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What should be the values of the people running PNG?

Martyn Namorong  2017
Martyn Namorong - PNG's Constitution provides guidance for a clear alternative pathway to the future


PORT MORESBY - At independence, Papua New Guinea adopted Christian values from missionaries who said Jesus was our saviour who would provide for us heaven.

Post-independence, the miners and loggers came along with other neoliberal capitalist missionaries from the World Bank, the IMF and other multilateral institutions and told us capitalism was the way to heaven.

Our forefathers believed in the message of Christ and gave their land and resources to the churches.

Today their children believe in capitalist economic development and are giving PNG's land and resources to the capitalists.

Whereas Christian missionaries called for repentance and behavioural change to attain salvation, nowadays we talk of foreign direct investment and economic growth to attain deliverance.

It is these pathological ideologies that shape the mindsets of Papua New Guineans and which we need to rid ourselves of.

Who is to say, for instance, that if are rid of the O'Neill regime that it will be replaced with something better? We once rejoiced when Peter O’Neill replaced Michael Somare.

If the mindsets of those who run PNG now, and who will do so in the future are enslaved by pathological ideologies, we will continue to face the same issues.

The challenge now is to change the narrative and articulate an alternative model of development that is relevant to PNG.

Fortunately for PNG, the alternative model was already in existence for 50,000 years before colonisation.

This model is people-centred and based on the strengths of every citizen of this country.

It is a development model articulated in the PNG Constitution’s five national goals and directive principles.

For 50,000 years, our societies were able to survive in this land because of the strength and contribution of every member. That is why, at independence, our people stated through the Constitution that empowering every citizen through integral human development would be the first national goal.

Traditionally, all decisions and activities were made collectively. This was crucial in maintaining communal harmony and ownership. We reflected this in our second national goal relating to equality and participation.

Papua New Guineans wanted to be involved in important national decisions and activities impacting on their lives.

Through the empowerment of members of society and by maintaining social cohesion through collective decision-making and participation, our people maintained sovereignty and self-reliance for 50,000 years until the colonisers arrived.

At independence, our people, through Constitutional Planning Committee consultations, said they wanted the newly independent state of PNG to reclaim what it lost under a century of colonisation. Our Constitution reflects this desire in the third national goal and directive principle which refers to national sovereignty and self-reliance.

Our communities understood that resources to sustain themselves were limited and needed to be used wisely. Resources that were extremely scarce were highly valued and became tradeable items and forms of currency.

Kastom rules governing the exploitation of resources ensured that they were managed sustainably. There were rules about the debt created through trade, bride price, death and other payments. Accordingly, our people demanded through the fourth national goal and directive principle that our resources be managed sustainably.

For many PNG communities these traditional value systems have kept them in existence since independence in 1975. Whilst the government may have its failures, our people continue to thrive (sic) with largely traditional livelihoods.

By 1975 our people had adopted modern technology and ideas to improve their lives whilst also maintaining traditional values. That is what they were requesting the new modern state to reflect in giving meaning to the fifth national goal and directive principle – Papua New Guinean ways.

Many of our problems in PNG arise from our collective inability as a nation to live by the goals we set for ourselves in the Constitution.

So how should we reflect on contemporary PNG value systems in the context of the Maserati scandal?

What are the things and ideas we value and how do we reflect these in public policy making and implementation?

Obviously we cannot be pure traditionalists but need to find how get the best of both worlds and create hybrid models that suit the PNG context.

In the end it is our values that define us as individuals and as a nation.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

I think the Maserati scandal is a potent symbol that says buying systems of governance off the shelf is a bad idea.

I agree with Martyn that it is time for PNG to craft its own system of governance.

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