Friday, January 06, 2012

Councils and democracy - a pathway for Papua New Guinea


John Fowke
The citizens of Australia, like those of all free, progressive democratic nations hold as their first and second most-dear possessions their families and their homes and real property.
 The great issues of tax, trade, foreign affairs and defence are generally regarded without question as the province of the Federal Government, but  ordinary people are quick to stand up and speak on  issues affecting their daily lives, their households, health and their children’s’ welfare, and their investments.
 There is nothing more destabilising and aggravating than unauthorised changes to laws and autocratic and, worse, corrupt decisions by a government.
In most democracies, the primary level of government provides both a forum and conduit for complaint or adjustment or suggested improvement.
This means the state or province, the town or rural local government institutions which protect citizens’ most prized  assets – homes, businesses, power, water and sewerage, schools and hospitals, law and order- these institutions are the forums most accessible and most responsive to the expressions of John and Joan Citizen.
 These institutions are basic to a settled, productive and satisfied society.
 This goes back to tribal times when no matter how impoverished and how low down in the tribal pecking order one was, there was always a right to stand forth in front of one’s clansmen and women and be listened to when there was general concern or a worry present in the community.
Such a system was formalised, for instance, amongst the Scandinavian raiders who conquered and settled large areas of England, Scotland and Ireland 1,400 years ago.
The tribal court was called the Witan, and here disputes and offences by tribesmen were settled according to custom.
 This ancient, basic right has been eroded in PNG to the stage where it is now almost non-existent.
Citizens feel a sense of powerlessness.
This is because traditional leadership which today is represented by the LLG Councillor and his Local Level Government have been neutralised as a force in politics.
This has been done simply and deliberately by cutting out the financial support necessary for LLGs to function other than in a ceremonial, flag-raising manner.
 By starving the LLGs of funds over a decades-long period the party system has intentionally connived to emasculate them; has rendered them without influence or effect in any real sense, especially in the provision of effective local communal leadership and representation.
This situation may be reversed- not without difficulty- by turning the LLGs into communally-aligned “quality control units” rather than physical service-providers with tip-trucks and bridge-carpenters and so-on.
LLGs should become communal quality-controllers, criticising and bringing to provincial and Waigani-based authorities’ attention all and any deficiencies in the function of service-providing departments and government agencies.
 This to be done through MPs whose loyalty is tied by agreement to the LLGs in each electorate.
 This will be resisted strongly by the political class and aspirants to this status because it cuts out the “parties”- the running sores within the PNG polity, source of personal advantage and enrichment of MPs.
An egalitarian society like PNG never needed”parties” as such.
The basis of all needs and identity in PNG is clan membership, home region, "ples matmat bilong tumbuna”; not occupational status, caste, or levels of wealth.
It was surprising and pleasing to see the union movement come together on the “2 PM’s “ issue recently; for a moment there was a flicker of trans-tribal unity on a political issue.
Evidence that a “workers party” could be a reality one day, instead of a mere shield covering the activities in Port Moresby of MPs and their associates.
An opaque ceiling, in effect, imposed between advantaged ”us” and “ them”, the electorate, kept downstairs in the dark.
That which has been suggested here may be accomplished legally, constitutionally, if a large enough number of LLGs can be persuaded to choose a preferred candidate within their electorate- (even though in some cases electorates and LLG districts overlap this is not an insurmountable barrier) - and then oblige the chosen one to sign an agreement tying his whole attention and all funding he is able to extract to the issues nominated by resolution of the LLGs in duly-managed-and -minuted session.
Very briefly, this is what I have been advocating as a remedy for today’s travesty where PNG, a self-declared and wealthy democracy is actually a corrupt hegemony managed for their own benefit by the makeshift mechanism of “parties” which have absolutely no meaning, nor meaningful manifestos, as far as ordinary people are concerned.

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