Independence? Can we get there from here?
05 November 2022
The problem is not too few resources, a small population, a lack of investor confidence or some other excuse the politicians use to cover their incompetence. The problem is poor leadership
LEONARD FONG ROKA
PANGUNA - Bougainville is a small island with enough resources for its population and we should be able to deliver good lives to ourselves.
Sure, there’s the crisis of global warming to harm her, but this is a world crisis which we do not face alone.
Life is not meant to be easy but it seems to me that too often we Bougainvilleans make our lives harder than they should be.
Somehow the people of this island have to understand and feel and attain what we voted for so overwhelmingly in the 2019 referendum: the opportunity to make our lives even better.
The problem is that Bougainville’s leadership is blind to how this can be achieved.
The terrible armed conflict on our island ended in 1997, so it is 25 years since civil rule returned.
Within these 25 years, Bougainvilleans have participated in six national elections, four Bougainville elections and an important referendum.
That’s a lot of time to get the politics settled and get the economy moving productively.
If I carry Bougainville’s 25 years to South East Asia and do a comparative economic analysis with the Asian Tigers (Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan) and the Asian Tiger Cubs (Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines), what I see makes me so sad.
In Bougainville, just like in Papua New Guinea, I have observed nothing but 25 years of corruption, underdevelopment and over exploitation of resources by foreigners.
The problem is not too few resources, a small population, a lack of investor confidence or some other excuse the politicians use to cover their incompetence.
The problem is poor leadership.
In both Bougainville and PNG, the leadership is blind to the realities of global economic and political development.
The leadership cannot distinguish between right and wrong and it does not know how statehood should be worked towards to reap the maximum advancement and progress for citizens.
It seems to me that Bougainville’s leaders do not know they are Bougainvilleans, or forget they are Bougainvilleans.
Bougainville’s government officers and members of parliament form an upper class which believes it is entitled.
You might observe that once these people leave office, their assets are high in the sky while the citizens continue to struggle as they have for so many generations now.
And in the pursuit of personal prestige and power by our leaders and upper class, for 25 years they have overlooked the very first step to fix the Bougainville economy – and that is to make it accessible not just to themselves but to the people.
Back in 1997 trafficable road systems were supposed to be the priority.
There should have been a road built from Manetai to Torokina and on to Kunua in the north-west.
There should have been feeder road connections into all the villages of the Kongara.
All the river crossings should have been bridged in the south and north-west.
Other feeder road networks, where needed, were supposed to exist by now.
But sadly, the state has no eyes to see the needs of the people.
It did not build these roads which would have been the backbone of our economy.
However we do not have these roads which would have helped commerce flourish.
Roads are understood by every citizen. People do not have to be educated or trained in roads. When we see a road we know what it is for.
Indeed, citizens need to know what are the real priorities of the government.
Each year, the PNG government provides K10 million to each of Bougainville’s four national members of parliament. That’s a lot of money.
When we look at our own Autonomous Bougainville Government and its development grants and support funds, we ask where they have gone to?
When we look at donor funds from other countries and international organisations, it is fair to ask where are they?
The Japanese sponsored Arawa to Kokopau trunk road would have been started earlier if we had leaders who were Bougainvilleans by heart and not just by money.
And today we talk about independence by 2027. At this time the Bougainville people should be united but instead the political and economic climate is shattered and fragmented.
Individual leaders run their own stuff. The business sector does as it pleases. The citizens, in confusion, dance to their own music.
So the question is: where is the nation?
The people of Bougainville should be talking, behaving and acting in ways that are oriented to the common goal.
For want of a road, people from Torokina die in the sea trying to reach Buka, the home of their government.
People die crossing the open sea from the atolls and islands to mainland Bougainville, but no leader will waste time promoting safety to them.
People climb the mountains to Arawa and cross flooded rivers to reach other towns to sell their produce, but gain very little and even die trying to reach trafficked roads to take them to health facilities.
We do not own resources like cocoa and copra that we waste our bodies for every day.
The government has opened the door to foreigners to take over and enslave us just as it was during colonial era when the Panguna mine was established.
Thus 25 years have been wasted and more will be wasted.
At the end, the Bougainville nation and government will be a replica of PNG where corruption is for the rich and theft and other illegal activities will be how citizens meet their daily needs and wants.
I’m also enjoying the comeback of Captain Bougainville.
His ability to get to the core of the matter in simple and understandable sentences is refreshing.
I reckon his writing has matured in the years since the Crocodile Prize.
On the matter at hand, I’d like to suggest that our reliance on politicians to act and get things done is nearing its use-by date. Everywhere.
Our natural default position when something important needs doing is to our politicians. You might have noticed, however, that their responses are getting less and less useful.
Hollow promises that are never delivered, blame shifting and pathetic excuses are now their standard stock in trade.
The reason, of course, is that they are so enmeshed in the machinery they are supposed to be governing as to be ineffectual.
That machinery largely consists of unfettered neoliberal capitalism with all its faults.
Profit over people, massive economic inequities, rampant corruption, no social conscience, cold-blooded disregard for the environment and so on and on and on.
These people, these politicians, no longer serve the people. They serve their masters and those masters live in big corporations.
