Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Papua New Guinea and citizens can rise and shine


Susuve Laumaea
PAPUA New Guinea shall rise and shine – over time.
And PNG’s citizens, too, shall become happy, healthy and wealthy, again, over time. 
We may have not quite shone brightly in the last 35 years.
So what?
We’re just an evolving 35 year-old democracy.
Let’s not be too harsh on ourselves.
We may have squandered many opportunities and we may have been called a failed state by foreign critics, our own opposition politicians and so-called learned commentators.
But we are not and we shall not be.
As human beings we, the citizens of PNG were each born with ability and intelligence.
We each can make positive changes in our lives.
Yes we can make positive changes come through truly for all of us.
Yes we can and we shall prevail.
We shall overcome.
Resource-wise, we have what it takes to rise and shine very brightly as a nation over the medium to long-term.
Immediately though, we have to knuckle down as serious people, as citizens of this wonderful nation and take stock of how our nation is being led, where we have gone wrong and where we can improve.
We should as nation pledge on this 35th anniversary of our national independence to commit each other to the honourable quest of getting the national political leadership equation right for the next 35 years.
We have got to get the basic prerequisites right to drive the nation forward to new and higher positive levels of economic, political and social performance. 
The perennial pessimist, sceptics, critics, misfits, unfits, no-fits and whatever-fits - one cares to call them - have a right to disagree with the outpouring of optimism from this scribe.
 We all have a right to freedom of conscience, thought and religion and to freedom of expression as prescribed respectively under Sections 45 and 46 of the National Constitution as adopted by the Constituent Assembly on August 15, 1975.
We can’t all be negatives and sour-grapes all the time, can we?
I beg to differ.
Admittedly we are not a faultless and squeaky-clean nation led by faultless and squeaky-clean leaders.
We know we are not, so, let’s stop bad-mouthing ourselves and clean up our nation and our act.
 Let’s make a national commitment right now to begin in earnest to clean out the rot and turn over a new leaf, shall we?
Let’s start developing our nation and our people.
Let’s end the era of powerful and greedy politicians and their cronies lining their pockets with all our national wealth.
How do we do that?
Let’s do it democratically through the ballot box.
That’s right.
Vote them out!
Spare no mercy for thieves and the corrupt that have an entrenched culture and habit to thieve and to corrupt.
So when a number of my very close friends became sceptical and critical and asked me what was there for Papua New Guineans to celebrate after 35 years of independence I just said “plenty”.
 But many others have a different view point.
I have listened to my fair share of the differing points of view.
One of these many pals of mine, a 50-something year old highlander from one of the mountain provinces we shall call Kevin (not his real name) was the most critical in the group conversation we were having recently at our usual Friday afternoon get together.
“This 35th independence anniversary,” began Kevin, “what are we celebrating? “What is there to celebrate?”
What a question?
And a resounding one too.
It’s a common poser and response many of my acquaintances have been giving me in the past couple of weeks to my harmless enquiry about their celebratory plans – if any – for this historical national event that’s celebrated annually since September 16, 1975.
“There’s nothing to celebrate,” several have declared emphatically to me, adding that the nation had gone to a minority of elitist political and economic dogs and their local and foreign cronies.
“There is a minority that have become politically and economically wealthy in the last 35 years.
 “They are the ones lording over all of us.
“As citizens, we have all become irrelevant and insignificant,” said Kevin.  
But should we relegate ourselves to that level and condemn ourselves to that fate forever?
No way.
 Every citizen of PNG can change his or her own destiny for the better.
 Our nation has natural wealth to change each and everyone’s life and living condition.
We just have to stop thinking that the next person owes us a living.
Each person – every man, woman and child – in PNG has to change his or her mindset and stop thinking that an educated relative or child or an employed relative or child owes you a living for ever and ever, amen.
No. From here on, on the occasion of our nation’s 35th year of independence, every Papua New Guinean citizen must embrace the philosophy of survival of the fittest, work hard, put in the hard yakka, and develop a positive, constructive and productively practical mindset to create lawful survival opportunities for oneself.
 Papua New Guineans must throw away the habit of spivving, leeching and bludging off wantoks and extended family members for survival.
Kevin’s come through a confidence-sapping bad experience earlier in his life and is therefore a bitter former businessman.
