Thursday, May 21, 2009

AusAID's engaging private sector is not the way to go



On another matter, what do you think of the following comment about Keith Jackson's blog article?


Meanwhile, the head of AusAID in PNG, Bill Costello, has said his organisation does not have all the answers to PNG's development challenges and that it is now seeking engagement with the private sector to canvass ways to move forward.


"AusAID will sit down with business leaders and development stakeholders to look at where we are and how we can improve our engagement. Achieving development outcomes through innovative partnerships with the private sector is perhaps an area in which we have only scratched the surface so far," Mr Costello said.



With due respect to Mr Costello and his team, who I'm sure are very well meaning, the answers to PNG's challenges do not lie in the Private Sector.

The private sector can only move development forward when a favourable climate and environment exits for it to do so. Until that favourable climate is re-established, AusAID may as well turn their collective funding hose either back into the wind or into the nearest 'consultant's' bank account.

PNG's framework of government has clearly ruptured and haemorrhaged. It is in real danger of falling apart altogether. In order to understand the essence of the problem one must first ask, "Why is this so?"

When the decision was made to move PNG as a single entity, towards Self Government and Independence, there was no detailed plan of how to do this and an agreed timeline to achieve this objective. Why? Well at the time, the major players in this decision were never really involved at the 'kunai roots' level and therefore had no idea of what was involved. I can say that because as a kiap in the field at the time, I was caught betwixt and between. On one hand, as government representatives in the field, kiaps were instructed to commence the so called Political Education process in the villages we visited and prepare the local people for this momentous event. Pressure from the United Nations on Australia to grant Independence as quickly as possible and from Canberra, in the early 1970's to make it happen, impacted directly on our rural operations. On the other hand, many of us knew that the local people in the villages did not want us to

disappear overnight and leave them to their own devices.

As public servants, no one ever asked us what we thought about the fast tracking of Independence or whether the people we spoke to at the village level thought it was a good idea. I seriously doubt if anyone above District level ever read the Patrol or Situation Reports we submitted or if they did, understood what was being reported. We were just expected to do what the government directed. Most people in the villages that I spoke to at the time thought the idea was crazy. They didn't want Australia to throw them out of

the peaceful development phase they had only just entered. Training local officers to takeover responsibility at all levels was only just starting to take effect when Independence was thrust upon PNG. A newly created PNG that had really not yet developed a true, national identity and a BROADLY based ability to say about what it wanted.

So what happened? Old and traditional practices were revived and lauded as the way to go. Traditional practice was clearly the only available alternative to those who the power of government had been thrust into their hands. What this precipitate change in direction did in practice was to bring to a halt, the process of peaceful development through government control. In reality, the change created a power vacuum that could only be

filled by the traditional custom of the 'village Bigman' and not by effective government systems on a national level.

This reversal of PNG government direction in the mid to late 1970's has now robbed the younger, educated generation of Papua New Guineans from being able to aspire to manage their own country effectively. How can an educated PNGian start to improve their own country when the framework of government responsibility and accountability is clearly flawed. They have been effectively disenfranchised by the elite of the PNG 1960's and 1970's, many of whom still hold onto power.

The only way to manage a country is to start at the top of a country's system of government and to then have that system improve in a 'trickle down' methodology. The trouble is, who can start this process? At the moment it seems, only those who are part of the problem.

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