Why would you want to rely on people like that? Why would you place your future in the hands of people like that?
Because that’s what you’ve always done?
Because there’s no other option?
Because you aspire to be one of them?
Because you are stupid?
Or all of those things?
If it’s all of those things, or even just a couple of them, do you realise what it will do to you?
You’ll become a bloated monster devoid of feeling, vainly searching for a bigger and bigger sugar hit that never satisfies.
You’ll become a hated creature in a barren landscape.
The people you trample will hate you and the sycophants who grovel at your feet waiting for your crumbs will hate you.
You’ll become a walking, talking incubus. Or a Trumpian clown.
Wouldn’t you rather be part of the solution instead of part of the problem?
If that’s so, then don’t become a politician. Don’t have anything to do with them. Don’t become tainted by their disease.
Look for the road less travelled.
Talk to your compatriots. Decide where you all want to go. Work out a new route. Plan carefully.
And don’t give up hope.
There is always a better way.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 08 November 2022 at 07:44 PM
It is wonderful to see Leonard Fong Roka writing about his beloved Bougainville once again. His is a voice that deserves to be heard.
In this instance he has drawn attention to the grievous failure of PNG's ruling elites to actually deliver anything of real substance to the people on whose behalf they purport to govern.
It is undeniably true that, since independence, huge amounts of resources have been squandered or simply stolen that could 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 or even genuine efforts of the world's various ruling elites.
Even if international corporations do not actively promote the establishment of this pattern, they fall into line with its requirements anyway. It is, they say with a shrug, just the way business is done in these places.
There is some truth in this statement: in a neo-liberal capitalist system the governing rule is 'everyone for himself and the devil take the hindmost' or, to quote an old Australian aphorism, 'Winners are grinners and losers can please themselves'.
The manifestations of this ethos may be seen everywhere in the modern world so that 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, by extension, very often the political world too.
Matters have gone too far for the genie of unbridled greed, corruption and influence peddling that has accompanied neo-liberalism to be reined in by anything short of revolution.
Quite how this revolution may be brought about remains to be seen.
At the moment at least, the beneficiaries of the public's growing anger and resentment at the inequity, inequality and basic unfairness of the current system seem mostly to be what we call 'populists' (actually, proto fascists) of one form or another. Trump, Erdogan, Lukashenko and Putin are examples of this kind of politician.
Of course, anyone with the slightest acquaintance with history knows that fascism, especially when harnessed to virulent nationalism, has no benign form and always ends badly for ordinary folk as the current Russo-Ukraine war vividly demonstrates.
Interestingly, China's paramount leader, Xi Zinping, seems to have recognised the threat posed by both persistent corruption and the related emergence of serious economic inequality within China.
He therefore is clamping down hard on corruption both within the Communist Party and the broader Chinese business elite and proclaiming the urgent need for a more equitable distribution of both wealth and opportunity within China.
Xi's actions are at least partly self-serving but appear to include a genuine motivation to effect change within China. Whether his rhetoric is ultimately matched by reality remains to be seen.
So, Leonard's observations about Bougainville fit the wider pattern all too well. The solutions open to Bougainville are the same too.
Either the prevailing system must be changed quite profoundly, or things will simply go on as before.
Independence per se is no solution to these systemic problems because Bougainville will remain within the grip of systemic forces that it is largely powerless to influence.
I would contend that we ordinary folk are all in very much the same boat with Bougainvilleans even if we do not recognise this fact.
The truth is that there is no way to deal with the many problems now confronting the human world without abandoning the current neo-liberal capitalist system which demands endless growth in consumption to support endless growth in the production of consumer goods and so endless growth in profits.
It is a system that is, literally, eating itself without regard to the now painfully obvious limits to growth, at least growth that is sustainable.
It needs to be replaced with a form of political and economic system that is focussed upon long term sustainability and the conservation of critical natural resources and systems, not the accumulation of wealth, assets and privilege for their own sake.
For those of us living in the so-called 'first world' this will necessarily mean living more economically constrained lives in order that those 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 system can be significantly curtailed, probably through the application of regulatory controls that mandate fair and reasonable behaviour in such things as labour relations, housing, health services and so forth.
Of course, this will be vehemently and loudly opposed by the current winners under neo-liberalism, just as they are currently declaiming 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 vice versa.
My earnest hope is that the current ruling elites across the world will be smart enough to negotiate a new set of arrangements that preserve at least some of their wealth and privileges rather than risking eventual oblivion in the sort of violent revolutionary upheaval that struck Europe and China in the 19th and 20th centuries.
So, even though my observations may seem remote from those of Leonard Fong Roka, I think that we are actually discussing the same problem, albeit on different scales.
Whether anyone within the ruling elites of PNG or Bougainville either believes or understands this is impossible to know.
Posted by: Chris Overland | 08 November 2022 at 04:58 PM
During one of his many excoriating parliamentary speeches towards the Tory Party in the United Kingdom, the late Aneurin Bevan proclaimed:
"This island is made mainly of coal and surrounded by fish. Only an organizing genius could produce a shortage of coal and fish at the same time."
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 05 November 2022 at 09:53 AM