PNG’s constitution – honoured or dishonoured?

BY PAUL OATES Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Duncan Kerr, as a young lawyer, reportedly had a large part in the drafting of PNG’s constitution.

The announcement of his intention to retire from politics at the next federal election prompted me to examine the historical document that articulated the ideals and the hopes of PNG’s ‘founding fathers’.

At Independence, when PNG’s leaders accepted responsibility for their country, they at the same time became accountable for acting in accordance with what is expressed in their constitution.

Thirty-four years after Independence, it seems appropriate to examine if the PNG constitution remains a meaningful document and to examine, where it may not have been followed, who might be responsible for this failure.

It might then be appropriate to examine what sanctions ought to be imposed on those who, under PNG’s constitution, are accountable. Fortunately the constitution clearly sets out the process of defining responsibility.

In the accompanying document, which you can download using the link below, I have selected relevant parts of PNG’s constitution and, in the light of recent events in PNG, have highlighted in red some interesting areas.

It is questionable as to whether the constitution is being followed. If it is not, it could be concluded that there have been unconstitutional acts.

If so, whose then has the duty to investigate and rectify such breaches?

Download Report Card on PNG Constitution


43 thoughts on “PNG’s constitution – honoured or dishonoured?

  1. Unfortunately the Constitution in most cases is reduced to being just a Mission Statement.

    So it embodies our highest aspirations and ideals but it will always come back to enabling statutes and the public service and of course our favourite people the politicians and their respective political wills to see any of the Mission Statements through.

    The mechanisms for accountability are in place, it is up to the people to judge whether they want change bad enough for them to demand it.

  2. Thanks Emmanuel for hosting this and Paul Oates for instigating this very worthy discussion.

    There is no doubt that PNG has departed significantly from her Vision and Mission Statement since 1975.

    On the question of who should fix it? My observation is that PNG leadership is too compromised and too weak to fix it under the current circumstances. I, therefore, will nominate the Head of State whom I see as the lesser of the bad apples to do it. But in all reality, he won’t.

    Our GGs have mainly been lame duck puppets of the Executive governments since day one and I can’t see this changing. So to break the vicious cycle, we must part with the Queen and the people must elect our own President and hold him accountable to the Constitution. He in turn holds everyone to account for it.

    Only by making an individual become the official sheriff of the Constitution can we be able to promote greater focus on following our collective aspirations as espoused in it.

  3. I disagree David. Disposing of the GG in favour of a republic will not solve “compromised” or “weak” leadership. That is, having the Queen as Head of State is not criteria for poor leadership. It should never be one person’s job to sheriff the Constitution – the responsibility of doing so belongs to the people the constitution governs, as Manu points out.

    PNG is complicated – there is a need to resurrect a ‘national conscience/national identity’ in every PNGean. It is only when we all understand that we have the power to determine who will be good for the country as a whole, as opposed to who will be good for me as an individual, that we will see quality candidates sitting in the Haus Tabaran.

    The actual tangible influence Government has on our rural population (80% of PNG) is so minimal and so ineffective, that I would argue that it is a reason why election after election we vote for who is good for us, and not the country. Education is key here too – I don’t think we truly understand as a nation the power of the vote. Time will change this.

    I had a brief read Manu – and a few did stand out. How about this one:

    “All persons and governmental bodies to endeavour to achieve universal literacy in Pisin, Hiri Motu or English, and in ‘tok ples’ or ‘ita eda tano gado’.

    Am I interpreting this wrongly, or were our founding fathers seriously committed to ensuring a country of 6.5 million people (and growing) from 800 unique tribes learn to read and write in Hiri Motu?

    Nostalgic historical sentiments put aside – where is the logic in learning Hiri Motu in modern PNG?

    1. Tavurvur,

      Thanks for your analysis and comments. What you are saying is not wrong, but that is more like a long term solution. But something must happen in the interim to save the Constitution while we embark on the long term view of educating our people to make wise choices at the polls. There is enough frustration about the status quo among a lot of Papua New Guineans and I fear that we might wake up one morning and regret that we no longer have a Constitution.

      The GG’s position is a very powerful one but that power has so far been under-utilised. The GG actually signs off on all major decisions of the State to legitimise them. So the buck really does stop at the government house at Kone. The problem with the current arrangement is that the GG is being appointed by parliament and so there is the presence of an inherent limitation in his independence. It is a catch 22 situation.

      To break this vicious cycle, the Head of State (equivalent of GG) must be appointed direclty by the people. In this way, we can directly hold that one individual accountable to our Constitution at all times. The closest proxy to this person currently is the PM. But he does not care what the people think about the way he governs the nation, as long as he keeps the majority of the 109 individuals in the Haus Tambaran happy.

      In terms of Motu, I think it made sense to include it as one of the lingua franca at that time because it did stand a fair chance of being a major language. Obviously with the benefit of hindsight now, we can say it hasn’t turned out to be as envisaged.

  4. Hey guys and nice to see you active again T:)

    Yeah I don’t think I’d want to get into the Hiri Motu argument, I’d say its just a big oversight when ‘Papua’ was the region of concern for the Australian Government.

    So back to the power of the vote, the best example of this is Powes Parkops win against Wari Vele. The power of a people to say enough is enough we want someone credible to lead us and look what Port Moresby is experiencing now.

    Not that NCDC is perfect now, but the basics that should have been done are now happening. Simple things like gardening and cleaning up, sealing of roads etc.

    The thing with corruption is that it happens in the small decisions we make not the big ones and so the longer it is accepted the longer it becomes part of a culture and then we suddenly realise one day that we are not the same people we were meant to be as enshrined in our Constitution.

    We just have to want change bad enough to say ‘Rakatani’ to Corruption.

  5. Hi Emmanuel,

    (I’ve just posted this to you on Keith Jackson’s blog)

    I think you’ve just ‘pinged’ the essence of quandary that most of us are having difficulty coming to grips with. Those who worked so hard with our many Papua New Guinean friends to build something for the future can’t understand how things have gone so far off track. Our thinking is clouded by our culture and environment. We keep thinking in terms of an established legal framework that nations must have to govern themselves. Without this legal framework, there can be nothing but ‘Raferty’s Rules’.

    In the article about PNG’s Constitution, I posed the question to modern day PNGians as to whether the statements set out in that document are still valid. If you are correct and the PNG Constitution now is not worth the paper it’s written on, then there is virtually now no enforceable basis for any of the PNG’s framework of government, law and justice and moral code of ethics.

    To extrapolate this conjecture would now clarify why nothing is apparently being done to fix current PNG problems. i.e. There is no ‘legal’ way to correct these problems because there is now no established and recognised legal framework operating in PNG. There is therefore now no set ethical benchmark in use upon which any actions may be assessed.

    Based on this hypothesis, it would seem that the rule of law and objectivity of government may be merely interpreted by whoever is in power at the time.

    What does this say for the future of PNG?

    Olsem wanem ol wantok? Husat em inap long toktok long displa samting a?

  6. “…it would seem that the rule of law and objectivity of government may be merely interpreted by whoever is in power at the time.”

    I would think that would apply to the case for the war in Iraq too. Andrew Wilke formerly of the Office of National Assessments in his book “Axis of Deciet” clearly shows how the US,UK and Australian politicians selectively chose material that would enable them to strengthen their case for the war in violation of international law and any objectivity that they should have retained.

    In the long run PNG’s future rests in education. As Tavurur said,we must see ourselves as a nation and only education can help us to do that. The short term solution is behind us not before us.

    Kirapim ol haus man, haus tambaran and our traditional village leadership and organise them into committees that would work with the the local level governments to restore services.

  7. Hi Justin,

    While I agree with you that governments the world over will choose what they want to justify their actions, the issue I was hoping people might like to discuss is whether the PNG Constituition is being followed. If it is not being followed, and is therefore being treated as merely a Mission Statement as suggested by Emmanuel, then there is no effective basis for determining if the PNG government is behaving ethically and legally. In essence therefore, are there now no rules or parameters that the government must adhere to?

    If the basic legitimicy of the central government is flawed, no amount of plans, reorganisations and ‘smoke and mirrors’ at any level can or will correct the situtation. The government has become a law unto itself.

