PAPUA NEW GUINEA has got the unfortunate knack of making even the simplest thing difficult. A lot of it has got to do with disorganisation and inefficiency. An equal measure can be attributed to pig-headedness and plain stupidity. And, of course, there are the elements of corruption, greed and self-interest.
When a whole country has such a reputation it rubs off on everything else. It also frustrates Papua New Guineans and expatriates in equal measure.
Even a company or individual with the highest possible standards and uncompromising ethics and efficiency suffers in the long run.
Any good manager knows that a good reputation is absolutely crucial to success. But even the best company based in PNG comes with a pre-ordained bad reputation. It is like an economic original sin.
Anyone dealing with PNG expects second best. In fact, if you can achieve second best you are doing well. Mostly it is seventh or eighth best; worst is not uncommon. If there is going to be a piece of glass in your pie or a bug in your sauce bottle it will be in PNG.
Here’s an example of how PNG’s poor reputation and practises work.
When we published the first and second Crocodile Prize anthologies we did the right thing and printed it in-country. What we got was a product into which the printer had added his own range of mysterious mistakes and misprints delivered it late and at a cost one third greater than if we’d done it elsewhere.
On a limited budget, dependent on the good will of our sponsors, we knew we couldn’t sustain that sort of situation and went looking for an alternative. That’s when we stumbled on Amazon’s online Create Space printing option.
Create Space is not a publisher; it is a printer and distributor that just happens to be hooked into the biggest book retailer in the world. Problem solved we thought. Not so, PNG still had its deadly influence.
The Australian High Commission in Port Moresby had generously agreed to pay for the printing of the 2013 Anthology. However, because they are located in Port Moresby and have had every one of their fingers burnt several times by local suppliers their bean counters wanted to see the finished product in front of them, in boxes and touchable before they would make the payment. We didn’t have the money to personally fork out on the off chance that the AHC would actually pay it back.
We had a similar offer from the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia for the 2014 Anthology but they insisted on the same deal. In the exchange of emails they very plainly said, if in not so many words, “This is PNG we’re talking about mate; we want to see the finished product before we hand over any cash”.
We think we might have a partial solution to the 2013 Anthology problem. Out of the incredible mishmash of the locally based 2013 competition it appears that there was some money left in the kitty specifically earmarked for printing that will enable us to get 300-400 copies up to PNG for distribution.
However, the money has been sitting in the account for several months while we have been trying to organise a transfer so the printing can take place.
For a while we didn’t hold out much hope. The people holding the purse strings were debating whether they should use the money for some other unspecified purpose. A lot of money in PNG seems to go that way.
When it was pointed out that the sponsor had made the printing donation with the reasonable expectation that that is what it would be used for there was an apparent change of heart.
But we’re not there yet. The people who can countersign the transfer don’t seem to be able to get themselves in the same place at the same time to actually make it happen.
Our original idea of having the 2013 anthology in PNG and distributed well before Christmas has gone by the board; but we live in hope.
The whole thing reminded me of the time I was sitting in a village on the Aramia River waiting for a shipping container of gear to be delivered so I could kick off a seismic program. For some inexplicable reason the skipper of the boat decided to offload the container on the river bank in the dead of night at a village many kilometres downstream without telling anyone.
This in despite of being personally told a purpose-built landing area had been prepared at the right village. Have you ever tried to shift a shipping container with a dugout canoe and outboard?
No rhyme or reason; just like most things in PNG. And the weird thing is that most people just put up with it. They shrug their shoulders, ignore the mess, and stumble on to the next disaster.