An entry in the Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
THE measure of Papua New Guinea’s development is not what the prime minister of the country says; it is what a villager in the remotest part of the country experiences every day in his living standard.
The villager rarely had a voice. For a start, the media never had time for him. As a commercial radio journalist for some time, my focus was on prominent people with credibility.
However I always felt guilty about whether what the prominent figure said truly reflected the poorest person in the village or whether it was just propaganda. I felt like I was giving an already rich person another handful of cash to tell the media what he does and believes.
In a similar vein, does Port Moresby reflect the scale of development taking place in Papua New Guinea? Many people who were born and live in the city would agree but a foreigner who sees a person walking days from remote Simbai would have a different opinion of the state of the country’s development.
I am saddened when I attend a government press conference and some politician boasts of new policies and great growth in PNG. My people on the atolls of Manus have been self-reliant for eons and still have to be despite the increasing challenges posed by climate change and a rising sea level.
For decades a government service has been represented by a water tank in each village, perhaps a school, maybe a health centre that often had empty shelves. There is no telecommunications service. A small maritime province like Manus is 15 years behind the rest of Papua New Guinea.
Most people in remote Papua New Guinea still use pit toilets and walk long distances to access basic services and average public servants can barely manage to rent a house in the squatter settlements of ATS and Baruni in Port Moresby.
There is a huge gap between the neglected population below and the well informed and educated top elite of Papua New Guinea. The elite defines development from its perspective and the less informed accept things because they have no power or voice.
I felt guilty if I need to write, “PNG is developing very fast”. I’d rather say the educated and well informed Papua New Guineans have taken advantage of the less educated to develop their own wealth and lifestyle.
Look at the gap between a top businessman and an old lady sitting by the fire waiting for her spine to run cold and for death to knock at her door.
To my mind, PNG is like a boat dragging its anchor; the anchor being the resource owners isolated from main town and cities.
Once they have a glimpse of Port Moresby, they realise they are many decades behind. When they try to cope, they up end up building squatter settlements instead.