Archive for April, 2012

Yat Paol is a farmer on Madang’s North Coast. He runs a grassroots NGO aimed at linking up rural PNG communities who are using their land to build small businesses.  Rather than selling off their land, and their children’s future, to a logger or miner. Journalist Andrew Pascoe interviewed him.

“This model of development, this alternative from the outside, that’s aggressively being promoted and pushed by the government and all the other powers – including the financial institutions on the outside, the Australian government with AusAID, aid programs by other governments also, and even some NGOs who buy into these programs like poverty reduction and that garbage – they say we are a poor country, we are a starving people.

I plant my own food and I eat it from my own land. I catch fish from my own river. We get it free. We get it free, we don’t buy it, so what do you need $1 a day for? I don’t need that garbage. And I’m not alone in that thinking.

Our own model of development is already there. We’re already having it. I’m living in my village. I’m OK. I can live for up to a week without a kina or a toea, without spending one toea. Everything I need is there already. That’s our model of development which our government and the powers that be lose sight of, they’re blind to that, turning a blind eye to that. The real model of development that is ours, that has sustained us for 50,000 years or more. And now we have this alternative model of development that’s come in and is aggressively promoted.

The government and all these who are supporting this model of development, this outside model of development, they forget that people are living their lives. Life still goes on in the villages. People don’t need your big money. People don’t need your big industry – big, so-called ‘development’. We have marketable produce all over the country. We are not poor people. And I don’t believe this garbage about poverty reduction — not in this country. Papua New Guinea is evergreen. We have everything.

So whose interest is this model of development serving? It’s serving big business, it’s serving the Government through the taxes, and those corrupt politicians and high level executives who steal all the money, most of the money, anyway. And their bosses: the foreign governments and the aid programs, international financial institutions, who think they are doing good, for the so-called developing nations. So it’s benefiting rich people – not us, on the ground. I’m saying us because I am part of that now.

The only thing we need is good roads, accessibility to the markets. That’s the only thing – access to markets and services. To goods and services that we cannot produce ourself. That’s basically what we really need.

I believe in agriculture. But agriculture in our terms, agriculture that we the people can be in control of, not some foreigner-controlled agriculture project. Whatever we can farm ourself, of course with technical support, and some finance from the outside, but we do it ourself, and we control it. Like cocoa, or our buai, even tobacco. Those are money makers. We don’t need to buy this British American produced tobacco, we have our own local tobacco. And buai, that’s a big money maker. They talk about ‘informal’ sector. What’s informal? That’s what’s sustaining us, economically and socially. That’s the only sector that sustains us financially and socially, not the so-called formal sector. What is it doing?

I’m optimistic, because I see that people are not sleeping. They don’t need no government to come with their development model. They are tilling their land. They are cultivating their land. They’re making small business. Of course they need outsider support. For them to be able to manage, because managing cash economy is something that’s new for us. We need skills to be able to manage it and grow the business. This is small-to-medium kind business, not big business, not industries. Management skills and also processing kakao, we can make our own chocolate on a small scale. If the government is serious about its people, it should make that possible to happen, I think that’s the work of government, to be able to facilitate that. If its really serious about being a government for the people, by the people, and of the people, that’s the real work of the government.

And our constitutional founders saw that. The constitutional planning committee, they saw that our strength is in our land, in our cultural heritage, and in our artistic talents that’s ours. I think that’s the key. It’s in our blood. We are farmers. We discovered farming 10,000 years ago, so that’s in our blood. We don’t need no alternative to come and teach us how to farm. Our people are farming already.”

We are beginning to understand upcoming elections stand no chance of improving the dismal status quo of non-representation.

As we come to see – sooner than we may have thought – the O’Namah Government is just as bad as Somare’s regime, it’s becoming clear the revolving door of self-interested politicians will continue to spin, no matter how we vote, this election or in another five years’ time.
 
As a result, some are now talking more seriously about political reform. A recent blog post  by former kiap Paul Oates argued PNG’s parliament needs an Upper House to review legislation before it becomes law.
We question whether reinforcing the Westminster system – an imposed system that, Senate or no Senate, is collapsing around the globe – is the right approach.  Should we be thinking of more fundamental reform? Should we be talking about a political system based on our realities and founded on our Pacific values, rather than on a foreign imposed model that’s not working for us?

Let’s start with the root problem: the majority of Papua New Guineans do not feel represented by the current political system. The reasons for this are complex, but can we identify a few of the major flaws?

