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31 December 2016

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Paul, I agree with your analysis.

It is now painfully apparent that the governance structures that it took Britain nearly 800 years to develop simply cannot be readily transplanted into other, non-British cultures.

Cultures turn out to be staggeringly resilient, as the Brexit vote, the election of Donald Trump, the re-emergence of a modern autocracy in Russia, the rise of a new imperial China and current developments in Europe so graphically demonstrate.

The modern generation of "global citizens" have erroneously assumed that rationality, logic and evidence can readily overcome entrenched culture and traditional beliefs. This has proven to be a dangerously misleading notion.

So, as you rightly say, it was always going to be a big ask for PNG to transform itself into a model democracy. The risks of something like the current situation arising were always there.

Many of us who worked in remote and rural PNG foresaw this but were dismissed as either disgruntled, over privileged colonialists or outright racists.

It is of no comfort whatsoever to be proven right. Worse still, it is even more depressing to think that the country has not yet bottomed out in terms of just how bad its governance actually is.

Like you, my expectation is that the next election will return another batch of self serving and readily corruptible MPs, perhaps with a small rump of people like Gary Juffa trying in vain to effect meaningful change.

2016 was, I think, some sort of global turning point, where the bright, shiny post Cold War optimism about a glowing future for all has finally collapsed in the face of a number of harsh realities.

As Keith has written on the PNG Attitude homepage, it is time to buckle up for a 2017 that promises more of the same and, maybe, a lot worse.

It was not my intention to excuse the inexcusable but merely to postulate why there doesn’t seem to be any possibility of any change in direction of PNG politics after the next elections in 2017.

The ongoing inertia after Independence took some time to wind down and the gradual transition to what today is a non-responsible and accountable government.

What Chris has misunderstood is the link I wished to explore between the between the long term evolution of responsible and accountable government and how this was never allowed to develop because of the speed in which PNG was thrust into the modern world.

It is true that at Independence, PNG was in relatively good shape but while this situation was used by Somare and others as proof the new nation could and would be OK, neither the newly emerged elite nor those in Whitlam’s Australian government really understood what would inevitably happen.

With all the best will in the world, I don’t believe anyone can bring a tribally based culture into a modern and western based economy within virtually one generation. At Independence, most of PNG was still ruled (administered if you like), by direct Kiap rule.

Local MP’s now use their DSIP funds in the same way as village chiefs would use their power and authority. The PNG government has morphed into an entity run on a process of financial incentives, personal favours and patronage. There is now no real process of government or ministerial responsibility and accountability.

If you think back to when Kiaps ruled rural PNG, how many PNG people in the villages, tribes and clans had any idea of how the Kiaps were officially held responsible and accountable. The thin veneer of responsible government existing at Independence was therefore never allowed to solidify and further develop.

Much the same situation has also occurred in Africa through just such the same reasons.

If one could take a helicopter view of the present PNG dilemma I suggest it is not only the successive PNG governments who have allowed the current situation to develop but in reality, a lack of any other alternative to tribal rule to be available.

I think that Paul Oates is really quite wrong in his speculation about the cause of the current PNG malaise.

Australia left PNG is very good shape in 1975 and Michael Somare and colleagues managed to keep it that way for some time too.

It has been successive PNG governments that have brought about the situation that pertains today, not something that the colonial power did or did not do.

To suggest otherwise is taking a leaf from the contemptible Robert Mugabe's book of excuses for African dictators who screw over their country to acquire vast personal wealth.

There are no more excuses for the PNG government and, if Paul Flanagan is correct, pretty soon there will be nowhere to hide either.

Whether being forced to come clean about their collective venality and incompetence makes the slightest difference is highly debatable.

If one was to take a realistic view of this situation the reasoning behind the government's reticence in issuing any statement is entirely understandable.

If as claimed in the preceding article by Peter Kinjap, half the PNG population is illiterate, would those people understanding any report anyway?

Then there’s the problem of that even if the government wanted to address the IMF report’s findings, could they be able to anyway since mostly it is reported that many MP’s don’t have any real desire to do anything except accumulate as much wealth as they can before the next election.

Then there’s the problem that the public service may not either be in a position to respond due to possible incompetence or more likely involvement in fraud and /or corruption.

Finally, why would or should the government do anything since it is readily apparent that no one is in a position to hold them responsible and accountable and certainly not before the 2017 General Election? If there wasn’t any public outcry about reducing Parliament’s sitting times or the open bribing of MP’s to hold the government line, why bother?

In a recent article I wrote about’ PNG Weaving’ I suggested that PNG leaders were possibly left a legacy by the former colonial government where for most of the pre Independence period, a tiny band of Australian Kiaps actually ran over 95% of the country. Looking at this aspect from a local viewpoint, did anyone in PNG really understand how the system worked or that Kiaps were actually held both responsible and accountable?

So maybe we bequeathed a formal system of direct government that no one except ourselves understood and that today’s political leaders use as a template around which they have to effectively ‘weave’ their own unique system of how to use and abuse the system to get personally what they want? Most PNG people maybe can’t see any difference except the noticeable one where now nothing seems to work or get done.

Yet using the old ‘cargo cult’ concept, maybe many might say that when we left we took the benefits of our system with us and just left the resulting mess for the dregs to inherit? Maybe they might be right?

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