Foreign Dominance in PNG: Will We Profit From the Global Economy Or Be Impoverished By It?


It was amazing to see hundreds of people on PNG Blogs Facebook page give their thumbs up to the recent article about Bemobile CEO Ramamurthy.  More people than ever seem angry at how people from other cultures treat us.   Foreign investors are dictating ‘take it or leave it’ terms to our government and basically calling the shots.  Yet we happily reap benefits from the growing Asian invasion.   Let me ask you, what is most important:   Our sovereignty and self respect, or the greater material benefits we get by having foreigners and foreign investment dominate us?   

The Clash Between Land-less Versus Land Rich Societies

The article about BeMobile’s new CEO and allegations of racism didn’t get to the root issues, which is the reason for these kinds of clashes.   They occur between 2 very different societies:

In the Type 1 society, the average person has access to much wealth (promoted by personal access to land and resources).  They have more personal freedom in many respects, including being lax about time and schedules.  A strong social network (we call it wantok system) provides underlying support for nearly everyone.  

In contrast, Type 2 society people are nearly all land-less (i.e. a landlord or bank owns the house and land where they live), or they barely own enough land to satisfy their basic needs.  The average person works long hours, sometimes as near slaves because time is money in their workplaces and often there is no longer much social network.  One doesn’t dare leave even a very bad job because how do they live without money?  No wantoks to rely on so they’ll be kicked out of their house soon enough and where to?  Living in the streets! 

This kind of environment promotes thinking mostly of personal survival.  Growing up in a land and resource access stressed environment creates a lifelong anxiety.   In Type 1 societies, where land is life, stress caused by family problems exists, of course.  But this doesn’t modify a person’s soul as intensely as  experiencing life long stress caused by insufficient access to land and resources.  Land is not life for these people, money is life.  The life long stress of knowing that land and wantoks can’t save you, only your personal ability to earn money, pressures people to become competitive and quietly aggressive at an early age. 

Overall, Melanesian society fits into the first category because even the most land stressed highlander usually has much better access to resources than the average Chinese or Indian.   However, our people do divide into regional “typical personalities” based on the population density where they grew up.  Thus, our most competitive PNGs come from densely populated highland valleys and high density population pockets in our lowlands and islands.  Since independence, people from these areas have outperformed those who grew up in low density population areas. In other words, Tolais anger the Bainings by their stronger competitiveness and highlanders generally anger lowlanders as they invade and take over local land and economies.  It’s no different than the situations that make us all angry at land-less foreigners. 

It is always people from relatively land-less societies who invade land rich ones, not the other way around.  History tells us that the land and resource rich society always loses in the end and becomes  more impoverished.    When a country of 8 million people, most of who (THANK GOD!) still have title to land and resources are forced to compete against hoards of competitive people arriving from giant societies where landlessness is normal, its a lost cause for the land rich.  Of course we will have successes here and there in keeping these invading land-less peoples under control or even pushing them back from taking our wealth but the overall trend is against us.  

Globalisation Is Intensifying the Conflict Between Land Rich and Land-Less

For PNG, globalisation started with the first Chinese families to set up trade stores on the PNG islands.  Life was far from ok where they came from.  Landlessness, famine, ruthless leaders and war  were driving people out of China.  Those staying behind learnt to cope and became tougher.  Those who escaped to greener pastures like New Britain retained their competitiveness and money management strictness.  They passed these traits to their children long after they left the stressed places where this competitiveness first developed.

Globalisation Is Driven By People From Land-Less Societies

When Chinese land-less came in conflict with land rich kanakas in PNG, conflict occurred.  But the Chinese were relatively few and as they married into our clans, cultural strains lessened. Today’s globalisation is worsening conflicts between land rich and land-less groups.  It’s easier than ever for land-less, competitive, quietly aggressive people to pick up and move to places where there the people never experienced any environment that could developed strong competitiveness.     Thus we have highlanders being burnt out of their block homes in Lae and many Chinese shops burnt in Solomons only a few years back. 

Asians began swarming into PNG in the late 1980’s the moment Prime Minister Paias Wingti declared his Look North policy and Deputy PM Julius Chan clapped his hands in the background.  Never before had two more greedy men paired up to led PNG.  Wingti and Chan reckoned they could take advantage of the Asian invasion and get richer yet.   Their misguided, personally selfish Look North policy might ultimately impoverish the majority of Papua New Guineans but that didn’t concern them.

Papua New Guineans  Benefiting off the Invasion of Land-less People

Visit the bars of Moresby’s high class hotels and you’ll see Asians and nationals huddling together over drinks, planning the next scheme to grab land or resources of other Papua New Guineans.   Our biggest enemy are the traitors amongst us. They have no conscience that the kina they grab might come from resources and lands of people who have nothing in terms of government service.  

Papua New Guinean traitors work hand in hand with Asians especially to impoverish the least competitive people in our country, those from remote rural areas.   However, the rest of us are hardly blameless in encouraging the Asian invasion.  We enjoy looking at the growing numbers of foreign owned office buildings in Moresby and scramble to buy cheap noodles whose ingredients we can’t read because they’re written in Chinese.   Whatever CEO Ramamurthy might do at Bemobile, we’ll still love it if Bemobile’s competition makes Digicel lower its prices, even though our hard earned kina will still go into the pockets of Digicel’s billionaire Irish owner.   Asian tucker shops open 24/7 we count as a blessing to cover up our laziness at planning ahead to buy what we need during normal business hours when national-owned shops are open and we could be patronising them instead.