    There is only one definition that effectively describes that situation.

  8. I see your point. But I would rather work within the system in the hope that we can effect change, that all is not lost, that there is a way out that does not involve becoming a republic or removing the current constitution. I would like to believe in all human beings capacity for change and that through this forum and others we are debating and critically thinking about ways to get us out of this mess we are in.

    Ultimately it is us, ordinary Papua New Guinean’s; the Raka’s and Ranu’s, the Gigmai and the Kundal’s ,the John and Mary’s of this nation that will change this country, that will give legitimacy to whatever constitution that we choose to uphold.

    And I maintain that the solutions to the problems in this country lie in a marrying of the traditional and the modern. Why do we have tribal fights or resort to tribalism? Because the current system of government has failed afford us the security that the tribe can? You cannot explain to the Huli wigman or the Marawaka tribesman the intricacies of a nation state if you cannot feed for him and protect him from his enemies.

  9. Mate, I respect your views however, I’m not suggesting that PNG gets rid of either the existing Constitution or the GG. What I’m querying is IF the Constitution is not being followed, why isn’t it and why doesn’t someone do something about it? The Constitution was accepted by those who took the political power at the time. Why are they now not being held accountable?

    The fact that too many seem to be concentrating on the micro view and are constantly tripping over the trees seems to point out that no one is taking a macro helicopter view and actually looking at the forest.

    Well, at least some don’t seem to be looking at the PNG forest. Perahps others are?

    While ever people can and are diverted into concentraling on the lower level problems, those responsible at the top aren’t being held accountable. It seems clear that political power may be easily bought by doling out taxpayer monies. While this is nothing new to any government, the constant frustration expressed by PNG people as to why the current system is not working and why corruption is so rampant stems from the lack of holding PNG leaders to the legally established Constitution.

    I guess one difficulty is that I can remember when the average rural person PNG was a lot better supported than they are today. It’s hard to present to you what it was like then when there doesn’t seem to be a way to be able to compare both situations. Bikpela bel hevi bilong dispela lapun ya.

    Tasol bai olgeta pipol bilong PNG imas save gut long as bilong displa hevi. Sapos oli nosave gut, em bai ol lida emi save tok gris na mauswara planti na karamapim dispela giamon bilong ol.

    Tingting bilong yu iolsem wanem a?

  10. Thanks Justin and Paul for the interesting exchanges.

    My only problem is, why are we trying to hold fast to a system that has clearly not worked for us? Our current system of governance was essentially a green field concept. It was forced upon us and was never tried and tested in PNG before then. But now that we have some experience behind us, we must not be afraid to change it to accurately reflect our realities on the ground.

    The last 34 years have been a journey of self discovery, and I think we’ve come to know ourselves well enough now to change things to suit our own circumstances. What works for England, US, Australia, Iraq, Fiji, China, Japan or whoever will not necessarily work for us. We have our own cultural realities that influence the way we do things and we must find our own solutions to our problems that reflect those cultural aspects.

    I’d like to see the GG and Queen out the window. Get a President in and hold him accountable to the Constitution. We can play on our existing ‘big man culture’ by introducing a President who will be our collective bikman. Then we can bring in the Western ideals of accountability and hold him accountable to his mandate.

    I’d like to see a solution that is practical and encapsulates PNG’s realities rather than trying to use ideals drawn from cultural backgrounds that are distinctly different to ours.

  11. G’day David,

    You’re essentially correct in that the current system of government was provided to the PNG elite in 1975 as a fait accompli in that it was the only system available and acceptable to the UN, a body who had a lot of say pre Independence, about what should and shouldn’t happen in PNG.

    Is it working? Nope! That’s for sure. The real question is why not?

    Before any new system is contemplated however it might be worth examining why the current system is not working and whether any other system might be better.

    The system that did work prior to Independence was basically a strong, central government that worked through a series of outstations whose managers (kiaps) were responsible to their District HQ and then to Port Moresby. These Officers and their system were ultimately accountable to the Australian government for the management of PNG.

    Were the PNG people ready for Independence? Well that depends on your perspective. Many have suggested that a more gradual transition, say over another 10 years, would have helped. What this would have done is to increase the pool of educated PNG people who could have a chance of determining what was the right system for PNG prior to Independence being thrust on the country.

    Arguably, this would not have changed the traditional way PNG people looked to their bigmen in times of need. Culture is a very difficult thing to change and most changes, unless they happen gradually, lead to conflict.

    So why isn’t the current system working? Clearly there isn’t either the knowledge or the will to use the system to fix the problem. The mechanisms are already in place, it’s just that no one is using them. So what would be different if a Presidential system of government were to be introduced to PNG? Very little I would suggest. The same people would still use their current methodology to gain and remain in power (i.e. wait till the elected reps get past the post and then buy them to remain loyal, no matter what happens to their country. What would you achieve therefore by changing the system. Yep! 3/5th’s of 5/8th’s of nothing.

    Much the same situation happened in South America for nearly 200 years from when the Spanish were kicked out and where one dictator was overthrown by ‘the revolution’ and the leader of the revolt became the next dictator. Look at many African countries today. So maybe it might be better to stick with the devil you know rather than back an untried horse? Afterall, has anyone REALLY tried to use this system as it was intended?

    How true is this?

    In 1787, Alexander Tyler, a Scottish history
    professor at the University of Edinburgh, had

    this to say about the fall of the Athenian Republic
    some 2,000 years prior.

    “A democracy is always temporary in nature; it
    simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government.

    A democracy will continue to exist up
    until the time that voters discover that they can vote
    themselves generous gifts from the public treasury.

    From that moment on, the majority always votes
    for the candidates who promise the most benefits
    from the public treasury, with the result that every

    democracy will finally collapse due to loose
    fiscal policy, which is always followed by a

    “The average age of the worlds greatest
    civilizations from the beginning of history,

    has been about 200 years. During those 200
    years, these nations always progressed through

    the following sequence:

    1. From bondage to spiritual faith;
    2. From spiritual faith to great courage;
    3. From courage to liberty;
    4. From liberty to abundance;
    5. From abundance to complacency;
    6. From complacency to apathy;
    7. From apathy to dependence;
    8. From dependence back into bondage ”

    So where does PNG today fit in to this suggested flowchart?

    The hope of many who want to see PNG succeed and throw off the current malaise is that the younger generation of educated people will be able to determine their own future rather than have someone determine it for them. The problem is that very few seem to be being given the opportunity to develop to their full potential due to government mismanagement, malfeasance and corruption.

  12. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for the interesting insights. Obviously you believe that the current system is not working because someone is not making it work. If that is the case, how do we make it work then? Yes, Education. But that is a wish. Look at the high illiteracy rate in PNG and the pathetic funding of our educational institutions throughout the country and how we look after our teachers and educators. You have to fix this problem first. But can it be done without fixing the system first? Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

    I think the system is not working because it does not suit us. One aspect of that is that politics in PNG has evolved in such a way so that politicians are seen as implementers rather than as policy makers. Actually, they are not just seen to be implementers but are Expected by the people to be as such. Some people call this funny. But I don’t. It perfectly mirrors our culture where the bikman is expected to be the deliverer and not just a decision maker. His decision making ability was actually a function of how well he could deliver. The person who delivered best won the right to be the decision maker.

    I sometimes feel sorry for our politicians because they are caught between the old and the new. Often times, they choose to be implementers rather than playing their roles as policy makers due to the overwhelming weight of expectations on them. This clouds their judgements and leads to muck up after muck up!

    Sure my proposition about a Presidential system may not be the best solution for us. But I can see how, by using this, we can marry the old and new as Justin suggested above, and come up with a workable compromise.

    The big man culture is real and is deeply ingrained in our national psyche. The current system, unfortunately, has been one big attempt to try and kill that system which existed in PNG for centuries in just under 34 years. Never worked and never will for sometime to come yet. We must find a way around it by embracing some aspects of our culture while introducing certain aspects of the western political and governance systems that can fit in and be in harmony with what we’ve always had for time immemorial.

