Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Real Petronius and Papua New Guinea Railroads

By PAUL OATES in Queensland, Australia


(The following information is taken from the Wikipedia site.)

“In recent times, a popular quote on reorganization is often (but spuriously) attributed to a Gaius Petronius. In one version, it reads:

We trained hard ... but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.

A shortened version occasionally seen (as on http://huizen.nhkanaal.nl/~rickdos/kwot.htm, which to do the web-page author justice, lists it as an ``annoying quote'', and on Martin F. Falatic's http://enteract.com/~marty/quotes-short.html, which does not) is:

Reorganization is a splendid method of producing the illusion of progress whilst creating confusion, inefficiency and demoralization (Petronius Arbiter, 60 A.D.)

But apparently, the real Petronius Arbiter never wrote these words. They have reputedly never been found in his writings.

So who is the REAL Petronius?

The following appears on page 162 of Robert Townsend's Up the Organization (New York: Knopf, 1970): I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization. Townsend cites ``Petronius Arbiter (circa A.D. 60).'' Another quote from Townsend (page 7): ``And God created the Organization and gave it dominion over man.’’... Genesis 1, 30A, Subparagraph VIII: which tells us how reliable Townsend is.

Is Townsend the sought-for perpetrator? Many think so, but it seems more likely he is simply an early continuator into print of a long-standing bulletin-board joke. Many correspondents, most notably Richard Dengrove, have told me about a note by J. P. Sullivan in the May 1981 Petronian Society Newsletter (12(1), p.1) addressing this important question. Quoting (without permission):

... let me give my tentative account, which I hope other readers can correct, of its provenance. Some disgruntled soldier of a literary bent, whether commissioned or noncommissioned I do not know, pinned this ``quotation'' to a bulletin board in one of the camps of the armies occupying Germany sometime after 1945 (the style suggests a British occupying force). Since the sentiment is impeccable, whether applied to military, governmental, or academic administration, it has enjoyed a cachet borrowed from Petronius ever since.

(To which I might add, sometimes I think it applies to administration in the business world, too.)”

So why do these words seem to resonate so loudly in today’s society to the extent that they are quoted on walls and on notice boards? Could it be because we can clearly see the axiomatic truth behind them?

In the early 1980’s, when the current craze of workstations started to over take from the traditional office accommodation for government employees, it seemed like almost every second workstation had a copy of the Petronius quote pinned to the wall. It was for some reason noticeably absent from senior officers and notice boards outside Ministerial offices.

Could it be that ordinary workers were trying to express their feelings by using a ‘surrogate’ quotation?

A common point of exasperation with many government employees was the continual changing of departments and responsibilities. While the name of the department might change change, the function it performed usually didn’t. The real beneficiaries always seemed to be the printers who were required to print new stationary for the new department and the paper industry who had to keep the supply of paper up with the latest government changes. In the early 1970’s, a reported, worldwide paper shortage resulted in at least six separate memos from each level of government being sent to every TPNG outstation warning of the paper shortage and requesting that only essential correspondence be sent in on paper.

A recent state premier always had a ready answer for the question about what was the government doing about something? “I have a plan!” he would say. Whether that particular plan actually worked or not was immaterial. It was a very good foil to any further questions and allowed him to talk about what he wanted.

Most government departments always seem to change after any election. This seems to fit in quite well to the claimed Petronius system of ‘change creating an illusion of progress’. Governments and Ministers must be seen to be doing something to justify their own existence even though the real reason they are put in power is to achieve results. It’s only after being elected that first time politicians actually find that achieving results is very difficult whereas creating a climate of ‘smoke and mirrors’ is actually quite easy.

The problem in these days of hyper quick information dissemination is that the process of change has become entrenched as never ending and an ever more frequent alternative to actually doing anything. Government employees that are trying to cope with the last upheaval then seem to be drowned in the next ‘tsunami’ of yet another change or a new idea to provide a diversion from reality.

