Papua New Guinea is a country now torn apart between greed and ignorance

Infrastructure Development is one often hears Political Leaders in PNG preach a lot but what do they actually mean?
Most often we hear leaders talk about infrastructure development in the country. One gets to hear every year the government hands down big budget plans for infrastructure development in the country. Despite the preaching by political leaders and billions of Kina spent every year on infrastructure alone, the country still not only lacks infrastructure but deteriorating infrastructure. What is then the meaning of infrastructure development in the context of the leadership in Papua New Guinea?

I am not an expert in the field of infrastructure development but in this article, I am going to share with the readers some of the serious misconceptions I have learned from my continuous observations and analysis. It is very important for the reader to read to the end of this article to understand very critical issues affecting infrastructure development in the country.
First, I would like to go back to 1975 or before that where it all started. When you look at the infrastructure that was built before 1975, the infrastructure built was temporarily, substandard and poor in quality and design. Because the colonial administration around that time knew that PNG was never going to be their home. They knew that they were here temporarily only to exploit whatever was of commercial value and sell it back to their country. Those of you who have travelled to overseas, especially in Europe and other Western countries would at least know what I meant here. In those countries, you would find most infrastructures including buildings which built centuries ago still exist today side by side with the modern development. There is nothing of that quality, stand ard and design they built in PNG, which can be still seen today. PNG was only their temporarily home and run in such a way to suit their own needs of exploiting. The country was not run to be a country of its own. That’s why after Australia left in 1975; everything started to collapse from infrastructures to farms to businesses. We didn’t learn enough of the world around us or they never taught us enough – simply we were not prepared around that time to run our own country.

Now after 38 years of independence, with a lot of people being highly educated, we could have at least learned from the world and change some of the things but yet we are worse than we were before independence. We should critically ask ourselves – why we are like the way we are? The answers that I am going to discuss in the next paragraphs are very critical to change the future as I will show where we went wrong and still wrong all the way.

Soon after 1975, when the country was handed over to Papua New Guineans to rule on their own with Sir Michael Somare being the first Prime Minister, our leaders had never discussed about how they will run the country and transform it. All they thought was about the constitution. They thought the constitution was sufficient to run the country to prosperity. They never sit down and talk about development plans and strategies about how to build modern infrastructures, the ones that they always like to see by visiting overseas. They never discuss about how to build modern towns, modern buildings, modern bridges, modern roads, modern classrooms, modern clinics, modern wharf, and modern airports. Instead, they have continued from where the colonial administration left off.
Today, despite the 38 years of independence, we are still building temporarily, substandard and poor quality infrastructures. But only one thing we have mustered – inflating the cost of infrastructure projects. The cost of building infrastructure has been increasing significantly but the quality and standard has still not improved. As a result we haven’t as a country achieved much or worse what we have been building has been deteriorating very quickly. To quarantine the deteriorating infrastructure, the government has over the years spent billions of Kina for maintaining those high cost, temporarily, substandard and poor quality infrastructures. That’s why PNG has remained the same or worse with time.

Sadly, we have a lot of highly educated Papua New Guinea is heading government offices and key government institutions who still cannot make a difference.

Why educated Papua New Guineans still can’t change the most obvious and do it right to build better and high standard infrastructures for long-term use? I have pointed out earlier that we are where we are because our leaders never had developed and implemented development plans to progress and advance PNG soon after independence. In the absence of such long-term development plans or strategies, all subsequent governments has resorted to temporarily or short-term measures, usually on an ad hock or reactive basis. Development funds were just thrown away for leaders to use and spend on anything as they please.

Politicians, bureaucrats or government officials realized that they can have easy access to huge public funds at their disposal, something neither they nor their ancestors used to before. They also realized that they can buy anything in the world with money; a life they never thought would be possible, let alone their parents. With a lot of money in their pocket, they become the gods of their families, clans and tribes, as everyone else were illiterate then. Everyone started looking upon them and worshiping them – it was the start of the emergence of PNG’s money big men culture. They slowly transit into the world of the Colonial Masters – Western Civilization, ahead of their fellow Papua New Guineans.

To sustain their pride and have enough money in their pockets, corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and officials engage companies which they can directly or indirectly benefit from them. These companies, they don’t have the required resources and capacity to build high standard and high quality infrastructures. Without proper quality control and monitoring mechanisms, and checks and balances, most of the funds ended up disappeared and what is built is of substandard and poor quality.

Now we have developed a culture of greed and ignorance. We don’t care about what happens to the country and its future. All we want - we want everything for ourselves while we are still here. Look at the tax breaks we are giving away to foreign owned corporations to exploit our natural resources. We don’t care about the environmental damages but all we care is about the revenues that never get to the people and transform their lives with the change of times. A classic example is the OK Tedi Mining Limited. Former Prime Minister Sir Mekere let BHP exit without paying compensation for the unforgivable environmental damages. All that he wanted was money but money in exchange for more environmental damages. Another example is the people of Kutubu. They still live under shacks - a life not different from their ancestors despite oil under their land has been exporting for more than twenty years earning billions of dollars, making multi international corporations with their owners richer and a few PNG politicians, bureaucrats and their cohorts rich.

Papua New Guinea is a country now torn apart between greed and ignorance. The solution lies between those two extremes or worse. We either become less greedy and concern more about the future of the country or become less ignorant and concern more about the future of the country.

The dilemma facing this generation is, whether to join the past and current generation of leaders to continue following the footsteps of our founding fathers of this nation and repeat the same mistakes and face with bigger and even more complicated challenges or change the kind of leadership that has run
the country down. The nation cannot afford to let those who created the problems to sit on the Solutions.

To conclude, I want us, especially the leaders and those who are in influential positions to reflect on how we have come thus far and pose a few critical questions to ourselves. The colonial administration built everything temporarily because PNG was not their country. They were only here temporarily to exploit our resources. Now they are no longer here. But why we are building high cost, temporarily, substandard, and poor quality infrastructure? Are we here temporarily to exploit our own natural resources and people? We build temporarily infrastructure yet we boast about it knowing well that it will not

last into the future. Is this our country or someone else country? What it is that we don’t have but other countries have that make them progress ahead and we still remain worse? As leaders do we ever put national interest and national pride ahead of our personal interests? When our natural resources ar e all depleted, where will the future generation find the money to build their infrastructures if all that we can build now are temporarily and for our own use?