One thing we need to look at is the number of MPs we have: 109 seats is way too many for people’s concerns to be meaningfully addressed. When 2000 public servants quit their jobs to contest the election, a seat can be won by someone who gets enough of his wantoks and mates together, or buys enough of them. These candidates see the current National Election as a lottery – if they get voted in, they win the spoils of corrupt politics (sponsored by those same foreign corporations supposedly bringing ‘economic growth’ to PNG).

So slashing the number of seats in Parliament would be a start. But even after doing so, the issue of MPs’ accountability to their electorates is not resolved. Money and power is concentrated in Port Moresby, hence the vast majority of local communities get totally neglected, government after government. They lack access to essential health services, school facilities, road access, because their member isn’t based there. He’s in Port Moresby, where he doesn’t have to answer pesky questions about the lack of medicine or electricity from his local constituents.

There are reportedly growing calls for independence among various PNG provinces. This suggests people want to be closer to the decision-making process. A better system of government would be decentralised, so that political leaders were based closer to the communities they are meant to serve. By bringing the decision-making base closer to home, we can ensure greater accountability by leaders across the nation.

And that brings us to the most fundamental reform – a return to the National Goals inscribed in our  Constitution. It declares, in its National Goal for Equality and Participation, that:

WE ACCORDINGLY CALL FOR the creation of political structures that will enable effective, meaningful participation by our people … and in view of the rich cultural and ethnic diversity of our people for those structures to provide for substantial decentralization of all forms of government activity.

In talking about political reform, let’s not constrain ourselves to the box of the current Westminster system. Let’s go back to the forgotten goals of the Constitution, which captured the traditional values which our Melanesian cultures are built on. If the current political system does not respect those values – or those of our Constitution – perhaps it is time to talk about a system that does.

A few questions niggled in the back of my mind a few days ago after a long discussion with friends. We talked about the expectations that the Papua New Guinea education system embeds in our minds.

After more than 30 years since our colonisers (supposedly) relinquished direct control over our affairs, our education system – their education system – continues to perpetuate engrained notions that are far from reality. Those notions are reinforced by our families. We teach our children to study for an academic qualification in order to get a job and to support ourselves. Many of us have not – and probably never will – come to the realistion that the education system prepares us to work for a production system instead of taking control of the means of production.

Every year, the government talks about the high rate of unemployment. “There aren’t enough jobs out there for young people coming out of university,” they say. It is because we are educated to believe in the illusion that our young people will somehow be absorbed into a ‘job market’. It doesn’t teach us that we can create jobs for ourselves.

Nor does it teach us to have pride in working on the land to make a living. Hence a young man or woman is considered a ‘success’ if she leaves home to work for a commercial company. No matter that they work much harder and make much less money (see this video if you don’t believe it) – they are considered more successful than that buai seller (that buai entrepreneur) by the road, who’s making twice as much, and is able to stay close to his community and his values.

Have we really sat down to think about who it was that designed our education system? Do we realise that this system was designed by people from another culture who don’t own land? Sure, it taught us to read and write and speak a foreign language that we use to converse with other people around the world. But does the education system teach us who we are? Does it teach us our strengths as a people? Does the education system teach us the value of land (i.e land, sea, air, bush etc) in the context that we own resources and are in a position of power?

Why do we listen to those who tell us that the ‘wantok system’ can’t be integrated into business? Why do you think a Chinese businessman will buy from one of his own? Isn’t that the ‘wantok system’? When will we take stock of our many strengths and realise that along with land, that we own, the traditional structures that we use to pay for bride price and funerals can also be used to pool financial resources needed to start businesses? When will we realise that we can create, on OUR own land, environments where everybody from children to adults have an income without having to work for someone else?

* PNG Constitution National Goal 1, ‘Integral Human Development’: WE ACCORDINGLY CALL FOR education to be based on mutual respect and dialogue, and to promote awareness of our human potential and motivation to achieve our National Goals through self-reliant effort.

David Wissink, the spokesman for Morobe Mines Joint Venture, asked the question of yesterday’s historic protest: ‘So in reality what was gained?’

Most Papua New Guineans know the answer to this question. But for David’s benefit, let’s spell it out.

1) We showed the government that they are accountable to us.

Now the politicians realise we are not going to let them get away with blatant disregard for us and our rights.

2) We showed solidarity.

Good things start to happen when ordinary Papua New Guineans stand together and start talking about issues we share as a nation.

3) We showed that we are better than them.

They are violent – they let our people be murdered for LNG. They don’t respect our rights – they rushed through an unconstitutional Bill without asking us at all (and now they want us to stop talking about it). They try and divide us and cause conflict between us. WE are peaceful – we marched peacefully, as a nation, and started talking about a better way for all.

