IN A RECENT EMAIL EXCHANGE between me and a lawyer for the Onamah “government”, I came to realise the rationale of the “government’s” lawyers in carrying out - in an almost blank, robotic, devoid-of-conscience manner - their clients’ instructions.
Two significant perceptions were revealed in the email exchanges. And there are lessons here for this election period:
The elected leaders are the only people mandated to decide what is in the “national interest”. I was scolded because I was putting forward my opinions on what’s best for PNG, when I had no mandate to decide.
That disqualifies you and me, and everyone else who is not an elected leader, from thinking about and deciding what is the nation’s best interest. So we’re all wasting our time discussing and debating on Sharp Talk or anywhere else right?
This was an amazing perspective this lawyer had. We are expected to be blind citizens, blind public servants, devoid of any independent ability to assess whether an act or omission is in the best interests of the country. Or if we have an opinion we must subject it to the elected leaders.
We must believe without question our elected leaders when they open their mouths and say, “I’m doing this for the good of this nation”. That is law. That is the gospel. Who am I—who are we—to question such authority?
With this premise these lawyers have hung on to their client’s word, not willing to believe anyone else when they point out the red lights for the country.
They wrote their laws, spun their moves to make them saintly, and defended them vigorously. And with the majority of the nation’s populace being unable to form proper opinions based on truth, people swallowed lies like they were the gospel.
I refuse to buy such a rationale. That’s not the way God made us. He made us to reason, to questions, to assess and consider. One of His greatest lines in the Bible is, “Come, let us reason together.”
If the all-knowing God is willing to sit down and reason with us “mere mortals”, what makes our elected leaders think they should not try to reason with their people, with us? Why should they be right all the time and our opinions don’t even get a vote?
No. I think ordinary citizens of PNG, even loud-mouthed public servants like me, have the inherent mandate to assess and decide what is the nation’s best interest; and attempt to articulate it so that the nation can have something, other than the elected leaders words, to consider.
We become dangerous tools, like those lawyers, when we wilfully vacate our independent consciences on matters that touch us directly or indirectly.
“You shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds you”. The government pays your salary or fees, so don’t speak out against it.
In this caution to me, the lawyer betrayed their way of thinking: that the client, in paying for everything, decides what side we’re on.
With such a rationale, it makes no use to reason with people. They don’t have the luxury of seeing reason through unclouded glasses. They must side with the “hand that feeds them.”
It’s a really sad perception...and inaccurate. We public servants are not paid by the government; we’re paid by the people of PNG through their sweat and taxes.
Biting the hand that feeds us, in our context, means taking from the public purse and serving ourselves rather than the public. And it can even mean remaining silent while the nation is dragged through the mud by rogue “elected leaders”. When we see what’s wrong and we let it slide, that’s when we betray our real employer: the people of PNG.
The government of the day just happens to be our current boss. It’s like the relationship between subordinate employees in a company and their top managers. The subordinates, appreciating the interest of the shareholders, have an unwritten duty to break the silence when they notice the detrimental actions of top managers—actions that may hurt the interest of the true owners.
So whilst mercenary lawyers are loyal to their clients, public servants are loyal to our people. (Yes, even when those people are so confused because the “boss” of the day has produced a beautiful report of himself.)
And in their loyalty to the people, which is a loyalty that’s higher than to the government of the day, they must find a way to serve the people best—be it in speaking out or in doing their job well.
It’s indeed sad that people could posses these two perceptions regardless of the confronting truth and reality of the mess we’re in.
It tells us this: The people we are about to elect will need to have a balanced and sound philosophy of the national interest.
We can’t take their word for it. We need to read between the lines, assess their past actions; weigh their words to find out what they think is the nation’s best interest.
They have to be willing to listen to reason. They must consider the opinions of their subordinates, testing their views against a higher standard—not their own.
They have to be humble enough to admit when they are wrong. They shouldn’t shove “my word is gospel” down people’s throats. And the people should not let themselves be fooled.
Sadly many people will let themselves be fooled. But I believe that the few who do elect good-thinking leaders will provide PNG much-needed ballsy and truthful leadership.
So much so that even if that kind of leadership is a minority in parliament, it will be a formidable force, a voice of reason that can steady a ship even if the captain gets too drunk and off-track. God knows we need such leadership.
God Bless Papua New Guinea.
Ganjiki D Wayne is a lawyer in the PNG Department of Justice and Attorney-General