An entry in The Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
THE nation has evolved to a point where its populace are either predators or scavengers heavily dependent on sucking out the last economic juices out of its natural resources.
Papua New Guineans have throughout recent history been either mere spectators or passive participants in the process of development. This rather sad indictment on the people is manifests in the debates and discussions about the realities of today.
That is not to say we aren’t good technicians. In the 38 years we have had political control of this land, we have achieved more than what the British and Germans achieved in the 40 or so years they controlled the Protectorates of Papua and New Guinea.
And we have certainly done a lot more for the good of our people than during the 70 years of Australian colonial rule.
The issue however is the lack of innovation that exists in this country. At the grass roots level, there is a lot but it is usually on a small scale aimed at daily survival. However much of what is happening in both the government and private sector is merely a cut and paste of foreign ideas. This is of critical importance in terms of governing the nation.
At the national level there are overarching developmental agendas such as the National Goals and Directive Principles, the Medium Term Development Strategy, the National Development Strategic Plan 2020 and Vision 2050. These are grand statements that describe the development pathway for our nation.
I often find with the National Goals and Directive Principles and perhaps all the related visionary statements that those who articulated them have not done enough to translate them into workable plans/programs and monitoring and evaluation mechanisms for each and every facet of government.
There has always been a false assumption that line agencies would follow through. The end result has been a disconnect between those who express big ideas and those who are expected to make things happen on the ground.
It is at the stage of translating these ideas into reality that innovative thought processes are needed. This is where the problem lies.
The issue of scarcity of resources is a perpetual one. The challenge for those implementing government policies is to create innovative solutions to development challenges. In the absence of innovation, what ensues are the typical complaints of lack of capacity, lack of resources and corruption.
Indeed, corruption in government at all levels stems from the misapplication of resources due to the incompetence of the government workers. What do I mean by this? Say for instance, a backlog of legal cases provided the opportunity for a private firm to do what was supposed to have been the functions of the government’s legal system. Payments were made as a result and that has led to a national scandal.
At many District Treasuries throughout the country, funds that get allocated for projects get diverted elsewhere because the staff at the district or local government are incompetent. Usually funds are diverted towards so called administrative expenses. This explains why the District Manager, MP or Local Government President would always be found in hire cars and at a hotel for the better part of a year.
Many in government are vulnerable to exploitation from outsiders. Government officials end up being de facto spokespersons for all sorts of unscrupulous private businesses all in the name of development. In fact, the favourite word used by government officials to refer to a private business is to call it a “developer”.
What these cretins in government fail to understand is that the primary role of a private business is to “add shareholder value” by delivering profits. Development is the core function of government not private enterprises.
The Special Purpose Agriculture Business Leases and their disastrous impact on land tenure are an example of Papua New Guinea not being in control of its development agenda. Rural people aspiring for a western lifestyle were susceptible to the promises of “development”.
Incompetent government officials who could not develop innovative solutions to developmental challenges got swayed easily by the idea that someone will come and solve the problems.
Another favourite term that pops out of the cretins in the government system is the phrase “development partner(s)”. The only authentic development partner the state has is its people. This is our land and we have a stake in its future. Every other so called “development partner” is here with an agenda.
This is not to say the others are bad but is intended to raise red flags in people’s minds when dealing with them. The other so called “development partners” include businesses, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), foreign aid agencies and religious organizations.
In failing to recognize the centrality of the Papua New Guinean citizen in providing innovative solutions to address developmental challenges, the state has disempowered its people.
The government must be commended for its focus on Universal Primary Education. However, it must also recognize that the PNG education system is a failure trap. The education system produces dropouts who mostly cannot function in society and it produces graduates who mostly cannot address the developmental challenges of the nation.
Having said that though, I do not think the state alone can address the dilemma of PNG being more innovative. My understanding is that innovative people are empowered people. To me empowerment is not so much about the level of education of the individual but the ability of the individual to discern the current realities and explore the possibilities. It is also about individuals making connections with other like-minded people so as to propagate change.
With onset of the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) economy, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) projects GDP growth next year to be around 21%. The ADB also expects the gap between rich and poor to increase as well. Such social stratification is an inevitable function of capitalism. As such, social mobility of Papua New Guineans in the capitalist economy will be dependent on their market value.
Unless there is deliberate state intervention to ensure economic justice, those who cannot be innovative in the cut-throat world of free market capitalism will be left to scavenge at the bottom. And as a nation, we also risk being at bottom pile of the world’s nations if we don’t find innovative means of translating economic gains into long term sustainable and equitable development.
I hope that as a people with a proud history, we can avoid the risks and rise up to be counted amongst the success stories of this global community.