve some of their wealth and privileges rather than risking the violent revolutionary upheaval that struck Europe and China in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Even though these observations may seem remote from those of Leonard Fong Roka, he and I are actually discussing the same problem.

Whether anyone within the ruling elites of PNG or Bougainville understands and believes they are heading down the wrong track is impossible to know.


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Arthur Williams

I enjoyed your article, Chris, particularly as yesterday I posted a blog bemoaning neo-liberalism and its results worldwide.

Guess you are afraid of an anti-Semitism criticism so failed to mention the return of Benny to power in Palestine. A dangerous nationalist and judging by his security forces a supporter of fascism.

I was happy to see that there was a move last week to accuse Israel of anti-Semitic behaviour to the Arabs under their colonial rule.

The world's Israeli sycophant's having captured the word Semite as if it is purely about the Jewish people.

Lindsay F Bond

Ninety-one (yes, 91) members of the PNG parliament are in need of retraining as they have been found to be heading in the direction of lawlessness.



Bernard Corden

"The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution" - Hannah Arendt

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