PAPUA NEW GUINEA AS A NATION is changing at a rapid pace. One can see all this changes through careful observation.
A more interesting change is the rise of political cronies and how they have altered the political environment in the name of survival.
I was quite amazed to see one departmental head attending a grand occasion with his entourage. The entourage had two Land Cruiser ten seaters and a Land Cruiser ute.
One of the Land Cruisers, silver in colour, drove around keeping an eye on the departmental head as he moved from one location to another on foot.
It was like a movie where you have all these secret service agents in their suits driving around in big American-sized Chevrolets.
But these guys were not wearing suits. And the Land Cruiser was both a Cadillac limousine and a Chevrolet. It transported the departmental head and acted as a security and surveillance vehicle.
Before this experience I had the perception that only state ministers and the prime minister travelled around with such large entourages when on official duty. It is protocol to see these security agents around such very important people.
This was evident a week ago when the prime minister visited Divine Word University.
The campus was infested to certain degree with ‘blue flies’. This strange name literally refers to the Blue Bottle Fly or Bottlebee (Calliphora vomitoria), but is a slang used by people caught up in the modern drug culture to refer to the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary.
From my observation, some of the people in the entourage were public servants working for this department, while others were obviously his political cronies providing security for the departmental head.
These casual security officers also offered other services - like being his errand boy.
Political cronies in Papua New Guinea can be divided into two separate groups. Both operate in different domains: one in the political arena, the other in the bureaucratic arena. Regardless of the domain, their jobs overlap.
The first group is known as ‘boi blo minister’ or ‘boi blo member’, also ‘wokman blo member’.
This group consists of those who work with a member of parliament or a cabinet minister. Some are employed formally, meaning they are public servants, executive officers, first secretaries or administrative officers.
Others are outside the formal. Failed politicians with close connections ot friends and relatives who have a patron-client relationship with the ‘big man’.
The second group is made up of people known as ‘boi blo secretary’ or ‘wok man blo secretary’.
People in this category are either public servants working in the department or support staff or casuals with close affiliations with the departmental head. They exist solely to entertain their political patron because of kinship ties or close friendship.
As political cronies they must no doubt be very good at talking. These are talented speakers with good knowledge of who is who in the bureaucracy and the political arena due to their high level of interaction with major players.
In 2009 I met a person at the Shady Rest night club in Port Moresby, a ‘boi blo minister’. I was surprised by how well he knew the internal politics of one particular department. He was quick to figure out who was going to get what position and why.
Also he was able to tell me who was in the minister’s good books and who was on the marching list.
Here you have a man with no political science or psychology degree but who can explain the internal politics and power plays because of his close association with the minister. Not only explain, but profile all the actors.
These people in the corridors of power know so much they use it for their own benefit. Some use the information to sweet talk those who are on the verge of climbing up the departmental hierarchy.
This has the intention of receiving gifts in the form of money or beer. Some pass on the sensitive information with the aim of forming a new alliance.
A few months prior to the entourage case, I was privileged to observe another departmental head. This one travelled without an entourage. He drove around Madang town in his Toyota Hilux double cab, obviously a hire car, and flew back to Port Moresby.
When profiling that person, I realised he was a man who rarely socialised with his own tribal group. He was not a night walker (someone who frequents nightclubs).
During my trip to Port Moresby to attend the PNG Society of Writers, Editors and Publishers meeting, I was able to observe a provincial administrator. He was having lunch and walking around Vision City Shopping Mall by himself.
I saw him again in the departure lounge at the Jackson’s Airport waiting to board a flight back to his province.
However, that does not rule out the possibility of him having his own political cronies who bludge off him as their political patron.
These people are like dogs waiting at the side of the table. If you trick them by faking a feeding motion they quickly react. They are like that scruffy short guy standing at the busy bus stop watching the pockets of every passerby, waiting for some unguarded person to walk past so he can pick a pocket.
In their quests for political survival, politicians and top bureaucrats need their political cronies to negotiate for jobs and ensure their public profile is positive.
Aspiring politicians and top bureaucrats need them. This interdependent relationship between political patrons and their client operates on money. This, unfortunately, is a growing trend.
Bernard has this week joined Jackson PR Associates and will work with company as part of its Papua New Guinea public relations team