By Eddie Tanago Paine
We sat down in Port Moresby, the forever blackout city, I hear the neighbours playing the famous Saugas song, Sindaun Bagarap, echoing the windy night, and buai buyers complaining about the hike in prices, and I thought about Papua New Guinea turning 48 in a few days time. The question I asked my small brother Braigi is, how have we progressed in the last 48 years as a nation? He said, “namji (brother), there are so many challenges we have as a nation and I am very concerned”. The discussions went throughout the night until our betelnut supply had run out. I thought, maybe I’ll write something as a reflection on the discussions we had that night.
PNG got its Independence from Australia in 1975. Thanks to our founding fathers that we didn’t fight for it like other countries did. But, even though given freely, the Australians still doubted how Papua New Guineans would run this country. In the lead up to Independence though, we had a Constitutional Planning Committee who carefully planned our development pathway.
A path that was going to be centred around the people, localisation and an economy driven by Papua New Guineans based on equal distribution of wealth, rural development and respect for one and other and the environment. These virtues eventually made the five National Goals and Directive Principals found in the Constitution.
However, straight after the independence, our politicians backed by some powerful local elites and foreigners opted for a different development path that was based on resource extraction. The belief was that foreign owned companies would be brought into extract our resources and sell them in international markets and the proceeds would be used to fund economic development for the nation as a whole. That has become our development path since then until now.
As we approach 48 years of independence, have we realised our goals? Has that approach benefitted all Papua New Guineans in rural and in urban settings? Our discussions concluded that we have not benefitted. The rural and urban majority have not benefited and the indicators are very obvious.
We have so many mines, oil, gas, forestry and oil palm projects all around the country with very little to show for them, our peoples lives are worse off then before. The promises of these projects on employment, benefits and better lives hasn’t been realised. Instead we are forced to give away, ‘free up’, our most important asset, our customary land ‘for development’, only to suffer more. This has been repeated over the last 48 years. Our Prime Minister when in France recently visited Total Energy and the executives spoke highly about the Papua LNG and the benefits it would bring to the economy. Well this is not a new, we saw the same thing happen with the PNG LNG. We have seen similar promises made in all sectors. We are misled to believe that it is our development. NO, it is not our development. It is their development and their benefits. All we reap are the benefits of being made landless and evicted like in Porgera, pollution to the waterways like the Fly River and in Basamuk, manhandled on your own land by police in Pomio SABLs and in most logging sites, social and cultural breakdown and the environmental losses. Why are we not the next Dubai as promoted recently by a vocal governor? Why? We should be better off by now with more foreign reserves, more downstream processing of our resources, especially fuel and logs, sufficient supply of medical drugs and quality facilities and more money circulating in our country?
I think we have some answers to these questions.
Firstly, these foreign owned companies are here to make profit. They are not here to fund our development agenda and we’ve witnessed that over the last 48 years. The repeated sweet talks made through our politicians have not come true. We have progressed backwards and yet not realised how far we’ve gone. These big companies bank their profits in offshore tax havens and the monies laundered, facilitated by corrupt individuals and organisations. We are only given bones to fight over. Why are we still believing our politicians and economic hit men who pretend to represent us in project negotiations and signing of agreements? It is about time we should be rising up and asking tougher questions and be demanding answers. Are we going to wait another 50 years before we realised we are doomed by this false model of development?
Secondly, corruption is a huge problem and is denying basic health and education services from reaching our people, most of whom are rural based. Our annual CPI scores are the worst in our region. Half of our development budgets are mismanaged and stolen by MPs, bureaucrats and those in authority. These are all evident in the daily news, court documents and in the series of tax payer funded inquiries including the Finance Department and UBS Inquiries. We need to get rid of corruption and greed within our society, only then can we see basic services reaching our people. Our 94 districts receive K10 million each per year with nothing to show for it. There are no financial acquittals and audits to how these funds are being used. The Auditor Generals Office has repeatedly stated this. There are also no five-year development plans for the District that should guide how the monies are used to benefit the constituents. As of now, only 11 out of 94 districts have a five year plan for 2022-27.
My nephew Randy then asks. "So what can be done now? How can we better our country? I am so worried thinking about all that we have discussed".
We then discussed the solutions that we thought would address the current status of our country:
1. People should be made the centre of the development.
2. Stop forcing Papua New Guineans to ‘free up’ their customary lands
3. Its time for the people to revolt - demand answers and change.
Enough is enough!
*Kikibakiki means folk tale in Binandere Language of Oro Province
The article as also published on The National Paper- https://www.thenational.com.pg/reflecting-on-independence/