How could Australia help PNG break their ‘Gordian Knot’?

By Paul Oates

In ancient times, the Macedonian Greek prince Alexander, later called ‘The Great’, led his army into Asia and encountered a city whose doors were held together by a knotted rope. The knot in the rope was so complicated that legend had it that whoever undid the knot would be the city’s ruler. Clearly a man who possessed ‘lateral thinking’, Alexander reportedly drew his sword and cut the knot to pieces and went on to take the city.

So what could be done to break the current impasse where it seems, nothing is happening to improve PNG’s domestic woes? Continual complaining about the metaphoric knot holding up improvement will clearly not produce any change to the ‘status quo’.

An impartial observer however, often finds it easier to highlight a
significant problem than people who have already been grappling with it for some time. It seems a human trait that the more one is immersed in trying to understand the problem, the greater the risk is of losing objectivity.

It’s a bit like looking at something from atop a mountain and, having become interested, walking down to have a closer look. After a while, you end up climbing over fallen trees and losing sight of whatever it was that caught your eye.

Solutions are also easier to understand if they are kept simple: that’s the KISS principle; ‘Keep it simple, stupid’.

To use yet another analogy, in Tokpisin a tok piksa, what might be the ‘helicopter view’ of what is happening in PNG at the moment?

Put simply, there is a lot of input of resources but few results. One could say that much of the effort to make things work better seem to vanish. Why is this so? as old Professor Julius Sumner Miller used to ask.

Clearly the well intentioned efforts and significant resources of entities such as AusAID are misdirected. The time has come when a change in direction is warranted.

While many PNGians despair at where their country is going, no real connection seems to exist between the vast majority of voters and those leaders who are determining PNG’s priorities.

The sophisticated, urban elite is doing very nicely, thank you. But the urban poor are increasingly turning to crime to survive. And the rural subsistence farmers are almost totally disconnected from day to day events.

So what’s the answer? Why not have some of the AusAID millions sponsor an effective communication program for the vast majority of PNGians? Roll out community radio and television facilities to each local area.

How would this work in practice? Well, each, self identified community would be required to specify a public meeting place where that community could meet each evening.

This could be a Local Level Government hall or perhaps an NGO or Church building. The community would elect a volunteer committee to apply for an equipment grant.

The application must specify who the volunteers were who would be held accountable for the equipment and guarantee the security of those who may freely attend. The program must also be self sustaining and would therefore require provision for ongoing maintenance and supply of subsidised items like a solar generator and batteries, light globes, etc.

An essential and significant point would be that this program must not be in any way associated or linked to any government body or authority. Each community would have understand that they, themselves were responsible for the security and upkeep of this public facility. There must be public ownership to ensure people will value what they themselves own.

This would not be a PNG government run arrangement and those who were required to run this program could well be recruited by AusAID from Service Clubs and Church organisations on a purely volunteer basis. School principals could for example, effectively use this program to help their students.

So might this work? Surely it couldn’t be less effective than the current arrangement.

Any comments or suggestions?

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3 thoughts on “How could Australia help PNG break their ‘Gordian Knot’?

  1. One of the problems with development in PNG is the fact that we can’t seem to let go of the cultural values, that hold us back, and move forward. If we look at other more developed countries we will see that they have all had problems in the past. Sure, the problems they faced are not all like our own, but the key thing to remember is that they moved forward and let go of some of those cultures in order to develop the country for it’s greater good. I’m not saying that we completely neglect our cultural heritage and past, but let go of those values that hinder development. Take whatever is good from our culture now, and keep it. Let go of those that are bad or hinder PNG’s growth. Let the historians take care of our cultural past. By the way, do we even have any historians in the country or do we have to rely on Anthropologists?

  2. Gordon, I’m not sure if your post is relevant to the subject matter as presented by Paul Oates. But it’s still a good thought provoking one.

    There is a need for us to take stock of our collective cultural heritage as a first step. Then go through the process as you stated and draw a line in the sand and say, ‘right, we’ll keep these for so and so reasons and we’ll consciously try and minimise the impacts of these for so and so reasons’.

    A little birdie told me though that there may have been a sinister move by the powers that be then to distort our real history for reasons known only to them. So when it comes to our national history, we need to be careful about what we look for.

    Certainly the landing at HB by John Moresby does not belong in the history of our true heritage as Papua New Guineans. Same with arrival of Christian missionaries, WW11 etc etc. Our modern history is fine but we need to go deeper than that and free ourselves of the illusion that it is THE history of our country.

    What was Papua New Guinea like before anyone from anywhere ever set foot here?

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