David, and mining companies like the one he works for, doesn’t like it when Papua New Guineans speak out. It makes him nervous that Papua New Guineans are thinking for themselves. He thinks: “Maybe they will realise they don’t want or need companies like Newcrest telling them what to think.

“Maybe they will realise they don’t need to support the corrupt government which makes so much money for the miners.

“Maybe they will realise they don’t need mining or foreign companies at all, because they have a better way of making a living (it’s called land).'”

So WE say congratulations to the protesters, who love their country and believe foreign corporations like MMJV and the government they corrupt are holding us back from a better way (our way). And don’t let them try and tell you that you are violent trouble-makers. They are the violent ones, stealing your land and your money. You are the peacemakers: and the future.

‘Em Graun Bilong Mipla’ is Scott Waide’s outstanding new documentary which, over 18 inspiring minutes, proves there is another way for Papua New Guinea. A way that doesn’t involve corruption, urban ghettoes, dispossession of land and loss of PNG’s incredibly diverse cultures.

Watch video here:  http://youtu.be/4Qk9X_rOOjI

‘Em Graun Bilong Mipla’ tells the story of Saussi, a rural community which rejected offers to lease its land for oil palm. Instead it has used control over its land’s natural resources to become incredibly self-sufficient. Today, Saussi is far wealthier than any community we know of that has allowed extractive ‘development’ onto their land.

PNG is unique in that most of the people still own their land (86% – formerly 97%, before the current land-grab by foreign corporations began). But communities everywhere are coming under massive pressure from mining, logging, fisheries, oil palm and other companies to lease their land, in some cases for generations. Not realising the wealth inherent in their own land, or not having the power to maintain control over it, communities are being evicted from their land by companies at a rapid rate. As they do, traditional societies are breaking down and PNG is becoming awash with crime and hopelessness.

Saussi proves its doesn’t have to be that way. PNG and other Pacific countries can choose to become rich through holding onto their land, or poor by selling out their future to foreign corporations. It is a choice that involves all of us. Landowners need to realise the value of what they own, the middle class needs to support their rural brothers and sisters’ way of life, and the government needs to create an enabling environment to help people maintain control over their land.

‘Em Graun Bilong Mipla’ needs to be shared by anyone who believes there is another path – a better path – for PNG and the Pacific.

http://youtu.be/4Qk9X_rOOjI

We hit rockbottom in the Pacific last week.

Or at least James Cameron did. The Avatar director’s sub touched down about 11km below the surface at the ocean’s deepest known point, south-west of Guam (reminding us of how foolish it is to be contemplating mining something we know so little about).

There was also a sense that the O’Neill Government hit rockbottom last week.

It was not only the Judicial Conduct Bill 2012 itself, but PM O’Neill’s deeply patronising public response that caused outrage among many Papua New Guineans.

Resentment building after weeks of political scandal after political scandal – most linked to the incorrigible Belden Namah – boiled over when O’Neill used his televised address to pretend the judiciary bill was in the public’s interest, not his own.

People saw through the bullshit and, inspired by the example of the UPNG students, took to Facebook to vent their disgust. Discussion boards like Sharp Talk remain filled with condemnation of the bill and the MPs who passed it. UPNG protest leader Nou Vada has become an overnight hero.

We have taken ownership of this debate. By doing so, ordinary Papua New Guineans have shown O’Neill that he cannot make laws in our name, without our consent.

This is the sort of noble outrage that has been absent in PNG for too long. We have been far too patient with self-serving governments, lazily hoping we’ll get a better deal at the next election.

That apathy comes home to roost in places like Josephstaal, a Middle Ramu community in inland Madang I visited last week.

Josephstaal is wonderfully self-sufficient, but it has been neglected by government after government. Its road is in ruins – I know, because I trekked through it, up to my knees in tais, over the weekend. I had to, because the airstrip is also not fit for planes to fly in and out of.

Transporting supplies to and from Josephstaal is an impossible task. It doesn’t have to be that way, though – the road from nearby village Guam is in great condition. The only difference is its kiap is presumably less corrupt.

Josephstaal is the sort of place the government should be supporting, not neglecting. Give the Josephstaals of PNG better roads and our cities would be flooded with food. ‘Food insecurity’ is a lie the government tells to get more Australian aid money.

But last week, Papua New Guineans began questioning those lies. And O’Neill is listening.

This is an election year, remember. Convince O’Neill that we’ll rausim over this bill, and he WILL repeal it.

If this is the sort of outcome possible when Papua New Guineans express their anger, I say PNG can’t get to the bottom fast enough.