In a recent article (*)  below, the PNG Parliament is to consider the possibility of introducing railroads as a remedy for the country’s ailing transport system.  Now on the surface, this is a good proposal to make. Afterall, many countries use rail as a cheap and practical transportation system and if run commercially, it can be economically viable.

Let’s therefore look at the potential viability of PNG having a railroad system. Firstly, a railway logically requires roiling stock. This would have to be bought from somewhere along with the necessary expertise and training to operate this new equipment. Initially, expenditure would be ‘front ended’ and huge. Then a network of rail links would have to be constructed to enable the rolling stock to move people and cargo around. Railway engines to pull the new rolling stock would have to be bought and a decision made as to what method of locomotion the engine would use.

Now, should it be coal fired, diesel driven or electric? Given the lack of any natural coal deposits and that coal is currently politically ‘on the nose’; clearly this would not be a good choice. Then the availability of an uninterrupted supply of electricity is essential to ensure a train doesn’t get stalled on a line between stations. Moresby residents may therefore have a view about this factor, given the numerous power interruptions and spikes that have happened in the past. The logical choice would then be diesel power to run the new ‘locos’. This is an obvious choice since there is already the knowledge and expertise to run diesel engines available and the product is already imported to run the current transport methods using road and sea.

There are two island states nearby where railways have been in operation and these could be used for comparison with PNG. Firstly, Tasmania has a rail link between the North and South of the country but this is only used for freight. The other island state, New Zealand, also seems to use rail for freight purposes as well. Apparently, passengers prefer road and air travel.  Whoops! What a ‘downer’!

While New Zealand is in the Pacific Ring of Fire, the effects of this factor are mostly restricted to the North Island. Earthquakes in PNG often disrupt current road transport arrangements with landslides and wash ways. What would this do to a fixed and solid train line made up of iron tracks that must be at a constant distance apart from each other and on a firm foundation? How would any repairs be made to twisted and broken tracks unless a service road was nearby?

But if there logically had to be a service road nearby any potential railway track, and this service road could be easily repaired as are PNG roads now, why have a railroad at all?

Now if the current PNG transport system is not working or needs proper funding to repair it, then clearly this is beyond the scope of current government expertise. Therefore, why not try something else? Afterall, by the time that any new alternative is found to require exactly the same skills and dedication to make it work as do the current alternatives, those who are currently championing the idea will have their government superannuation schemes to enjoy and be long gone.

So who is the real Petronius? Why it’s all of us who can see what’s happening but apparently can’t do anything about it.




* Post Courier News

     Friday 17th July, 2009



Railway proposal before Parliament


By Gorethy Kenneth


PARLIAMENT was given notice yesterday for the proposed introduction of

railways as an alternative means of transport for Papua New Guinea.

The notice of motion came from National Capital District Governor Powes

Parkop who said this new mode of transport would help with the current

growing number of people in the country.

Yesterday his motion was read by the Clerk of Parliament for the Bill to be


It read: "Mr Speaker, I give notice- that I shall move that this Parliament

recognises railways as an alternative mode of transport in Papua New Guinea

and accordingly call upon the National Government to:

. ENDORSE a feasibility study for two pilot projects for a railway network

to connect Kerema in Gulf Province with Port Moresby and Alotau in Milne Bay

and from Lae in Morobe Province to Kassam Pass and Madang

. THE Engineering Department of the Papua New Guinea University of

Technology be engaged to do a feasibility study on these two projects in

view of the study that they have already undertaken previously into this

mode of transport.

. Consider the project as a priority and provide adequate funding or the

feasibility study to commence immediately

. Seek funding from international donors for technical assistance for the

project and engage into dialogue with possible investors and donors to

secure funding for the two pilot rail projects in the country and

. Encourage affected Provincial Governments to provide support to the two

projects particularly Gulf, Milne Bay, Morobe, Madang and the National

Capital District Commission to ensure that this pilot project is implemented

as soon as possible.

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