  13. Hi David,

    Thank you very much for your comments and insights about PNG culture and leadership. I think for the first time, I have an insight into something that has puzzled me and many of my peers.

    While we applied to work in the then Territory of PNG, our reasons were usually an interest in the outdoors and adventure. In addition, I have always been interested in other cultures and when I saw a film about the first Mount Hagen Show, decided then and there to apply for the position of Assistant Patrol Officer. It took a couple of years and at the end of a fairly intensive selection process, I was lucky enough to be selected. Our training at the old Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA) included Anthropology, Law, Language and some subjects to prepare us for what we were told was our role as ‘an agent of change’. At one stage, I remember John Guise came and told us to our face that we weren’t wanted. Great start, but then I understand John has some personal antagonisms that dated back before the war. Our practical training in Law and Police Admin., Public Works and Local Government was then conducted at Kwikila in Papua. Then we were cast to the four corners of the country and the joys of being a liklik kiap where some of us were lucky to have some good supervisors who then help train us further. At the end of two years, if we returned from our first leave, we were promoted to Patrol Officers. While our training was patchy, it was supervised by those who had gone before and these gentlemen, mostly, had a very real sense of purpose and dedication to PNG and her people. This culture of public service was inculcated into us and fostered our own feelings and desires to serve PNG and her people. In comparison to where we came from, it was not an easy life. What we didn’t realise at the time is that PNG changed us and we became virtual mutants who were not totally accepted back into our own culture but could never be accepted totally into where we were.

    Our training and terms of employment were totally fixated in our own culture. We certainly were paid under Australian working conditions yet no one in Australia ever really worked under the conditions we experienced. We paid our taxes to the PNG Administration and most of us paid our Local Government taxes to the local Council if there was one. At no time did any I knew of think of using their position to further their own personal finances. When we returned to Australia, most of us were like fish out of water. I don’t know of any of us who came away with much but our experiences of life. Those of us who are still alive are ether still working to survive or are lucky enough to have a pension. The fabulous amounts now being touted about as being received by AusAid type consultants were never even dreamed about. Our culture was (and is) if you are employed by the government, your salary and conditions are all you get. ‘Brown paper packages’ eventually get found out and those receiving them are convicted and sent to gaol.

    So why did the kiap system work, (and for that matter, I wonder why do we always spell kiap with a lower case ‘k’)? Outsiders might say that we were colonial monsters who used the local people for our own ends. Clearly a few hundred rural kiaps and their outstation staff could not have managed over 95% of 3 million people if the people had not wanted what was being provided. This is the crux of the insight you have provided. We saw ourselves as doing a worthwhile job to advance the local people and the country. We provided a stepping stone between what in many places was a Stone Age culture and a Modern culture. What I have not previously understood clearly is why the people allowed us the power to manage rural PNG? In line with your prognosis, it was because we delivered what the people wanted. The difference from traditional PNG culture was that it was not to our personal benefit. This factor is what most of us find very difficult to accept with the current political system in today’s PNG.

    Our government culture is supposed to have divisible barriers between those who make government policy and those who carry it out. Your explanation of why PNG politicians are seen as implementers rather than policy makers I find very insightful.

    I’ve heard that getting old is having the answers but no one asks you the questions. After a career of nearly 40 years of diverse government service, when I offered my experience to help PNG as a volunteer, the silence was deafening.

    So finally arriving back to the original subject, would or could a PNG President provide any difference to the current political imbroglio? What would or could change?

    I’m not sure I can see any difference between what is currently developing in PNG as a ‘first family’ or a virtual hereditary monarchy in parenthesis. How would a PNG President change the bigman culture and cut through the impasse where the wealth in the country is being syphoned off and the mainstream of an expanding population is being left to their own devices. The head has become disconnected from the main body and could well be changing focus, even as we speak.

    I’d be very interested in your thoughts of how the PNG Constitution could be changed to correct this situation. One saying I heard was that ‘there is nothing new invented concerning humankind, the same thing just keeps happening in changing environments’.

    Thanks again for your thoughts and those of Justin and thanks to Emmanuel for hosting this blogsite.

    kind regards,

  14. Hi Paul,

    Glad I played a little part in allowing you to see things from indigenous Papua New Guinean eyes. In your time, the kiaps did very well because you were allowed to be the implementers that you were without any interference from politicians.

    In terms of how to change our Constitution to correct the situation, I think the Constitution already pre-empts this process by calling for us to embrace our Papua New Guinean ways. So all we have to do now is to invoke that provision and sit down and have a thorough and critical look at the whole document to see what needs to change to suit our realities, and how.

    My proposal for the President to be directly voted by the people is an attempt to try and both circumvent and play on the big man culture. You circumvent it because whoever runs for Presidency can never afford to be seen as the deliverer through the length and breadth of PNG. Too expensive and impractical. Simply put, his ability to corrupt the Presidential electoral process by trying to ‘deliver’ a few cash and pigs here and there will be severely dented. He simply can’t afford to bride the whole nation to vote for him, can he?

    So how does he then meet the people’s expectations of him to deliver once he becomes President? By continuing to hold other politicians below him and all bureaucrats accountable to their call of duty. If they cross each other’s paths, it will be his duty to ensure that this does not happen by administering a clearly defined governance code that lays out everyone’s duty statements. People can then associate the ability of their President to deliver on the basis of the health of the country.

    Offcourse, the President can’t have the power of God lest he becomes a dictator. A mechanism will be devised for the people to impeach and depose him at anytime during his reign if they think he has become incapable of running the affairs of the country. Otherwise, he still has to face the music at the polls every five years (my preference is four years – five years is too long).

    I welcome your thoughts on my proposition. I’d also like to hear from the others out there too.

  15. Hi David,

    Hmmm… I think you are approaching the nub of what I see is the problem here. At the risk of seeming lugubrious, this is an issue that I find both facinating and frustrating. Human societies and cultures have developed along very similar lines albeit in isolation of each other. I suggest that the basic building block of any group of humans is the extended family. It originally provided a self sustainable unit and was lead by a patriarch or sometimes a matriarch. Once several families started to live close together the beginnings of a clan started and this could still be led by a leader although as the clan started to beome a tribe of many families, some form of assistance had to be provided to the leader. Usually this was a group of senior men who had previous experience is what the tribe needed to survive. OK. This is about the limit of where one individual can effectively manage a group of people (say roughly 100) before it becomes too unweildy. It roughly equates to a Company Commander in the Army or a Century in Roman terms.

    Once a tribe reaches several thousand, a strange change comes over the group of humans. Specialisation has to happen or society usually stagnates or continues to develop very slowly at best. Medicine men, military leaders and most importantly, administrators emerge to assit the leader, who by this time has often insisted on being accorded herediary status, to rule the tribe. To give it a military annalogy again, this roughly equates to the Regiment and a Regimental staff. About this time various identifying emblems and colours become very important so that if there is conflict between tribes, you can recognise your own people as the group is now too large to know everyone else.

    Now at this stage, it requires a quantum leap for these societies to progress further along the road of human development. Often these developments are made after a successful conquest of another tribe and an assimilation of different cultures and ideas. This is where the objectives and administrative ability of the emerging society will make or break the aspirations of future generations. If the culture turns in on itself, then it stagnates and becomes repressive. If the culture become eclektic and absorbes and welcomes new ideas, then it becomes progressive. A leader of such a society is then revealed in their true colours. Are they going to be repressive and try to retain their traditional grip on power or are they going to allow their subjects the freedom to develop and quite probably relegate the leader or his successors to a figurehead?

    “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are nearly always bad men.” said Lord Gort.

    The answer to the eternal problem of how to escape this inevitable dilemma that has puzzled humans since the clan became the tribe. I suggest that this is the position you now face in trying to arrive at a position of a potential PNG President that will not follow what normally happens when someone is given the power over a large group of humans. To some extent, this is where England was when Simon DeMonfort and his group of nobles made King John sign the Magna Carta. It then took almost 1,000 years of trial, effort and heartache to arrive at the Westminster, pluralistic system which, as you correctly point out, isn’t working in PNG at the moment.

