PNG must make people the centre of power

14 July 2021


CAIRNS – Patrick Angrai’s article, Death of a Teacher, hit me hard too. Firstly sadness, then anger.

Death in childbirth, through lack of timely referral or resources, is so horribly common in rural settings and often goes unreported.

As Arthur Williams has said, how can this happen in such a resource rich country?

I believe we – we outsiders who have worked in and advised Papua New Guinea – need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves some pertinent questions.

In the cobbled together confederacy of 850 nations that we birthed, how far do social capital and a real sense of the common good extend?

Beyond my kaukau garden, perhaps, maybe to the boundary with the next hausman.

If this observation is correct, how does any family hold public servants or its government to account for these sad outcomes. Blame puripuri.

Have our multiple capacity building interventions taken these subtleties into consideration?

Have we done anything in the past 40 plus years that built upon a structure that has been self-sufficient for 50 plus millennia?

Or have we made assumptions that weren’t correct leading up to Independence in 1975 and aren’t correct now.

Are our well-intentioned efforts part of the problem?

Martyn Namorong’s prescient article of 9 July, Bougainville Highlights Need for a New PNG,’ poses lots of questions and touches on some underlying factors.

Martyn observes that:

  • “the Melanesian world has for millennia been a multi-polar world”
  • “people should always be the centre of power”
  • “with no strong political centre or hegemony”
  • “people…have become bystanders in their own land”
  • “we should be exploring models…that may be more relevant to PNG”

In my view Martyn is absolutely right and his sage observations lie at the core of why poor Jerolyn Arimbandai and so many others have suffered and died in the way they did.

And if nothing fundamentally changes, people will continue to die.

Accountability. What accountability? For all our rose-tinted efforts the system is not accountable, and I suggest it never will be.

Real accountability only applies to my extended family or maybe as far as some members in my clan.

Sori tru’, but the well-intentioned views of outsiders are out of touch with the real PNG.

And, if that is true, do Martyn’s observations not point towards a potential way forward?

Make the people – who were always at the centre of power – again the ‘doers’ in their own land.

Through their mausman and mausmeri bring every community into partnership with the government system.

The furthest tentacles of the health structure should not stop with aid posts (who are they accountable to?) but extend right into every community in the land.

And where is the money for that? Time to face facts and a new vision: one that fits with the accepted view of accountability.

Dear communities, the government, for whatever reason, will never be in a position to meet your needs. Accept it. (This is definitely not news to them.)

For the first-time communities will drive the outcomes relevant to them, not the other way around; held to account by their own people, no longer the bystanders in their own land.

Oh yes, how? Not easy, but it helps that this involves people who have been supremely self-sufficient for an awful long time.

It involves providing them with some tools and assistance to value-add the undoubted natural resources around them to generate the capital needed to exchange for regular outreach services.

It involves close collaboration with them in agriculture, fishing, off-grid power, banking and innovative thinking so they can incorporate the extra inputs required into their daily, weekly and monthly routines and, in return, add home based and regular ante-natal, immunisation and general outreach services into community life.

Has this been demonstrated? Yes, in its component parts and always with dependency upon external funding.

Never in its entirety as a whole of community-government socio-economic partnership to deliver sustainable and accountable services.

In memory of the oh so many Jerolyns, the time has come to change that.

Published by Ples Singsing

Ples Singsing is envisioned to be a new platform for Papua Niuginian expressions of creativity, ingenuity and originality in art and culture. We deliberately highlight these two very broad themes as they can encompass the diverse subjects, from technology, medicine and architecture to linguistics, music, fishing, gardening et cetera. Papua Niuginian ways of thinking, living, believing, communicating, dying and so on can cover the gamut of academic, journalistic or opinionated writing and we believe that unless we give ourselves a platform to talk about and discuss these things in an open, free and non-exclusively academic space that they may remain the fodder for academics, journalists and other types of writers alone. New social media platforms have given every individual a personal space to share their feelings and ideas openly, sometimes without immediate censure. The Ples Singsing writer’s blog would like to provide another more structured platform for Papua Niuginian expressions in written, visual and audio formats while also providing some regulation of the type and content of materials to be shared publicly.

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