TUMBY BAY - The Papua New Guinea government seems to have been long in thrall to large resource extraction projects but consistently fails to translate the profits it receives from them into tangible social benefits, such as improved education and health systems.
It also diverts considerable sums of taxpayers’ money into these sorts of projects, including buying shares and in the development of targeted infrastructure designed to attract even more projects and developers.
On top of this, it forgoes considerable revenue by offering the developers tax holidays and concessions that could otherwise be used for social improvements.
Although the government argues otherwise, citing among other things tourism as a driver, Port Moresby now abounds with high class accommodation designed specifically for the convenience of these developers.
This obsession with resource exploitation has resulted in massive environmental damage and the criminal neglect of the nation’s most vulnerable people.
The reasons why this happens is blatantly obvious to even the most casual observer. Such projects provide maximum opportunities for kickbacks and bribes.
These two things, the pillaging of resources and the attendant corruption, are the major stumbling blocks to Papua New Guinea ever becoming a just and equitable society.
Over the years many attempts have been made by caring people to halt this piracy. To date nothing has succeeded and the nation’s social indicators continue to roll rapidly downhill.
Although they have talked about it, there is still one thing that hasn’t been tried by these good hearted people – getting women into parliament in sufficient numbers to effect a change.
Whenever female quotas are suggested there is always an outcry calling for people to be elected to parliament on the basis of merit only.
Those supporting this view also go to great pains to suggest that there is absolutely no proof that having more women in parliament will change anything.
This last claim is hard to refute because the basis of any such study would necessarily have to be highly subjective using unreliable and anecdotal data. What is really needed are case studies conducted over time.
Thanks to Annabel Crabb, writing for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, it is now possible to identify one such study.
Crabb directs us to a book written by the Harvard behavioural economist, Iris Bohnet, about India’s Panchayati Raj Act of 1993 that “decreed that one third of local council seats would henceforth be reserved for women” and “a third of village leaders in any given district had to be female”.
In the book, ‘What Works’, Bohnet describes all the usual complaints about such perceived tokenism but she also notes the fact that by 2005 the proportion of local government seats occupied by women had risen from 5% to 40% - well beyond the target set out in the Act.
This attracted several social scientists from overseas to study the outcome.
Among other things they discovered that female chiefs invested more in public services than their male counterparts.
They also discovered an increased frequency of women speaking up and reporting crimes of a sexual nature, such as violence against women and rape.
Also, and significantly, they discovered that women were less likely to accept or solicit bribes and kickbacks.
On top of these improvements were the finding that women and girls were actually inspired to take part in politics beyond the numbers specified in the quotas and in areas beyond where the quotas applied.
“The visibility of female leaders, in other words, changed the lives of individuals outside the system to which the quota applied”.
We know that the political systems in India are different to those in Papua New Guinea but the overarching lesson is nevertheless pertinent.
Papua New Guinea currently has 0% of women in its parliament and precious few in its provincial and local level government systems.
The Indian experience suggests that introducing a quota system for women works. Moreover it creates an impetus that grows upon itself and eventually makes the use of quotas redundant.
Given Papua New Guinea’s parlous state it is surely time that such experiments are tried.
There is nothing to lose and a lot to gain, perhaps even the end of corruption and social degeneration.