EDDIE T PAINE
It's the 48th anniversary of Papua New Guinea’s independence on Saturday and Eddie’s Kikibakik, a folk tale in the Binandere language of Oro Province, discusses the problems besieging the nation and how they might be best addressed - KJ
PORT MORESBY - We sit down in the forever blacked-out Port Moresby night and hear our neighbours playing the famous Saugas song, Sindaun Bagarap, which echoes around on this windy night. And we hear the buai (betel nut) buyers complaining about hikes in prices. And we think about Papua New Guinea turning 48 in a few days’ time.
The question I ask my small brother, Braigi, is how have we progressed so far in the last 48 years as a nation?
Braigi says, “Namji (brother), there are so many challenges we have as a nation and I am very concerned”. The discussion travels through the night until our betel nut supply runs out. I think that maybe I’ll write something from that night as a reflection. This is it.
PNG got its independence from Australia on 16 September in 1975. Thanks to our founding fathers, we didn’t need to fight for it like other countries did. But even though they had given independence freely, the Australians still doubted how Papua New Guineans would run this country. That was even though, in the lead up to independence, we had a Constitutional Planning Committee that had already planned our development pathway.
It was a pathway that was to be centred on the people, on localisation and on an economy driven by Papua New Guineans based on equal distribution of wealth, rural development and respect for one another and the environment. These virtues eventually became the five national goals and directive principles now found in the Constitution.
Straight after the independence, however, our politicians backed by some powerful local elites and foreigners, opted for a development path that based on resource extraction.
The belief was that foreign-owned companies would be brought in to extract our resources and sell them on international markets, and the proceeds would be used to fund economic development for the nation as a whole. That became our development path then and it remains to this day.
As we approach 48 years of independence, we should ask if we have realised our goals? Has that extraction-based approach benefitted all Papua New Guineans within rural and in urban settings? Our discussion that windy night concluded that we have not benefitted. The rural majority do not benefit and the indicators of this are very obvious.
We have so many oil and gas fields, and mines, and forestry and oil palm projects all around the country with very little to show for it. Our people’s lives are worse than before. The promise of these projects for employment, benefits and better lives hasn’t been realised. Yet we are forced to free up our only important asset, our customary land, for development and to only to suffer more. This has been repeated over the last 48 years.
Our prime minister when in France visited Total Energy executives who spoke highly about Papua LNG and the benefits it would bring to the economy. Well this talk is not new. We heard it when PNG LNG was established. We have seen similar promises made in all sectors of the economy.
We are misled to believe that this is our development. No, it’s not our development. It’s their development for their benefit. We reap the ‘benefits’ of being made landless and evicted as in Porgera, or see our waterways polluted like the Fly River at Basamuk, or people manhandled on their own land by police as with the Pomio SABLs and at most logging sites.
We witness social and cultural breakdown and environmental loss. Why are we not the next Dubai as was promoted by a governor? Why? We should have been better off by now with more foreign currency reserves, more downstream processing of resources (especially fuel), a sufficient supply of medical drugs and facilities and more money circulating in our country.
I think we have some answers to those questions.
First, these foreign owned companies are here to make profit. They are not here to fund our development agenda and we’ve witnessed that over the last 48 years. The repeated sweet talk of our politicians hase not come true.
We have progressed backwards and not realised how far backwards we’ve gone. These big companies bank their profits in offshore tax havens facilitated by corrupt individuals and organisations. We are only given bones to fight over.
Why do we still believe our politicians and economic hitmen who pretend to represent us in project negotiations and agreements? It’s about time we should be rising up and start asking tougher questions and be demanding answers. Are we going to wait another 50 years before we realise we are doomed?
Secondly, corruption is a huge problem in PNG and has denied basic health and education services from reaching our people, most of whom are rural based. Our annual CPI (consumer price index) scores are among the worst in the Pacific Islands region. Half of our development budget is mismanaged and stolen by MPs, bureaucrats and those in various authorities.
This is all evident in daily news, in court documents and in taxpayer-funded investigations like the Finance Department and UBS inquiries. We need to get rid of corruption and greed within our society so we can see basic services reaching our people.
Our 94 districts receive K10 million each per year with nothing to show for it. There are no financial statements and no acquittals to show how these funds are used, as repeatedly stated by the Auditor General. There are also few plans to guide districts in how they will spend public money on developments to benefit their constituents. As of now, only 11 of 94 districts have a five-year plan.
My nephew Randy asks: "So what can be done now? How can we better our country? I am so worried thinking about all that we have discussed.” We then did discuss solutions that we thought would address the current status of our country.
We came up with three key points:
- People should be made the centre of the development.
- Stop forcing Papua New Guineans to free up their customary lands.
- It’s time for the people to revolt. Enough is enough.