Take Back PNG: Make the National Goals Relevant Again

By Patrick Kaiku*

The National Goals and Directive Principles (NGDPs) and the Basic Social Obligations (BSOs) in the Preamble are prominent aspirational statements in the National Constitution. Yet, they are also the most neglected part of the national conversation. The National Goals include: Integral human development; Equality and participation; National sovereignty and self-reliance; Natural resources and environment and; Papua New Guinean ways. It is important that as a nation, PNG goes back to the basics, using the NGDPs as the instrument to mobilize our peoples.

When we look at present challenges, PNG is not impoverished of collective national memory to deal with these challenges. Much of the discourse leading up into Independence and later in the immediate post-Independence periods consumed the mental energies of our most gifted visionary thinkers. The Constitutional Planning Committee Report, the NGDPs, the BSOs, and the Eight Aims are the product of this robust intellectual exercise. But today, these important thoughts are all but swept under the rug and given less attention by younger generations.

While peoples are currently invoking slogans such as ‘Take back PNG’, these slogans are just sound bites that will almost surely be emptied of their meaning in due course. They do not come close to the status of the NGDPs. The NGDPs on the other hand are enduring and occupy a superior position in the Constitution. The fact that these goals are stated at the outset of the Constitution and then reiterated in subsequent sections of the Constitution means something – they are a permanent part of the Constitution. The NGDPs, even with the challenges at the time of its creation, is identified as the outcome of a legitimate process of popular consultation undertaken by the Constitutional Planning Committee (CPC).

The CPC was very clear about the role of the NGDPs. The NGDPs are supposed to define ‘the philosophy of life by which we want to live and the social and economic goals we want to achieve’.  It was also envisaged that Constitutional bodies work, ‘to apply and give effect to’ the NGDPs (Sch.1.7 of the Constitution of PNG). When a set of ideas are made to be the philosophy of life, that means that it forms the basis through which the individual citizen aspire to practice (‘to apply and give effect to’). 

To familiarise Papua New Guineans to the NGDPs, the CPC recommended that the NGDPs be given ‘the widest possible publicity at all levels of government; in towns and villages; in schools and tertiary institutions; in churches and other organizations so that our people will become fully aware of them, discuss them and obtain a clear sense of the direction in which our country is heading’. In other words, the political education of Papua New Guineans is critical to inculcating the values and principles of the NGDPs. These were visionary ideas on the very question of citizenship responsibilities.

What is the use of the NGDPs?

What is the importance of the NGDPs? Consider some possible practical effect. If the NGDPs are made to be – as suggested by the CPC – the ‘philosophy of life’ at both the individual and national level, imagine the kind of citizens PNG would be nurturing. What would be the aggregate outcome for aspired national virtues, if the education of citizens began at an early age, with the NGDPs as part of the educational curriculum?  Most Papua New Guineans are unaware of the existence and practical application of the very aspirations of the NGDPs.

There is also another important reason why the NGDPs matter. Papua New Guineans are pragmatic peoples. In most instances, we are impatient about abstract ideals. Notions such as the ‘rule of law’ or the ‘supremacy of the Constitution’ do not always resonate with the practical realities of Papua New Guineans. People may not always see the connections of abstract concepts to their daily lives.

This was noticed by the CPC who saw the symbiotic relationships between the legitimacy of the Constitution as tied to the actual application of the NGDPs. According to the CPC: ‘If the Constitution is to be truly the fundamental charter of our society and the basis of legitimate authority, it should be an instrument which helps to achieve these goals and not one which obstructs’.

Presently there is disillusionment about the state of our nation. Trust in our national institutions and the Constitutional foundations of the country is negligible. By way of re-building the trust and confidence of citizens, or reinforce the legitimacy of the Constitution, practical meaning should be given to the NGDPs. Government instrumentalities tasked with making decision-making rarely use the NGDPs in vetting the decisions or public policies concerning the welfare of this country. This was revealed in a landmark study by Papua New Guinean scholar, Sam Sirox Kari. Even the CPC’s recommendation for the creation of a permanent parliamentary committee to review laws and policies to ensure their alignment with the NGDPs has not been a priority of Parliament. It is not surprising therefore an Australian academic dismissed the NGDPs as ‘a dead letter’.

When the NGDPs are bypassed in government decision-making, it can have the unintended consequence of instilling doubt in the minds of citizens about the relevance of these pre-Independence visions of the country. Instituting the NGDPs into popular discourse is a sure way of bringing the Constitution to life for the ordinary citizen, long disillusioned by the way this nation is managed.

What can be done?

The National Department of Education (NDoE) recently developed the Citizenship and Christian Values Education. It plans to use this curriculum as a compulsory subject in PNG schools. It is not known at this stage if this curriculum includes the CPC Report and the NGDPs and BSOs. The dissemination of the NGDPs and creatively using various learning methods in teaching the NGDPs in learning institutions is consistent with the recommendations of the CPC.

Also, designating a ‘Constitution Day’ (perhaps during the week leading up to September 16) can be a useful initiative. Institutions and citizens should be encouraged to initiate interactive ways to personalise the NGDPs and the Constitution. It is absurd that PNG has practically earmarked specific dates for other national celebrations, and the Constitution is simply not that important. If PNG is to be a ‘nation of laws’, the challenge is to raise the prominence of the Constitution and its Preamble in a national holiday. The Constitution and the NGDPs is not an exclusive document only for students of the law to read. It is a document that should be accessible and digested by every citizen. Although the NGDPs or the BSOs are non-justiciable (they cannot be enforced in the Courts or used as basis for legal proceedings), this is simply not an excuse to disregard creative ways of making them a part of civic life in PNG.

* Patrick Kaiku teaches in the Political Science Department at the University of Papua New Guinea