Overall, we focus on short term benefits that feed our individual greed and make excuses for all of it.    It seems to be of little interest or maybe there is widespread ignorance on how the invasion of land-less hordes of people will eventually impact our national wealth or development.  

Bemobile CEO Sundar Ramamurthy Is An Example Of Growing Conflict

Regardless of whether Mr Ramamurthy is guilty of racism as charged, the incidents described take place with other foreigners all over PNG.   The interaction of land-less invaders with a much more complacent, resource rich society creates tension that makes conflict between the 2 cultural types inevitable. 

Mr Ramamurthy’s main curse is not that he’s a recent foreign arrival, but that he has a personality typical of people from land-less, resource stressed cultures.    Most foreigners are much more mercenary than Mr Ramamurthy.  They don’t intend to contribute one toea more to PNG’s development than they’re forced to.  They’ll evade PNG taxes to the fullest, build the cheapest buildings possible, ship their earnings back to the home country every fortnight, and eventually retire in luxury back to their homeland, surrounded by envious people.   

Only 4 Options To Stop the Ultimate Impoverishment of PNG?

The early Chinese moving to set up trade stores in PNG kept their tight money culture within them for generations in the more stress free environment before it started fading away and the same is true for us.  It easily will be 50 years or more before there are enough Papua New Guineans born in the city who have lost wantok system and become landless long enough to be forced to become sufficiently competitive to stand up as a group to the invading people from land-less societies.  In other words, land-less people will continue beating us most of the time for at least 2 more generations.   Through SABL arrangements, they’ve grabbed land rights over more than 10% of PNG’s land for 4 more generations (99 years).  What will be left by the time we’re ready 50 years from now to compete effectively to retain our wealth?  Our best land will be taken and remaining resources mostly owned by foreigners.   PNG will have a few rich nationals and an ocean of poor, all controlled in some fashion by foreigners.   They will have won most battles, then won the war.

I see only 4 OPTIONS to escape the fate of permanent national impoverishment caused by the invasion of people from land-less societies:

OPTION 1 is to slam the doors in their faces and even burn them out, until which time as we can compete effectively against them.  That requires that we do without the foreign investment that spills the quick money 10t coins into our hands in the form of new goods and services available mostly to urbanites.   Unfortunately  we won’t pursue this option any more than Adam stopped eating forbidden apples.  Thanks to politicians who never showed visionary leadership, we’re now permanently addicted and getting worse.  Our addiction passes on to our children as they watch foreign owned EMTV and all the cable foreign channels beaming endless advertisements from foreign owned companies urging Papua New Guineans to buy more products so that our money goes more into their hands.

OPTION 2 would be a massive national educational effort, both formal and informal, to give our society the overall knowledge and the skill to rigorously compete against aggressive foreigners and gain more wealth instead of losing it.  A big reason why we have so many foreigners working here now is because the company can find more productive, skilled and knowledgeable foreigners to do the job, sometimes for the same pay, as any interested national.    A PNG crash course in education, similar to the crash programme to develop undertaken by Malaysia and Singapore during the 1970’s might work.   Will it happen?  Unlikely.  Our leaders consider it higher priority to use money to buy votes than buy books.  Thirty years of government neglect of our PNG unis until they became certified as amongst the worse in the world proves that we’re content to have Pretend Education.  We cover up the severe educational deficiencies of the vast majority of people by pointing to those few exceptional Papua New Guineans who do successfully compete against foreigners on the foreigners’ terms, often because they schooled overseas. 

OPTION 3 is to establish a national policy to start bossing foreigners working in PNG instead of them bossing us.  We should welcome land-less foreigners but put them to work either cleaning our toilets and doing hard labour in the gardens, or attract PHD level types to teach our younger  generation until they become indoctrinated with a more competitive spirit like the land-less automatically possess.  But this could only happen with political will and high level leadership.  Unfortunately, our leaders have already sunk to the state where they’ll get into bed with any foreigner who they can do personal business with.

doesn’t prevent the tragic fate of national impoverishment.  Instead, the idea is to let some Papua New Guineans prosper despite the overall trend of people getting poorer in PNG.   This can be accomplished by abandoning Christianity as a guide for life and embracing personal greed like Wingti and Chan.  It means pushing aside fellow Papua New Guineans as necessary to create a strong shield for ourselves and our families.  It means forgetting about wantoks and social responsibilities.  That’s what so many politicians and even national businessmen do already.   They’ve decimated PNG without suffering personal consequences.  They did this by saving up enough money to buy a house in Australia to bring the family to and retire in.   This worked for Wingi, Chan, Morauta, and the entire Somare family, so why not for others?   Option 4 can also work for those who don’t try to compete against the land-less invaders, but instead feed off the scraps left behind but save them carefully. 

While pursuing Option 4 obviously involves abandoning a genuine Christian life, that can be hidden by letting everyone see you go to church, contribute to the pastor’s upkeep, and frequently and frequently, loudly proclaim the name of Jesus Christ when people are around.   This kind of Pretend Christianity works as well as Pretend Education in fooling most people in PNG.   

What will you teach and how will you guide your children to withstand the growing effects of the invasion of land-less peoples into PNG?    We cannot escape it so what is your preparation?

I can only see 4 options open to us.  Option 4 seems most popular right now.   Any other ideas?

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