He had tried his hand initially at running an agriculture-based business which he gave up after five years, followed by operating a chain of fish and chips tucker shops in the highlands, Lae and Port Moresby, second hand clothing shops, a trucking business between Lae and all the highlands provinces.
But all of that collapsed one after the other as the PNG economic meltdown of the 1990s took its toll on all his businesses which were operating with money borrowed from two banks.
Kevin could not keep up with loan repayments and the banks quickly moved in to take over the businesses and sold them to get their money back.
 That happened 10 years ago and to this day Kevin understandably remains a bitter man who believes he was let down by incompetent national governments complimented by equally incompetent and misfiring bureaucracy both of which could not protect and insulate his businesses.
He reckons the political government and the bureaucracy were responsible and were not vigilant enough to neutralise the domestic adverse economic conditions of the later half of the 1990s.
It is a familiar story common to a great many Papua New Guineans who have tried to break into the entrepreneurial sector dominated mostly by foreigners – some of whom operate those businesses for their political associates. Yes. Many ordinary citizens have tried to make a break-through into the entrepreneurial sector with mixed results over the last 35 years.
 Many have failed.
Some have even died trying.
That’s the sad story of the ordinary Papua New Guinean triers who have actually tried and failed or died trying to create businesses on their own initiative, using their own meagre resources and being given the run around by their own government’s facilitating departments and by state-owned or private financial institutions that demand water-tight collaterals as pre-condition for even the smallest of business or personal loan over the last 35 years.
That’s one gripe faced by citizens of PNG after 35 years of national independence. There are many others.
The truth about life in Papua New Guinea for the majority of citizens is that - in the last 35 years – they have been politically, socially and economically dislocated, marginalised, traumatised through lack of basic life support services, disadvantaged by absence of educational, training, skills transfer and gainful employment opportunities.
In the urban areas ordinary citizens in low to medium income bracket are reduced to harsh and inhuman living conditions in a money-driven culture in the towns and cities.
 Most end up in urban squatter settlements where they subject themselves to living in squalor and in complete denial of basic life support services such as running water, electricity and proper sewerage and ablution facilities.
By contrast in the rural areas ordinary folks live a life of denial in that other PNG economy that practices a dying culture of traditional barter system.
Roads and rural business, commerce and industry hubs to support rural life are non-existent.  
A few towns and a couple of main cities have been made too attractive that there is a daily flow of humanity from rural PNG to the cities and towns to add to their overcrowding, putting additional pressure on already limited and overstretched public infrastructure, water, electricity, public housing and sewerage system.
 The growing modern monetary culture in towns and cities has begun creating divides between close-knit families and extended wantok systems because more and more ordinary Papua New Guineans are beginning to feel the pressures of high cost of basic food items, housing rentals, education fees for children and the cost of other modern conditions of improved life styles and basic life-support systems.
Realistically, a great majority of citizens live way below the poverty line.
That means a majority of Papua New Guineans do not even have K2 per day.
In rural areas some people have never even possessed two kina in years.
Just go to any remote PNG rural village and your misgivings will be answered.
Up to of 87% of Papua New Guineans have not risen above the levels of unemployment.
Educational and developmental unhappiness and disillusionment add to unhealthy living experiences.
Consider the nation’s poor social indicators headed by a burgeoning annual population growth rate at between 2.7% and 3%.
Rising maternal mortality, runaway HIV/AIDS pandemic, breakdown in law and order, inefficient bureaucracy, unpredictable parliament, major roads in disrepair, education institution falling apart, health facilities with basic medicinal drugs, high cost of basic food items in shops and abject poverty in both urban and rural areas that is characterised by hand-to-mouth daily existence therefore begs the question of what is there to celebrate on the 35th year of our nation’s independence.
The nation of a multitude of tribes and languages that’s often referred to by all and sundry variously as the land of opportunities galore, the land of milk and honey, the Pearl of the Pacific, the land that is bountifully endowed and adorned with natural wealth, flora, fauna and arable agricultural land needs more than band aid treatment for a huge tropical ulcer.
 New focus.
New leadership.
New direction.
 Find the answers there.
  • The writer is an award-wining newspaper journalist and writes for a number of local and foreign newspapers and professional journals occasionally. Share your views with the writer at mailto: or SMS to: 675-73252271.

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