MY YOUTHFUL FORAY into academia resulted in a very humble Bachelor of Arts degree.
I hadn’t really expected to learn anything useful by doing it that I couldn’t otherwise have picked up by a bit of selective reading, but I did need it as a ticket to earn a half decent salary when I left Papua New Guinea.
My original analysis was reasonably accurate. As I progressed the idea of pursuing academia seemed more and more like a hollow and futile path to wander down.
There was one thing that tweaked my curiosity during my aimless wandering through the halls of learning however and it is encapsulated in the only book that I kept from my youthful experimentation.
The volume is entitled Bureaucracy and Democracy: A Political Dilemma by Eva Etzioni-Halevy. She also wrote another interesting book called Political Manipulation and Administrative Power.
The television series Yes Minister? was playing at the time but I’m not sure what influence it had on Ms Erzioni-Halevy’s thinking; she certainly didn’t refer to it in her texts. But avoiding the innate truths that sometimes lurk within popularism is an academic trait I think.
In any event her erudite arguments caused me to complete what was a sort of post-graduate major which the University Of Queensland called Government but which was really Politics.
I suppose Joh Bjelke Petersen would have banned it if they had used the latter name. So, despite Joh, I actually ended up with one and a half degrees before I abandoned the idea forever.
The reason I mention this is that Paul Oates recently directed me to an interesting argument that he was conducting with someone we both hadn’t heard of on another Papua New Guinea orientated blog.
This guy was arguing that there is absolutely no relationship between culture and politics in PNG. He also went to great pains to suggest that the relationship between corruption and the Melanesian Way, which Paul had raised, was nothing more than a fiction.
He also claimed that The Troubles in Northern Island had nothing to do with the differences between the Protestants and the Catholics!
For him the real bogey man is the political system and in particular unicameralism, that is a parliament with only one chamber.
His suggestion is that an upper house or a house of review (or multimember electorates, which I admit I don’t quite understand but which he claims fixed the problems in Belfast), is all that is needed to cure corruption.
With an upper house he says even the most evil depredations of the politicians can be pursued and tackled and brought to account.
He cited some interesting historical precedents. Queensland, for instance, according to him, is the most corrupt state in Australia and it doesn’t have an upper house (not sure where NSW under Labor fits in here).
This is where I dragged out my old university text book. The last major assignment that I submitted followed the argument that it wasn’t politicians or outrageous decadence that brought down the great empires and dynasties of the world but the bureaucrats and public servants.
The Roman Empire and the great Chinese dynasties all eventually succumbed to their glutted, greedy, inefficient and immovable public services. The Holy Roman Empire eventually strangled itself in its own red tape.
I haven’t seen anything to dissuade me from this view and I still maintain that it is at the heart of most of Papua New Guinea’s troubles. Having recently spent five hours in a filthy building with broken lifts trying to buy an outrageously priced guide to the amendments to the Land Group Incorporation Act didn’t dissuade me from this view either.
That I had to tramp up and down betel stained stairwells while a perfectly good and brand new purpose built building for the Lands Department stood empty across the road because someone hadn’t remembered to pay for the lease didn’t amuse me much either.
I doubt whether even the most honest and enlightened politician in PNG will get anywhere in solving the country’s problems until the public service is turned upside down and given a bloody good shake.
As for introducing an upper house one only has to look at the recent standoff between the government and the Supreme Court.
The high court was acting as a de facto upper house trying to curb the zealous and misdirected craziness of the politicians and the end result was a monumental stasis where nothing happened until an election came along.
An upper house or senate in Papua New Guinea would do the same thing. I can see it now; legislation being batted back and forth like a ping pong ball. As Paul says, it’s the Melanesian Way; you talk, talk and talk but you do nothing.
An upper house would simply open up an avenue for more talk and more standoffs; although the vision of Belden Namah storming the Senate has certain attractions. He, more than anyone else, probably appreciates the futility of setting up an upper house in the Papua New Guinean parliament.
When that fat man on his bicycle, which is really the poor old groaning state of Papua New Guinea, rides past take a closer look at his face and you’ll see that it’s not a politician like you thought but a public servant.
And as long as his fat arse is hanging over the saddle things will continue on just as they are now.