Monday, July 19, 2010

Why we get screwed in foreign and trade relations



In recent times, many Papua New Guineans and Australians have been engaging in a good healthy debate on aid to PNG from Australia

Everyone is in some agreement it needs to be relooked but its also quite interesting and perhaps not surprising a growing number of bloggers screaming at the lack of PNG nationals in government, not being able to absorb the aid constructively to deliver to our people. 

I personally have had the rare privilege of sitting around mahogany tables in Canberra, Beijing, Brussels, Geneva, New York and Washington negotiating foreign and trade relations on behalf of our great country. 

Every diplomat and government official we met around the world had one question, “what’s in it for us?”

 Which was what we expected, after all, that’s what former diplomatic hawks in Washington and Brussels taught us.

So how does PNG react towards such a question?

Well, as our colorful history tells you, we try to formulate a negotiating position so as to establish a platform of norms that our partner must appreciate our development needs.

 In return we will allow them access in our markets for their private sector to trade.

So the armada of development assistance comes in.

Our kids absorb  taxpayers money from our friends in education and health projects, and return some of the experts that will help us make shit loads of money, some will dig great big holes in our backyard looking for rocks, oil, gas and others will mop up our fish in our waters.
So how do you measure the success of aid?

 Who is benefiting?

 I don’t know and there may be some formula out there that does this but what I have observed over the years is that it is usually the other party that dominates the entire relationship and eventually wins everything. 

 All because there is a mechanical system of positions being meticulously crafted by experts, officials academics etc… and than is fed to their leaders who than deliver it with utmost conviction and confidence.

 They’re bloody prepared. 

And herein lays the problem for PNG: we don’t spend time and energy in developing a culture of research and analysis on our foreign relations. 

 We go ill prepared and it translates to our leaders not knowing what to do and say. 

But in all fairness, these limitations are not mere incompetence but a clear reflection that we are a nation driven by sectoralism in foreign relations and not on holistic relations. 

 So when our biggest bargaining chip is our resources, we sectorally negotiate resources and not holistically look at everything. 

 So at the end of the day,  instead of demanding quality control in projects, personal and outputs, we are satisfied experts will help us on the gas project. 

 Instead of ensuring our people should have flexibility in working in Australia and benefit from its industries, we are satisfied with Australian businesses coming to help us with our gas project.

 Instead of negotiating greater allocations of our unskilled men and women to work in farms, we are content with a lousy 700 people because that is a trade off or getting more people to help us with the gas project. 

So when the blokes and sheilas that come up are recycled public servants whose only training is hopping around the Arnhem Land teaching Aboriginals what’s right and wrong or have just been farted out from ANU, than remember that your leaders trade it off for our natural resources.
When our people working in the private sector are managed by incompetent managers whose only experience is to run little outfits in regional Australia, Mt Isa or Tamworth, of course you’ll expect little knowledge transfer to help our people in businesses.

 There are, however,  signs of hope in the current Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade who is an exceptional man and commands greater understanding in foreign policy compared to his processors or his fellow ministers. 

 When he barked at aid effectiveness, trade should be the focus of our relations; this was a man trying to save the pitfalls that had already become part of the norm, where we only engage with our partners sectorally. 

 His officers are ringing the same message: holistic foreign relations are the way for PNG and not sectoral trade-offs.

The benefits of a holistic approach allows all development issues to be discussed and more importantly trade if off with our resources. 

 Our linear approach is destroying us. 

At the end of the day we are forced to eat the blueprint of Canberra because of the natural resource trade off. 

And so, an aid programme is implemented with little contribution and for the most part, it is littered with projections that are not in the interest of PNG.
 Discipline is required by the Cabinet to allow Minister Abal and his officers to contribute meaningfully in natural resource negotiations with the Home State (Exxon Mobil for US) of the developers so that they may foster a framework based on sound holistic foreign and trade relations. 

A good start is his strong views on telling his counterpart Minister Smith and PM Gillard, PNG wants less aid and more trade.

 As I said earlier, every diplomat asks the question, “What’s in it for us?” 

 There is nothing in Australia in holistic development because “what’s in it for them” is in those sectoral concessions.   


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