A Matter of Principle

By Emmanuel Narokobi

I’m still seething on some level after watching the Yumi Yet doco. What the fuck happened to this country and why the fuck are we still going round and round in circles making the same stupid mistakes year in year out. With schools and hospitals still needing money, people still signing up to live in settlements, shitty roads and expensive communications why the hell are we still increasing politicians salaries, buying private jets, giving park land to commercial interests, using our Oil Search shares as collateral for loans to buy into a gas project for gas that we already own and paying some foreign company to look into coal as a sustainable energy solution? Seriously, WTF???

I want to be quick to blame everyone from the generation before, but that’s futile so I’ll put it down to a management issue and principles. So what principles do we stand on?

The Peter Principle

https://i0.wp.com/img.efetividade.net/img/xtra/Peter-Principle.jpgA wonderful architect told me that he blames some of our government organisation woes on the “Peter Principle‘ and I’d dare say I agree with him on that.

A Dr. William R. Corcoran in his work on Corrective Action Programs at nuclear power plants observed that anything that works will be used in progressively more challenging applications until it fails. This is “The Generalized Peter Principle”, meaning that in an organizational structure, the Peter Principle’s practical application allows for employees to be promoted just for the sake of promotion without the employee actually improving their skills. This results in the employee reaching their  “level of incompetence” where the employee has no chance of further promotion, thus reaching his or her career’s ceiling in an organization.

I’d like to ask those out there reading this in a government organisation, how many times have you seen the Peter Principle applied in your organisation?

So what is the solution?

One way that organizations attempt to avoid this effect is to refrain from promoting a worker until he or she shows the skills and work habits needed to succeed at the next higher job. Thus, a worker is not promoted to managing others if he or she does not already display management abilities.

  • The first corollary is that employees who are dedicated to their current jobs should not be promoted for their efforts (like Dilbert Principle), for which they might, instead, receive a pay increase.
  • The second corollary is that employees might be promoted only after being sufficiently trained to the new position. This places the burden of discovering individuals with poor managerial capabilities before (as opposed to after) they are promoted.

It was pointed out that a class, or caste (social stratification) system is more efficient at avoiding incompetence. Lower-level competent workers will not be promoted above their level of competence as the higher jobs are reserved for members of a higher class. “The prospect of starting near the top of the pyramid will attract to the hierarchy a group of brilliant [higher class] employees who would never have come there at all if they had been forced to start at the bottom”. Thus the hierarchies “are more efficient than those of a classless or egalitarian society”.

In a similar vein, some real-life organizations recognize that technical people may be very valuable for their skills, but poor managers, and so provide parallel career paths allowing a good technical person to acquire pay and status reserved for management in most organizations.


So no wonder all those wonderfully educated Papua New Guineans from Cambrdge to Canberra can’t get jobs here in Waigani because we just don’t do enough to attract them and keep them. Instead we love spending money on international consultants to tell us what to do and then after they leave we scratch our heads and go back to how it was run before.  I’m not going to say that the Peter Principle is the only reason why the blind are leading the blind in this country but just a thought…as a matter of principle.


5 thoughts on “A Matter of Principle

  1. Thank you. A PNG academic working in Australia [many years], tells me that Australian aid should be called ‘sori moni’ [compensation] for PNG getting Independence too early.

    However, I’m not sure – towards the end of the rush, we saw PNG understudies already exhibiting signs of looking after themselves first – they seemed to learn the worst traits on show from the mentors, rather that the earlier ‘slow and sure’. Over a period of about ten years, I localized my own positions [both in and out of Government] eleven times. And I often ran into ex-primary students who had achieved good careers – I hope, based on good groundwork in early years.

    If Independence had been delayed, maybe it would have been worse, or better?

    When my family and I returned to AU in 1984 [after 23 years], we met a PNG Minister in Cairns, inspecting his properties there!

    What can people like me, so far away, do except to grieve at what we see?

  2. Thanks for stopping by Jaymz, I don’t think much would have changed even if we delayed Independence, we’d probably have problems of another kind like riots for Independence or something like that.

    I think whatever way you look at it a cultural/social/ideological change was happening and regardless of the timing it was always going to be difficult simply because of the contrasts in where we came from and where we were supposed to be going.

    Our culture has many aspects to blame for what we have ended up with so to blame the Australian administration to me seems pointless in some regards. But today, right now in 2009 we should know enough about ourselves now to be able to say we want change and be able to know how to execute that change.

    If by now we (both the people and the government) can’t learn from our mistakes, then all I can say again is ‘Yumi Yet’

  3. Thanks Emmanuel,

    You are spot on here!

    We have more than 30 years of invaluable lessons to learn from. As you said, if we ignore those lessons and carry on as is, then ’em bai Yumi Yet nau’.

    I’d like to see young Papua New Guineans speak up more often from now on and contribute to a new kind of national awaking of sorts, where we take our citizenship seriously. And not only speaking up for the sake of it, but to actually walk the talk.

    Let’s not follow those poor, miserable souls of the last generation who destroyed this country. Arise young Papua New Guineans! Let’s take the bull by its horns and turn the direction of our country for the better.

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