    So can you break this cycle? That’s the question? At the moment, no one in PNG seems to be able to use the legally enacted framework to fix what everyone knows is the problem. Well everyone that is except those who are profitting from the current regime.

    I acknowledge that the Westminster system and the current Constitution is not perfect however it took a long time and many heartaches to get there. I would regret seeing it tossed aside in favour of something that has never been proven to work elsewhere.

    However; that’s not to say that there isn’t a better system. Perhaps you and your peers will design one and I’ll be among the first to congratulate you. But those who turn their back on history are doomed to repeat it.

    Poroman. Husat isave laga?

    kind regards,

  16. Hi Paul,

    Problem named!

    PNG has been forced to adopt a system which took centuries to perfect and one which required major adjustments to the way people dealt with each other and their communities at large as you’ve described quite vividly. Cultures had to continually change over a long period of time to accommodate this system.

    So the question is, where is PNG in the timeline of cultural adjustments that are required to adopt this new system?? Not even at the halfway mark! But that does not mean we are still a primitive lot or whatever. All it means is that we are slowly going through our natural swings of social and political evolution and we must do it at our own pace. No one should force us to do it at a pace that we can not sustain, or we will end up with a disaster: our situation today proves this point.

    While PNG is still emerging from an enclosed, clan based social and political structure, we are being asked to adopt a system that has its roots in similar settings but which had already passed this stage of its evolution. It is a grossly unfair ask on us and one which does not recognise this fact. We are being forced to run before we walk in our social and political evolution process. And even economically too. The capitalist economy we have adopted for ourselves is at odds with our tradition economy which is essentially communist in character.

    I have great respects for the authors of our Constitution, but how could they miss such a vital link in our evolution process? Did anyone take the time out to try and understand our circumstances so as to write up a Constitution that gives rise to a governance system that accurately mirrors our realities? I respect our Constitution, but if there are things in there that must change to better align ourselves to our realities, then we must not be afraid to do so.

    I must thank you, Paul, for provoking this very interesting discussions. Na tenkyu tu long Emmanuel for providing this platform for the discussions.

  17. Bingo! Wantok,

    You and I are in 100% total agreement. Both of us have arrived at the same conclusion but unfortunately for PNG, only 40 years apart. The vast majority of people (and I mean PNG people in rural areas) thought Independence came too soon. They used to tell me so. The only people pushing for Independence to happen were the few elite, some of who I knew and respected, the UN (who were dominated by newly independent countries who wanted to show their collective muscle and didn’t really care about PNG people), and the Whitlam government in Australia at the time.

    The authors of the Constitution obviously did their best, given the constaints and available knowledge at the time.

    The acid test was how to provide the effective but accountable leadership PNG needed? Therein lay the dilemma. So what benchmark or standard do you use to design a system of government that will be effective in leadership and yet responsible and accountable, given the challenges that faced PNG?

    The people who did have a fair idea of what would work and what wouldn’t were never consulted. Like most of PNG, they were just bypassed in order to acquiesce to a higher agenda. Ah well. That’s history. Can we learn from it however?

    Some have recently suggested that by changing the Local Government system in PNG, and giving more power to the lower levels of government, the current fiasco will right itself. Unfortunately, I disagree. Leadership, by its very nature, must come from the top.

    What a pity no one else seems to be prepared to contribute to this discussion. Hey! Olgeta yupela wantok. Yu stap we a? Mitupela ilaik harim liklik toksave long dispela tingting.

    Em nau. Toksave bilong mi pinis.

    Lukim yu,

  18. This has been a very interesting discussion, so thank you all for contributing. Paul looks like you and David are getting closer to what might just be the crux of this complex issue in understanding our Constitutions’ place in today’s PNG.

    I especially want to thank Paul because we have no knowledge whatsoever of how things were conducted in our recent history. No one has ever told us how things were done, no one has ever taught us what government structures were in place, even as little as 40 years ago. I did my law degree at UPNG and none of this was ever mentioned in Constitutional Law. So thank you Paul.

    As the great science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, once said, “Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.”

    What happened in the transition? Was it lost in the translation?

    I don’t believe that we need to change the Constitution and our laws as it still holds true many of the beliefs and aspirations that we seek for a better life. All the legal machinery for us to deliver on its promises are available to us and I do not believe that we have fully exhausted our capacity to make our laws work for us.

    Is it perhaps then a cultural issue of how to approach the problem? Paul said it himself, “…After a career of nearly 40 years of diverse government service, when I offered my experience to help PNG as a volunteer, the silence was deafening.”

    We don’t ask, we don’t know who to ask and then its no wonder that we go about running a country on the seat of our pants.

    Maybe better late then never, but education has to start the process and I believe yes that it will be a long process not a magic wand waving exercise where one decision can be the silver bullet.

    Education and exposure to other cultures is the only difference between me and my cousins in the village. Other than that we share everything else so I blame education and the continued lack of it today to effectively guide one generation to the next in the last 40 years.

    For the purpose of political education and running a country, what are our Primary Schools, High Schools, Universities and Administration Colleges teaching us?

    For the issue of what do we do today? Well the power of the vote is right there in your neighborhood on Election Week. Who did you last vote for? Where you happy with his/her performance? Have you ever written to him/her? Again I want to use the example of Powes Parkop because it is the only example I have seen where a candidate with allot of money behind him was beaten by an idealistic and untried human rights lawyer.

    Why did that happen? I can only say that it was because people had had enough. So use your vote, it can work.

    Now what do we do with the corruption? Start talking about it, that’s what. Tell the newspapers, tell the TV stations, write a letter to an MP, write a blog, paint it across the sky. Again just like what the protesters are doing in Madang about the PMIZ. Change will come when you begin to first talk about it and when enough people start discussing it, then it becomes an issue that has to be dealt with. Then take action, as a group.

    The Constitution is still relevant and workable, we just need to understand where we’ve come from so we can know how to move forward productively. Not everyone will become a politician but everyone can ask what a politician must become to make our Constitution relevant again.

  19. NCD Governor Powes Parkop has some interesting insights on this topic.

    He said in his weekly column in the Post Courier yesterday (29/10) that he believes a Presidential system of government suits PNG. It was interesting to hear from one of our current politicians with a background in law.

    Perhaps Emmanuel could upload Governor Parkop’s commentary on this space and get some more discussions going.

  20. Hi David,

    I haven’t read Governor Parkop’s ideas about a possible presidential system for PNG however the concept certainly should be examined. In Australia, we have a number of people who would like to see a Republic replace our current system of government. A referendum was held about 10 years ago and this idea was voted down however it’s bound to raise its head again from time to time. The essence of the argument in Australia was that a Republic would allow us to have our own Head of State and provide a more direct form of government.

    Now those who wanted to denigrate the Queen and the Office of the Governor General missed one very important point. The Governor General is our Head of State. The current incumbent may also represent the Queen BUT under our Constitution; the Queen actually has no power at all in Australia.

    The second reason some touted as to why Australia needed to change from our current system was that a more direct form of government would somehow be, well… better. Exactly how this would be better was left up to the individual to form their own conclusion from a myriad of often conflicting views and opinions.

    Emmanuel, your blog site details the World as seen through Transparency International’s glasses. Whether T.I.’s glasses are rose coloured or blue might depend on one’s perspective. There certainly seems to be a correlation however between most of least corrupt nations and their form of government system. Now why could this be?

    Previous debate between contributors to this blog seemed to resolve that an incompatible Westminster system had been ‘foisted’ on PNG in 1975. While this is decidedly true, is it the system that isn’t working in PNG or is it that the nation’s people aren’t able to use the system, due to their culture, background, education level, available communications or any number of other factors that are currently either intentionally or unintentionally providing a stumbling block to the system working? Are PNG people being denied the opportunity to make the system work?

    Could it be that the problem is not just the system but that people are being denied the opportunity to use the ‘check and balances’ currently in place to ensure that any abuse of the system is highlighted and excised? If this is the real reason why the PNG system of government has been found to be wanting, what would or could change if a new system was instituted?

