This commentary was published by Sunday Chronicle newspaper Sunday September 20, 2009 under 'Letter from China" column.
By Gelab Piak
WEDNESDAY September 16, 2009, marked the 34th year of independence. We, as Papua New Guineans are proud of our nation but on the other hand, are troubled by the torturing thought. What really did we celebrate about?
We maybe celebrating our freedom, or independence. Both are right. However, what is freedom. Freedom is the power to express one’s thoughts, action, words and rights without objection or intimidation. Freedom is having no objection to your rights, unless they violate the law of the land.
Last month, Metropolitan Superintendent Fed Yakasa, in stopping the “infamous” NGO political march said that the actions of the police were to protect the people’s Rights.
First, what Rights is the police protecting, when in fact, contradictorily, they are depriving the people’s Rights and Freedoms. The people have the Right, under the law to expression of Freedoms.
Secondly, People have the right to services and the duly elected Government has the obligation to provide services to the people. When the Government doesn’t do what it is obliged to do, then the civil society stands up.
The vibrancy of any democracy depends on the freedoms and the liberation of its civil society to exercise its rights. When the civil society’s freedoms are suppressed, a nation’s democracy is under threat.
The opposition has on several occasions cried foul about Parliamentary democracy not being exercised. Are these tell-signs of suppression and oppression, and at the highest level?
Thirdly, what is Independence? Independence simply means being Independent. Independent and Independence are two big words. So what is it like to be independent?
Being independent is being able to fend, provide for oneself, and meet one’s own needs. Put it that way, it is very hard to see the PNG Government fending, providing or meet the needs of its people, now or in the future.
There is a great need for policy makers to draft effective medium term policies. Malaysia and Venezuela are good examples of countries that have been transformed through short, effective medium term policies.
Long term policies and plans such as 40 year plans, may not be effective, may not realize and maybe thrown out by future Government, that may not understand the need to make such policies.
Big Projects: An illusive idea.
Our future mustn’t depend on “big projects”. The idea of ‘big projects’ is an illusive one that is luring landowners to give away their land without proper consultations with other villagers and community members.
‘Big projects’ are creating a lot of problems in our Melanesian society of communality, brotherhood and peace and harmony. ‘Big projects’ are often rushed and no proper social mapping is done, no proper assessment for environmental damages is done, landowners form factions as self-interest eats away at the morals of society, corruption becomes rampant in the Government, and unwise decision are made.
It has also created a mentality in this contemporary society where villages wait for big projects such as oil, gas or mining and do not take initiatives to develop themselves with small projects that are community orientated like small holder plantation estates (coffee, cocoa, copra, etc) or sawmills. Overall, once the projects fail, we, as a nation, tend to lose millions or even billions of Kina.
We need to look at ways of becoming self-reliant, with a Government that is the main services and goods provider. Thus we can say that we are independent, because by then we have a government that fends, provides and meets its people’s needs.
A sad fact is that the Australian Government, through AusAid, is more popular in rural areas than the PNG Government. This paints a picture of a Government that is not able to provide and meet its people’s needs so other Governments have stepped in.
Does that mean we are dependent? Yes, it does, as we are dependent on overseas aid. We must, as our Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare always says, be an export orientated economy or nation. Not an exporter of raw materials and vast natural resources, but an exporter of finished products.
But that will only come about if there is Government leadership, and there must be Government leadership. A good example is Japan. Japan today is the floating factory of the world because by Government leadership and a bold move towards industrialization, only now known as the industrial revolution.
The Government must lead by investing in downstream processing. The government must build factories in partnerships with companies to produce locally that create more jobs, boost the economy, increase our GDP and greatly reduce our imports.
Exporting and producing locally maybe deemed as a far cry or something that happens in the future, but for it to eventuate in the future, we must start now. PNG should start producing small products such as peanut butter, coffee jam, copper wires, etc., and then we can look at bigger products and projects like partnering with auto giants Toyota or Nissan to produce cars and trucks locally.
We can then become a cheaper option for our close neighbors when they want to import cars as these cars will be genuine Toyota or Nissan made products.
The Government must also enact tariff laws for certain period of time to help local products gain popularity among consumers. This type of Government leadership is lacking in our country and that is demonstrated by the fact that many of our exports are raw materials and do have a higher value thus the returns are mere peanuts to what is made and earned by other countries out of our resources, that are later sold back to us as finished products. Until then are we really independent!
