DURING the final session of the Lowy Institute’s PNG New Voices conference, I was asked what the solutions are to Papua New Guinea’s development challenges.
This is not a new question. It is a question I, and many others, face in debates about development. The corollary to the question is – What are your alternatives?
There are people and organisations in PNG who think they have the answers. The Christians are the worst culprits. They are closely followed by the so called “developers/development partners” who seems to promise “development” in exchange for PNG’s sovereignty, land and resources.
Of course the Christians and developers blame their failures to provide answers on those who oppose them.
And so having learnt from the providers of bagarapment who disguise themselves as bringers of light and development, I chose not to follow the same path.
The Lowy Institute is a non-partisan Australian think-thank. The fact that this year Leonard Fong Roka and I were on the same discussion panel affirms the Lowy Institute’s neutral stance.
I felt that a different voice, indeed a New Voice, had to be heard regarding questions of development in PNG. This was in keeping with Lowy’s New Voices concept.
My response to the question of solutions is to suggest that it is a pathway littered with obstacles and challenges. Those in charge of the development of this nation must be responsive and adaptable to each scenario that pops up.
This is how nature response to stresses in the environment. Many of the stressors are known and, as such, natural mechanisms have been developed to maintain a balance in the ecosystem system.
Likewise, in developing PNG, many of the difficulties are known and there exist mechanisms for addressing them.
For instance, the Institute of National Affairs recently identified the key challenges of doing business in PNG. The Australian National University and the PNG National Research Institute have monitored budget expenditure and have identified the challenges at various budget forums.
These and various other organizations and individuals have done the research and identified inefficiencies.
So, basically, we know what the problems are and how they should be fixed. What is happening or not happening, though, is that as humans we have a tendency to upset the balance of things.
When police don’t keep crime in check, they upset the balance in society. When politicians don’t keep their spending in check, they upset the balance of economic equilibrium. When mining companies don’t manage their waste well, they upset the balance of social existence in the environment. When individuals don’t control their reproductive rates, they upset the balance of society and the environment.
When I articulate a response, I say there are no easy solutions on offer. Instead, taking my cue from nature, I see it as a process of balancing of the various forces that interact in the environment. This requires a constant investment of human values - values that ensure a much more equitable and sustainable future for Papua New Guinea.
These values are not foreign. They are home-grown and expressed in the Preamble of the Constitution of PNG and succinctly articulated in PNG’s Five National Goals and Directive Principles.
Any government policy or private activity that does not reflect the meaning, intention and spirit of PNG’s Five National Goals and Directive Principles (NGDPs), disrupts PNG’s national development agenda, destroys society and is harmful to the future of this nation.
That is why participants of the Tanim Graun television program held as part of the Lowy conference would have noticed my insistence on calling the so called Informal Economy the People’s Economy.
The People’s Economy, as I see it, embodies the spirit of PNG’s five NGDPs. Unlike other so called development programs that do not encapsulate all five goals, the People’s Economy expresses these goals as envisaged by the Constitutional Planning Committee in its report.
If you want to achieve the First NGDP -integral human development - look at the self-taught skills Papua New Guineans in the People’s Economy have, whether they be agricultural, business or technical skills.
Many people, like myself, may not have academic letters after their names but they are empowered people capable of participating in all aspects of this nation’s development.
If you want to achieve the Second NGDP - equality and participation - one only has to recognise that the so called informal economy is the People’s Economy by virtue of the fact that it is owned and control by the people (especially women).
This leads to the Third NGDP – national sovereignty and self-reliance. One cannot talk about economic sovereignty and self-reliance without acknowledging that Papua New Guineans participating in the People’s Economy are achieving just that.
The people’s economy is also a sustainable economy with a small environmental footprint. This reflects fully PNG’s Fourth NGDP, which talks about wise use of natural resources to ensure future generations also have access to the same resources.
The People’s Economy is also an expression of our Papua New Guinean Ways as articulated by the fifth NGDP.
The People’s Economy is not a panacea to PNG’s development challenges. But perhaps there are lessons and opportunities to engage with it and see how Papua New Guineans (many of who are so-called illiterate and uneducated) are able to stand on their own feet and face the difficult challenges of living in PNG.
I live in an amazing nation full of contradictions. There are many things I don’t know, but what I do know is that the people are at the heart of the problems and solutions of this nation’s development pathway.
Their collective actions or inactions will set the pace of progression or regression of PNG. The people must therefore be protected and encouraged to shape a better future for all.