    David has rightly raised the notion that a more direct form of responsible government was in place, people could be hold a potential president accountable for government action or inaction. While this might be so, are the current Provincial Governors, for example, being held accountable for the administration of their Provinces? Is the US President able to be held accountable any more than his predecessor for his or his county’s actions? Are the presidents of the countries highlighted by TI for endemic corruption being held accountable by their people? If not. Why not?

    If PNG’s population were to be informed and educated on their rights, would this prevent the current mismanagement and malfeance from happening under a presidential system? That’s the BIG question. If the current system of checks and balances isn’t working, then why is that so? If the Ombudsman isn’t determining what action is constitutional and the Courts aren’t coping with the legalities concerning political leadership being put before them, why is this happening? What could or would change if there are LESS rather than more checks and balances in any new or proposed system of government?

    Once someone assumes the power to change or manipulate a country’s system of government, the opportunity to do so seems to become irresistible in order to retain power. Isn’t that what has or is happening already?

    Therefore, would a change, just for change sake, only provide a way of disguising what the real problem is? Would those who are part of the problem use this idea to divert attention away from what currently should be done about the present situation?

    Could this become another ‘Petronius’ solution?
    “We trained hard … but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.”
    (Petronius Arbiter, 60 A.D)

  21. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for your detailed response and for getting us to think deeply and seriously about the issue. You seem to be genuinely concerned about our situation. A sincere challenge like this is always appreciated.

    Governor Parkop’s commentary on this issue is in two parts. Part 1 came out this week and Part 2 will be next Thursday. I’ll try and combine them next week and post his full analysis of the issue on this thread so we can talk about it more.

    I have some thoughts about the issue of head of state and the accountability mechanism we have under the current system. But I’ll hold that until next week after we hear the Governor’s thoughts in full.

  22. Hi David,

    you’re right about my concern being genuine. The reasons are that I used live and work in PNG and I got to know many local people and have a deep regard for them and your country. After many years of working for governments I am now working for myself and have the time and opportunity to independently think about what I have seen and learnt during my working career.

    PNG and Australia have a shared history which should never be lost. If I can help anyone in any way by throwing some thoughts and ideas into the melting pot then I am very happy to do so.

    People like yourself, Kafu, Justin, Tavurvur and Emanuel are PNG’s future and I feel very privileged to be accepted by you all as a genuine and positive contributor.

  23. Good day all. I must say thanks to Paul for continued genuine interest for this country and Emmanuel for the plat form.

    Well the topic of discussion is whether the constitution is honoured or not. My belief is that the constitution is trampled on and like Paul, I would rather like to see PNG rectify this. Yes David, change we need, except we must work changes on the framework and systems we need before drafting sometime new which may compound our current situation.

    One of the reasons why kiap was successful in those days was because the management was “as is”. The distance from clan to tribe to extended was not lengthy compared to present meaning manageable, in addition, the traditional seclusion rule was very effective paving way for kiap administered governance. Our traditional societies lived in small colonies which of course is attributed to geographical landscape barriers & hurdles which in turn gave rise to regionalism. The kiaps never changed the order, except implemented an administering role with gradual change.

    With culture and leadership, stemming from my discussion point above, many PNGeans are still culturally & socially marginalised in their thoughts. We tend to think in terms of regionalism and nepotism (wantok system) where the bikman culture is strongly rooted. Unfortunately, the politicians are deemed to be our own kind who can deliver, politicians who cannot deliver are not friend to us, so out of the window with policy enforcing, long last deliverers!!!

    In reality, most PNGeans still live in mordernised regionalism and seclusion after 34yrs of independence. Sepiks think like Sepiks, Tolais like Tolais or Hagens like hagens etc. You can easily pick this up in the parliament and talking about top bureaucratic posts, sometime candidates are hand picked, even if someone is not qualified, its the “wantok system”. The G-G is no exception to the rule of nepotism here. So PNG is really looking globally on the outside but living extended traditionally on the inside.

    We need change, but until we see ourselves as “United Papua New Guineans, I don’t think presidents or any other forms of government will improve our lives. People are susceptible to cultural and social inclination. Why USA is fighting wars that are globally immoral. PNG politicians yield more to their own wantoks than promoting national unity & collective outward progress for the entire country.

    The constitution provided at that time to the minority elite in 1975 was rather a grave mistake. I knew from history that a “minority power” delegate of young PNGeans (politicians) who went to New York and someone advised this Popondetta MP to propose independence. The rest of the guys were there to discuss a gradual transition to independence, unfortunately, the UN pushed for it once the particular MP proposed. Well, we have ourselves partly to blame if independence was too soon.

    Having said my grassroots view on failed political systems and processes, consequently dishonoring the constitution, I like to summarise by saying that we need an overhaul of the current system. We’ve seen where we went astray, now its time to amend and appease the constitution. Wantokism or nepotism is my main agenda for a failed system or to simplify, corruption stems from nepotism.

    I was wondering if this Duncan Kerr was smart enough so he could write a line in the constitution to hand over all lands to the government in those days. There should be no such thing as customary land, in so doing, the trend and cycle of regionalism and wantokism is fragmented.

    There is little or no uprising by the people even though the country is mismanaged because the PM is ruling by division; divide and rule as the saying goes, if some are fed, then who cares about the minorities whinging about. If the land was goverment, maybe we will be screaming if someone was practicing nepotism, cos many of us would starve with land.

    I VOTE education for change. Yes, like the great Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you to see”. And while you are educated please marry someone from outside your area or region, intermarriage can break the cycle of bigman & wantok system mentality. There are ways to preserve culture and heritage by the way if someone is in strife.

  24. Going back 10 years from 1975 to 1985, most of the pioneer politicians were true national leaders, true PNG patriots. All elected leaders at that time had common goals and national interest at heart, performing their public duties almost in unison with the guidelines of the constitution.

    Just where did we go wrong? What happened to distract and hive off our true aims & goals. Where and when did corruption start playing a strong factor in all decisions. From Somare’s heydays down, all seems to be unfolding well, true PNG national goals and strategic plan implementation.

    Maybe it was during the reign of one the six prime ministers that gave birth to corruption. A lame skepticism could be Pais Wingti’s reign. It is logical because Wingti’s accolades as the richest man in the southern hemisphere at one stage. After 1985 onwards, elected parliament leaders started to play divide and rule democracy. A “who-you-know” type of politics. Interestingly, the approach is a catch 22 for PNG, which was very widespread through out the nation, a daunting fact from everyday life stemming from tradition, culture & region. Finally it dawns on us that “wantok system” is a norm in all the citizens’ livelihood.

    Who has been the true PM, who has been a true national leader, when did we start practicing the trend of politics of nepotism & corruption, Can we audit past PM’s, What happens to written off country wealth, Can constitution be our bible, Is there any imminent change forthcoming for the betterment of PNG?

    Mi hat long tingting gut na het pen so inap olsem. Mi bai prea long GOD tasol olsem gutpela taim bihain iken kam.

  25. The reason countries are successful is because they take national interest more than self esteem. The performance of the country as a whole is paramount. Their leaders make it their business that their country is up to speed with others in terms of GDP, bilateral relations & future prospects etc…

    I have yet to see a PNG political head taking such approach. We seem to look within and do not care too much about how we are progressing in terms of country as a whole. There’s a particular Chinese proverbs that goes like this “The future is born of the present”. If we take care to plan now, we are actually preparing the outcome of our road ahead. This complements another adage from the bible, Jesus says, “you will reap what you sow”.


  26. Hey Kafu,

    I think you’re maybe starting a new discussion topic here. The concepts of traditional PNG Leadership does have a lot to do with why the current difficulties with the PNG Constitution are being experienced. David has rightly highlighted the origins of this dilemma. The concept of ‘Good Leadership’ is however not just a concern for PNG but for the future of humankind as well. Maybe Emmanuel might like to start a new topic on this subject so as it doesn’t get tangled up with the issue on PNG’s Constitution?