Infrastructure, Education and Heath: The Secrets to Prosperity.
The secret to a nation’s prosperity is its infrastructure, education and health. The Government of PNG needs to seriously consider the state of its infrastructure such as bridges, roads, airstrips, government hospitals, schools and communications infrastructure.
Bad state of infrastructure is a bottle neck to the economy. The PNG economy while enjoying growth over the years, is struggling and the tell-signs are evident.
Exports of products such as coffee, cocoa, copra, and rubber may drop if road conditions are not improved and more farmers can not have easy access to markets. This will have much greater impact on the smaller farmers who grow cabbages, tomatoes, ginger, and other crops for sale at local markets and also markets outside their province.
The state of the Okuk Highway is also costing trucking companies thousands of Kina. With the deteriorating road conditions pot holes form and becomes every Truck driver’s nightmare.
If they avoid them, they risk the chance of bumping into an oncoming vehicle, and, if they go through them, it wears out the truck’s tyres and other parts under the trucks. Thus is a call for the Government to invest in infrastructure.
Investing heavily in infrastructure will not only improve the economy but also provide jobs. Road condition must be fixed and maintained to acceptable standards where they are in a useable and working state. Roads must be built to villages far out in remote areas which are in isolation. Using these roads the people can then access markets to sell their produce or other services provided in the towns.
Bridges that have broken down due to lack of maintenance must be fixed, so that people can have access once more, and may revive agriculture and farming in the ‘cut off’ areas.
An educated nation is a healthy nation. Education must reach all the rural areas. Schools that have shut down must be reopened, and teachers must be sent there.
The Government has to invest in Education by building schools in both town and rural areas, and must pay teachers properly so they are happy to go to rural areas and teach, and they must have good houses so that it boosts their moral.
With an educated populace a nation will progress, as most of its citizens will be in a position to understand the problems facing their country or the economics of their country with a competitive work force.
Today, PNG’s workforce is not that effective, in the sense that there is no competition and workers are not competing for jobs. What happens, and is happening now, is that the current work force is aging and there isn’t a younger generation to fill the gap created.
The education of the youths must become a priority for the Government. It must focus on equipping its people with knowledge, as the present world is a world where technology rules and a young, striving nation like PNG must equip its people with knowledge so that they understand the technology and use it for the benefit of their nation.
A meaningful and effective start would be investing in Vocational training education. PNG must start training its next generation of welders, carpenters, plumbers, and mechanics. These people are equal contributors to the immediate building of the nation.
The Government should provide scholarships to Vocational Training Schools. It is again these very people who will be involved in the infrastructure building and building of huge investments such as factories and hotels in this nation.
We need not bring other people from outside; that happens when a nation forgets about building its own workforce through investing in its peoples Education. Thus the nation is not healthy.
Healthy citizens contribute meaningfully to the building of a prosperous nation. When a nation has a healthy workforce, production is said to double its normal rate.
The recent outbreak of cholera shows clearly the concern our Government has for the health of its people. Little that is, and that’s demonstrated by its snail-paced response to the recent cholera outbreak. Not only had that, but the lack of health services also contributed to the deaths that have occurred in the affected areas; as some of the deceases are treatable.
Cholera was a time-bomb waiting to happen, as many rural areas do not have aid posts or the aid posts have been run-down and shut for many years now.
Even in towns, the standard of healthcare provided by the Government is no where near any standard at all. Port Moresby General Hospital is no exception with rotting wood, ill-equipped and lowly funded. The hospital cannot cater for Port Moresby residents.
Nurses and doctors must have good housing and transport must not be a problem to hospitals, which need to transport patients or staff.
Providing a better healthcare system will ensure a brighter future for Papua New Guineans and a more productive workforce, resulting in a growing, demanding economy, thus a prosperous nation looms in the making.
A challenge for everyone
Members of Parliament really need to stop their corrupt practices and have a true nationalist feeling that drives them towards nation building. Nation building is not an overnight job. It takes many people, in fact a whole nation, many years, and many hearts.
One pure heart can not turn the many unclean hearts. It has to take courage for everyone to change, and if the Politicians are not serious about building PNG, then who else?
No one may take the courage to build our nation, as you politicians are the top leaders, PNG is looking at you, and this Independence, PNG heard what you said.
Together, let’s build a nation in PNG, so that we can have something to celebrate about.
Note: Send comments to Mathew Yakai: firstname.lastname@example.org or SMS 71489901