    Often ‘Leadership’ is confused with ‘Followership’. True leadership is very hard to describe when at the time it is being undertaken, many are not aware of it happening. True leadership is also very much in the eye of the beholder and discussions are bound to become heated as the concept might mean different things to different people. It is sometimes easier to recognise leadership AFTER it has happened and the results are clear for all to see. That is for me the determining factor. Have the actions of a person made a difference to the group they were leading or not? Whether the effects of this leadership were good or bad may of course be arguable? Did this leader set out to achieve a stated objective or were they merely being caught up in a general drift in one direction and went with the flow? Political leaders often wish to be seen to be initiating action and yet don’t want to be seen to be making ANY decision that might be controversial and thereby lose them votes. They therefore are quite prepared to sit on the sidelines until an issue starts generating enough public interest that they can garner some kudos by being seen to be involved. Hence there is often a clamour to open or launch some new program or initiative but never any support for the follow up on whether there was enough maintenance and planning to ensure the project succeeded and was viable in the long run. If this sounds familiar to PNG, it is not anything that doesn’t happen elsewhere I can assure you.

    The concept of ‘Followership’ is often confused with Leadership. Followership is where people as a group tend to become interested in a particular issue and that interest starts to gather momentum. Look what happens when a group of people start standing and looking up at a tall building. Others become interested and before long a larger group forms and people start discussing what might be happening. Is there someone about to jump? Can you see what’s happening? etc. Today’s so called leaders often seem to enunciate issues that are sufficiently broad in nature that it gives them an opportunity to move with public opinion. This doesn’t help achieve previously stated objectives but it does help create an impossible to see through ‘blanc mange’ of ideas that are difficult to pin down. This methodology means that accountability is usually unable to be enforced. A plan for a country that goes for 40 years is a great way of deferring any responsibility and subsequent accountability, wouldn’t you say?

    Public issues are often created by the press who want to sell news and so create an income. This in turn creates public interest which in turn draws political leaders like a sharks to an injured fish. But is this true leadership or merely an example of followership? i.e. Who is leading whom?

    Are PNG people and their politicians practicing leadership or followership?

    Poroman, tingting bilong yu emi olsem wanem a?

  27. Paul na olgeta.

    Mi kisim pinis ol tingting blong Governor Parkop long pepa blong tete. Klostu taim bai mi putim ol tingting blong em long hia na yumi ken toktok moa long em.

  28. David,

    tenkyu tumas wantok. Mi olsem pusi ibin kaikai sampela sis na sitdaun long autsait long haus bilong liklik rat.

    “I’m waiting with baited breath!”

  29. Hi Paul,
    I am trying to assimilate the distribution of wealth in terms of profound effects on every citizens. If people are pulling their hair and breaking their necks trying to live in PNG, then our attained progress from Independence needs to be revisited. Which is the default, Leadership or Constitution?

    I’d like to debate your leadership & discipleship as you nicely put it. Don’t forget leaders depend on the followers to see their aspirations thru, and

  30. Hi Kafu,

    To be sure, true leadership entails a whole range of different personal attributes that may be used separately or in concert at any one time. These attributes are used to either initiate some form of action or to motivate a group of people to achieve a prestated objective. Whether that leadership is for the good of the majority or not is in the eye of the beholder.

    I suggest the expression ‘discipleship’ is a tad too exclusive for the concept of what can be labelled ‘followership’. Followership is also in the eye of the beholder. For example, if someone decides to follow a previously determined cause of action that hasn’t been determined by themselves, couldn’t this simply be called followership?

    So are leaders who follow the directions of others really leaders or merely followers? If you apply this reasoning to our so called ‘political leaders’, are they actually leaders or merely followers?

    In relation to specifically to the circumstances you raise, you may be able to feel the frustration many of us former Kiaps feel when we see PNG subsiding into an ever greater morass of mismanagement and maladministration. Well, at the expense of getting off the stated subject here is why.

    Prior to Independence, each District (as they then were called – roughly equivalent to a Province), had a District Commissioner who was responsible to the government in Port Moresby for the administration in his District. The DC managed this responsibility through a committee of senior officers from each government department who in turn were responsible for all government services. Each District was divided up into Sub Districts where there were Assistant District Commissioners (senior Kiaps). The larger Sub Districts had many senior department officers and were run as a smaller version of the District. Each Sub District was then split up into a number of Patrol Posts and Base Camps that roughly corresponded to a separate group or groups of ethnically similar people and might also depend on the size of the population in the area. Each outstation had a Kiap who might be senior or junior depending of the size of the population and might have some support if it was a large station. Most Large stations had at least some police and Agricultural Officers and maybe a government business Officer. Each station had at least one school and larger stations had a high school. Each station had a Health Centre and that Health Centre managed a series of Aid Posts throught-out the area, usually one Aid Post for about three to four villages. All these services were funded and maintained effectively and accountably.

    All government business, Law and Order, Courts, Public Works, Banking, Finance, Stores, Communications and everything that the government does was the responsibility of the Kiap. In today’s terms (and certainly in most so called developed countries), this focus of power is unimaginable. Many would say, how could this actually work? Yet it did work (with naturally some exceptions) because Kiaps were held responsible and accountable for what went on in their outstation and area. If mistakes were made, people had the right to appeal to a higher authority and were entitled to receive support and a redress of wrongs. No system is perfect however in my 40 years of government service, this was the closest I have ever experienced to a system actually working for the good of the people rather than the benefit of political leaders. Why? Well the Kiaps weren’t elected so they didn’t have to pander to the electorate. They were paid by the central government and any suspicion of misappropriation would be revealed during annual audits. Kiaps like everyone else were subject to the laws of the Territory.

    So how does that contrast with today’s rural and metropolitan situation in PNG?

    Like any group of people, Kiaps were not all the same and many concentrated and used what skills they possessed. Having passed their basic training and been given field training, as they gained experience and were promoted, mainly on their proven achievements, Kiaps became a fairly cohesive group of highly skilled government officers who governed about 95% of PNG. It is true they were never elected however some might argue that this aspect is rather desirable, given the way some politicians say and do certain things in order to get elected. It is also true that most Kiaps developed a very deep concern for the PNG people they provided government services for. This concern was very often a two way process and many local people were very sad when Kiaps were transferred around and between different Districts. From the late 1960’s to the early 1970’s local Kiaps were being progressively recruited.

    At Independence then, how do you think many local PNG politicians considered Kiaps? What do you think the newly appointed politicians then did to the remaining Kiaps? Yep! Got rid of most of them as soon as possible. What happened then? Well, that’s another story.

    Were Kiaps leaders? Well that’s a good question. Maybe you need to search through the various reports on the exkiap website and see what some Kiaps did? If they did provide leadership to pre independent PNG, what happened when their peremptory removal from PNG was effected over a very short time? I think you have a fair idea. The rest, as they say, is history.

    I hope this might help some understand what happened to PNG over 30 years ago and why things may be as they are now.

    Em tasol. Mauswara bilong displa lapun ipinis. Husat igat sampela askim a?

  31. Hi Paul,

    Pastaim tru mi mas tok sori olsem mi no putim ol toktok blong Gavana Parkop long hia olsem mi bin promis. Tasol noken wari, bai mi still putim yet na yumi ken kamapim sampla gutpla tok pait igo ikam long ol sampla tingting blong Gavana.

    Your description of the pre-independence administration of our country depicts a clear separation of political and administrative powers. Not a lot has changed from this system post independence other than a few twists of names for the same hats. For example, your districts which were once headed by a District Commissioner became our provinces and are headed by a Provincial Administrator. Your subdistricts which were headed by a Kiap became our districts and are headed by a District Administrator. But sadly this is where the administrative command currently stops. We presently do not have an administrative commander at your Patrol Post level (our subdistrict/LLG).

    So the administrative functions haven’t really changed in character to the pre independence days.

    What has changed, though, is the failure to properly separate administrative and political functions. So our current politicians stumble on their feet to become administrators/implementers, thereby, demoralising and reducing the administrators to nothing more than paid elephants with nothing to do.

    Why this happens the way it does? Refer to my earlier posts about our cultural realities about how a big man derives his power and acceptance by virtue of his ability to deliver. Our poor politicians can’t help but assume and play the administrative roles and functions because if they don’t, they are not a leader by our own cultural definition and risk being voted out in the next election.

    So the question is, how do we correct this situation so that the politician’s and administrator’s roles are clearly segregated but are aligned to our cultural realities such that people can still be able to ‘see’ their political leader delivering?

    Yupla tok!

  32. Hi David,

    once again I think you’ve hit the button. While it’s possible that there is no easy answer, the issue as explained in your last post seems very clear. Firstly there is a disconnection between Administrative control and the grass roots, sori, kunai roots. If the Administrative higherarchaeology isn’t connected to where the action is then all you have is a figurehead with no responsibility and no accountability. What are these modern day public servants being paid to do? Who takes responsibility for what happens at the operational end of the tree? While local government might be now looked on to fulfil the gap left from the absence of any individual administrator, who holds the Councillors responsible and accountable? They, themselves? Nogat truia! The people? But do they? And are the village courts working properly?

    The division of powers is the other aspect you rightly point out as having become convoluted with traditional leadership concepts. The only way I could see the current situation might work is for the political leaders to become properly trained and operational administrators. However that wouldn’t work because they would constantly be worrying about being re elected and not make decisions which might be unpopular in the short term. That’s then clearly not the way to go.

    So what’s the answer? One thing’s for sure, we can’t give up trying to find one. The people of PNG deserve better than what they currently have.

    I know what system did work before but that model would never be willingly reintroduced due to the reasons it was dispensed with. The ‘Sword of Damocles’ hanging over PNG is that it MIGHT be reintroduced by force by someone who wants to set themselves up as an authoritarian power by saying that the end justifies the means. Many parts of Africa are a classic example where this has happened recently and in South and Central America not too long ago.

    Why is it that no one wants to consider human history? Can the potential tsunami of frustration be prevented? I wonder what might happen is the ‘boat people’ start arriving by canoe from up north? One thing is for sure. The Australian government appears to have no real idea of what to do and the PNG one seems too self centered to care. Other regional powers appear to be moving in, in a big way. Wherever a power vacuum exists, the strongest available force will logically move to fill it.

    Wantok. Planti tarangau istap antap. Husat inap long rausim em sapos emi laik kaikai ol kararuk bilong ol?

  33. Governor Parkop’s analysis on the subject as promised:

    Should we have a presidential system of government?


    Prior to my election as Member for NCD Regional, I have expressed concerns about the system of Government that we have adopted. It has always been my view that the Westminster system where we have a single Chamber of Parliament and a government that is appointed by the Prime Minister elected by Parliament following a general election is not the appropriate system of Government for our country. Since my election, my view has not changed. In fact, my experience to date has harden my view that we should explore a new more appropriate form of Government for the country that can enable us to move forward into addressing issues and challenge facing our people and our nation.

    I have been an advocate of a Presidential System of Government for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is the most common form of Government around the world. The United States, most of mainland Europe, China, India, Indonesia and most of Asia, most of South America and most of Africa follow a Presidential system of Government. It therefore must be a better form of government than the Westminster system we adopted from England and Australia.

    Under a Presidential system of Government we have and Executive President who can drive the social, economic and political agenda of the nation so that things are getting done, especially getting basic things done. The legislature on the other hand can concentrate on making laws and act as a check and balance on presidential powers through its powers to approve or disapprove Budget, legislation and of course its power to censure or impeach the president. There is therefore a clear distinction between Executive Government and Legislative powers of the State so that each body can get on with performing their responsibility to the best of their ability.

    The President also exercises ultimate power over the Legislature if it does not perform its duties to make laws or is unnecessarily obstructing governance of the country. That is the ultimate power to dissolve Parliament and dismiss the Government, if the Government is formed by Parliament as in the case of India. If the Government is a Executive type like the USA where cabinet members are appointed from both legislature and outside of legislature, Presidents only has powers to dissolve Parliament if it does not perform well.

    In the current system we have, many a times the Executive functions and responsibility overtakes the role of legislature where the legislature is reduced to a rubber stamp for the Executive and hardly performs it role as law makers or law making body. Instead of playing our roles as Legislators fully debating laws before they are passed, most times, Members of Parliament are like children in a classroom where the teacher is conducting a “Simon says” session. We say “aye” because the Executive Government wants us to say aye. We hardly debate legislation and pass legislation based on its merits. In our current system too many Members of Parliament are also reduced to projects managers because we are under pressure from our electorate to deliver goods and services. This is probably more a symptom of our political culture and expectation of leaders than one caused by the current political system itself. In any event, what has happened is that the Legislature has been retarded by the overlapping between the Executive Government and Legislature rendering the legislature or Parliament ineffective or unable to properly discharge its responsibility of drafting, debating and making laws.

    Another compelling reason for revisiting our system of Government is the politics of numbers. In our current system, we have a situation where the politics of numbers in the Legislature or Parliament inhibits the Executive from carrying its function prudently or efficiently thereby affecting the delivery of goods and service to the pubic. Due to its need to maintain numbers in Parliament to maintain its hold on Executive Government, the politics of numbers always affect and influence decision of both the Executive and the legislature of Parliament. The Executive is always held “hostage” by the Legislators and therefore can not carry out its agenda, especially in ensuring the delivery of basic goods and services because it has to always listen or adhere to wishes of the legislators, especially government backbenchers.

    The Executive likewise uses power of State resources such as public funds to “threaten or coerce” the legislators to adhere to its wishes and thereby reducing the legislature to a rubber stamp of the Executive Government as I pointed out above. The politics of numbers over a period of time in our country has prevented the Executive Government from governing because it has to think about pleasing the numbers to maintain its hold on power. Instead of governing the country, it is too busy governing numbers in Parliament and therefore the public suffers.

    This politics of numbers has also prevented the Legislature, the Parliament, from properly performing its number one responsibility or duty of debating and passing legislation. We have attempted to resolve this by passing the Organic Law on Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates, which in my view tries to put us halfway between Westminster system of Government and a Presidential system of Government. While some may think that it has resolved these problems between numbers and governance in Parliament, I personally believe it has only further retarded the problem as we are witnessing in Parliament today. Number politics is still dictating the agenda of the Executive Government and influencing the conduct of business of Parliament. Both a performing poorly as a result.

    We should therefore bite the bullet and admit that the system we have is not appropriate for our country. It is a hindrance to the good governance of the country as it has deformed or retarded the role and performance of both the Executive Government and the Parliament. We should have a Presidential system where the President is elected by the people just like the Legislators but the President is allowed to govern the country with the Executive Government without having to worry too much about being removed by the Legislator.

    The President can only be removed by the people in a presidential election or in very extreme situation where the Parliament exercises is powers of censure or impeachment or blocks the budget. In such event, there will still be an election so the Legislators have to be careful or think twice before they exercise such powers. The Parliamentarians would also know too that the President, having the mandate of the people has also the ultimate power over them because he or she can dissolve Parliament. In this way, the Executive is not held hostage by the politics of numbers in the Legislator and likewise, the Legislator is not retarded from performing its legislative duty by having to play the numbers politics to unseat or remove the Executive Government.

    I have been one of our Members of Parliament who has argued that it is not the system but the people in it who determine its success or failures. I have made this argument in the case of the Provincial Government system where there are attempts to change it again. I still believe that to be the case for the Provincial Government system we have adopted. It need not change, only improvement and importantly funding to perform better. I can not say the same of the National Government system which has not seen any change or reform since 1975. It is where the problem is and where changes are required. Not the Provincial Governments.

    The sooner we move to a Presidential system of Government, the better it is for our people and our nation. No halfway or poor attempt like we have done now with the Organic Law on Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates.

    1. Igat sampla tingting long ol toktok blong Gavana Parkop long lus tingting nau long Westminster gavman system na kirapim Presidential gavman?

  34. G’day David,

    Thanks for making the Governor’s proposal available. Here’s a first cut to ‘masticate’ on.


    The Governor doesn’t ennuciate what his preliminary view was based on or what experience he has had to justify his proposal for a presidential system.

    Just because there is presidential system elsewhere doesn’t make it better. Many of the countries where there is a presidential system are notorious for corruption. Those countries that do have a Westminster system are listed by Transparency International as where corruption is the lowest.

    If a President holds ultimate power, what’s to stop him becoming a dictator? If a President has the power to dissolve Parliament, why would he be any better than the current PNG PM who has demonstrated his ability to sideline the rule of Parliament anyway.

    The Governor does agree that it is more the nature of PNG culture that is causing the current system failure rather than the system per se. Better education and voter involvement would therefore achieve better results rather than blaming the system. Why not try helping the electorate to become involved in the system rather than keep them sidelined and ignorant of how the system works?

    No one is holding the Executive hostage except those who aren’t using the system correctly. If the Executive cannot resist the temptation to become involved in the day to day details of government services then they must be held accountable. The problem is that no one appears able to use the current system to hold the Executive accountable. It is not the function of the Executive to deliver basic goods and services. This is the crux of the problem. If they can’t resist becoming involved because of their culture, what could possibly change if there was a president? 3/5th’s of 2/8th’s of nothing!

    The politics of numbers is not the issue. The politics of illegal bribery and corruption is. One should not be confused with the other unless that is the intention.

    If a potential president is not worried about being removed by the Legislature, what methodology is there to hold that president accountable or to ensure there isn’t an effective coup? Read Africa today.

    The position of Provincial Governor is understandably near and dear to the Governor’s heart. That he doesn’t want any changes is understandable however who is holding the PNG Provincial Governor’s accountable for what is or more importantly what is NOT happening in their Province?

    It is obvious that the Organic Law solution hasn’t worked however the reasons for this are the same as those that are causing the Westminster system to fail: Lack of accountability and a culture that can’t separate the Legislators from the ‘doer’s’ because the legislators want to be seen to be the doers but can’t actually achieve anything themselves. Clearly the legislators have to stand back and hold the doers accountable.

    So why would the current impasse be any better under a presidential system? The Governor doesn’t explain that or provide any real evidence.


    Husat ilaik tok resis nau ya?

  35. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for the response and analysis.

    I must agree with you that some of the Governor’s conclusions such as the Presidential system is a better governance system because half of the globe is using it are very generalised and debatable.

    Obviously the Governor and I see the issue from completely different perspectives. He sees it more from a PNG-politics perspective while I try to see it from a cause-effect relationship stand point. I try to see why things are as they are and try to explain them using the general behaviour in the community, rather than that of a handful of politicians. And the only reason I can find is our strong connections back to our roots where we come from and how we see governance and leadership being administered there.

    You rightly pointed out that accountability is at the core of our governance issues here in PNG. But I will again take you back to our cultural realities to explain why this is an issue. You see, our cultural governance structure is PATRONISING in character where questioning the big man’s authority has been unheard of.

    Because the big man had to prove himself to earn his recognition as a leader, questioning his authority and decisions were considered to be a sin and anyone who dared to do that faced grave consequences and even death. What this means is that there has never been an accountability mechanism inherent in our traditional governance systems. Accountability is a concept that is completely foreign to us. Because of that, it is very very difficult to hold our modern leaders accountable. Only a handful of ‘educated’ people like us try to do it but we are at long odds trying to get buy-in from the bulk of our people who are still illiterate or semi-literate and DO NOT get these foreign concepts of governance.

    So the question is, how do we build in accountability mechanisms of people power into the current Westminster system? I know people will say it’s already in-built in the system, but my argument is that it is not something that is inherent in the system that Papua New Guineans are accustomed to. Yes, accountability mechanisms in the Westminster system are there but they won’t work because no one will dare to make them work.

    That is my dilemma.

  36. Hi David,

    Mate! Don’t become despondent. You’re clearly on the right track and the journey begins with the first steps. I’m not sure that PNG people aren’t prepared to make the current system work if they are presented with some alternatives. My experience with people across a number of cultures is that the ‘silent majority’ will eventually reach the point where they have had enough of the ‘vocal minority’ who hold power. Unfortunately, the longer it takes for that hiatus to occur, the bigger the chance of conflict and revolution.

    The safety valve in the Westminster system is the power that common poeple can exert through their elected leaders. The current issue in PNG today is a short circuit in the feedback loop between elected leaders and their electors. Not enough politicians and leaders are listening to their constituency and doing what they want. Two way comminucation is the key but both sides have to be involved.

    Take for example the current national Opposition. If they were to clearly state what they would do in government and how they would be different from the current NA that are in power, the media could communicate this to everyone. Then the people would have a clear choice and be able to exert pressure on their current members to act responsibly and follow the path the majority of people want.

    That’s the challenge that someone like yourself must start enunciating and pushing every chance you get. PNG is still a free country and you have the opportunity to do so. I’ve been in that situation a few times and it’s amazing how little it takes to start a movement when an idea is expressed whose time has come. While you may not initially get a lot of vocal support, people are listening and a clearly expressed desire to overturn the current wrong direction will get support. Look at the leadership being shown by the Governor General over corruption. People need to come out and support that leadership and it will shame other leaders into supporting the changes the poeple are crying out for.

    Olgeta emi save gut long displa tok sem. Sapos ol pipol isalim bel hevi bilong ol igo na toksave stret long ol politisian bihain bai husat lida i nau gat planti sem long pasin ibin mekim pastaim. Kain olsem bihain bai oli senisim pasin kwiktaim. Yu save. Em pasin bilong PNG ya.

    Nothing worthwhile is ever easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it.

    Poeple like yourself who understand the problems and are able to bridge the communication gap between the educated and rural people must take a stand.

    Mekim save wantok.

  37. Paul & David, thanks for the continued discussions.

    Our topic on focus is whether the constitution is dishonoured and whether there is a need to change it. Propositions thrown forward including current discussion on presidential system.

    My simple hypothesis is changing mindset. I don’t see any huge discrepancies in the current constitution which may have been amended number of times. If we change our perception of life which is much influenced my culture &tradition and start taking a more proactive approach to the way we conduct our ourselves; duties & job as politician, professionals or individuals, surely PNG will change. Look at what Powes Parkop is doing in NCD, that’s what I refer to as diligent conduct with a broader view from the usual marginalised PNG way of thinking that enhances corruption.

    Change the mindset, then change the Government systems, otherwise change advocacy is not worth it.

    Basically, nations want development, but of course human development is the single most pivotal success to any nation the world over.

  38. Hi Kafu,

    Thanks for chipping in.

    Paul touched on an important element of accountability in his last post so I’d like to make some observations on it. The ‘name and shame’ culture is one of the unlegislated but most effective accountability mechanisms inherent in the western culture and it strengthens the Westminster system. Its power is vested in the individualistic culture where the reputation of an individual determines what sort of life a person will live. In their culture, if you are named for doing something wrong, you are not only shamed but most importantly destroying your reputation and, therefore, your life.

    In PNG, we do not have an individualistic culture. Ours is based on communal ownership and sharing of tribal/clan resources. Hence, individual reputation counts for nothing because it does not make or break a person. If a person mucks up and gets ‘named and shamed’, that’s not a problem because he still has the social safety net of his tribe/clan to fall back on. Indigenous perpetrators of wrong doing in PNG are well aware of this. Even the public are intuitively aware of this because they know that simply ‘naming and shaming’ someone will not make a single difference in his life. So no one cares to make an effort to try and ‘name and shame’ wrong doers in our country. And there goes your accountability mechanism out the window!

    But we must not view our culture from someone else’s eyes and curse it. Our culture, especially the social safety net which we warmly refer to as Wantok System, is a beautiful culture and I am not even suggesting that we should do away with it. But we must realise that it is inconsistent with the western concept of ‘name and shame’ game as a tool for promoting individual and communal accountability.

    When we talk about changing minds, we are talking about changing such deep seethed cultural mentalities and orientations. Our actions and reactions to the modern ways of doing things are largely a reflection of our world view that is innate in us. So it won’t be easy to change something that is embedded in our subconscious mind. We will eventually get there through better ‘education’ (more like indoctrination) of western concepts and ideals, but not in our lifetime and not in our children’s either.

    Hence, I’d like to see our governance systems be changed to align them ‘with’ what we have always known, respected and lived with for centuries. It is my firm belief that we are currently not getting anywhere because we are trying to work ‘against’ our age old practices of governance systems.

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