By Douveri Henao

Our discussions last week eclipsed new heights and largely (not surprising) on the health of Grand Chief Sir Michael and whether his leadership has been good for the country or not.  History will judge this Patriarch and until then, tales of his life will be told around camp fires in the Sepik Plains, misty tops of the Highlands and in the lagoons of New Britain.  Experts from Waigani to London will explore the resilience of the longest legislature while PNGns will marvel at his antics.  Indeed, this nostalgic euphoria should be captured in a biography (a Sana 2 perhaps) so that generations to come may know what the Father of the Nation gave us.

However, the question on many of us has been asking ourselves for some time (and it seems last week triggered renewed interest) has the nation that he helped constructed truly reaping the vision his trailblazing brothers and sisters envisioned or have we indeed become a Failed State?

When the term Failed State was coined onto our great nation by former Australian foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer, there was an outcry from all corners of the country.  Whether calculated or otherwise, this provocation chartered a course of new bilateral relations that was somewhat intrusive whereby Australian public servants were embedded in our public service.   This all transpired in the first years of the Somare led government in 2002 and of course by 2004, after a successful Supreme Court Reference by Governor Luther Wenge, the programme’s policing component was removed however the non policing component is still present.

Advocators of the Supreme Court decision have praised the judiciary in its ability to maintain and uphold our Constitution from a very influential and extremely dogmatic bilateral partner.  One commentator even went further to state that PNG truly became independent that day.

Nationalistic excitements aside, the Supreme Court Decision is a distraction from the underlying truth that we truly are at a stage of chaos and there is absolutely no form of government functions existing country wide?  After all, Downer’s comments still has currency, PNG may be a Fail State.

Internationally, there appears not to be a rating system to determine whether a State has failed.

So in this absence, the temptation is to stack existing ratings of development, social, or economic indicators to ascertain a pattern; upwards or downwards.  So for example, if we are failing in our commitments under the UN Millennium Development Goals, have poor ratings in Standard and Poors, low on the Transparency International Corruption Index, this may constitute a Fail State.  Furthermore, antidotal observations expressed by some Sharp Talkers on the government’s inability to manage resources and state institutions not functioning like the police etc.. may also give the impression we are a Failed State??

In all fairness to these modalities and antidotal observations have no empirical evidence to suggest PNG is a fail state and this again is largely due to the lack of literature and models to determine it.  Therefore, perhaps we should start in constructing a methodology to determine what constitutes a Fail State.

Papua New Guinea’s existence is derived from the Constitution of PNG.  Its DNA follows the English Westminster system, whereby basic rights, separation of powers, constitutional offices and the laws of PNG are mentioned.  I am of the view that the Fail State modality must look at the three areas mentioned in section 100 of the mama law, executive, legislature and judiciary.  If the expectations that they have been empowered to function has not delivered then it would appear for all purposes, the State has failed.  However the failure must be systematic on all three and not on a single or two arms.

Below is an observation on the three arms and it is mainly antidotal:

Executive = lack of cohesion both at the cabinet and technocratic level has resulted in a climate of instable policy making.  This has further resulted in the inability to plan national wealth so as to deliver basic services to our people.  However, in recent times, the stability caused by the Organic Law on Integrity of Political Parties for Candidates (OLIPAC) has resulted in high degrees of stability never experienced.  This in turn has given the ability for the Executive to consider planning systems.  The current outlook looks promising as the National Executive Council has committed to constructing a 40 Year Plan to ensure Papua New Guinea is happy, wealthy and secure by 2050.  Masses of PNG experts all over the country and around the world are been asked to partake in this debate and it has been a real privilege witnessing this level of engagement for PNGns to participate.  This is a challenge to everyone of you that if you are serious to discuss about change and wanting to be involved in our countries future, let me know so I can liaise with colleagues to get in touch with you.

Legislature = our unicameral arrangement is counterproductive as it is becoming clear that active parliamentary debates on legislative and policy matters are being censored.  The committee systems and its role for oversight are also being heavily compromised by executive allegiances and as such, oversight is unachievable.  The other difficulty is the total absence of the committee systems functioning.  We saw the successes in the “Hicky Hearings” when the PAC was charging through the executive on various expenses and this gave rise to the creation of various commissions of inquires.

Judiciary = perhaps this is by far our saving grace.  Throughout the history of our great nation, every blunder ever crafted by self serving leaders has been fixed by this great institution.  From Sandline (Executive Blunder), Wingti’s resignation and reinstatement (Legislative) even when the judiciary was questioned for disrepute (Rooney Affair and former CJ Amet questioned over his impartiality and rules he wasn’t impartial the Supreme Court ruled).  However, this institution still needs to be accessed by the masses.

It is fair to state that the institutions are beginning to take some form of maturity, whether through stability in the executive to start considering a 40 year plan or the utilization of oversight activities in parliament to query executive programmes and the judiciary providing checks and balances on both the other arrangements as well as itself.

There remains a great challenge on affectively utilizing our wealth to provide opportunity to our people.  It is becoming apparent that the only hope for our people is how the Executive can “pull of” this 40 Year Plan as this will chart our future.  Make no mistake, the big windfall in the gas and other resource developments will fund this plan so it is essential we contribute to its success.

For if we are a Fail State now, this is the opportunity to bring PNG to a “happy, wealthy and secure State.  A vision no doubt Sir Michael and his brothers and sisters wanted for all of us.


  1. I don’t believe PNG is a failed state. And I also don’t believe it should be seen as a gift that averting being a failed state is from the Grand Chief.
    PNG has come a LONG way in it’s short history.

    I am just learning about our great country again after being overseas for so long for studies then work.

    Thank you for this post and the teaching value it is (eg mention of the constitution). I look forward to more from this website as I dig in roots again in PNG.

    I do want to know more about Vision 2050.
    My cry is an age old cry: “Here am I Lord, Send me!” Is 6

    1. PNG is far from a failed state. PNG has one of the best democracies i know of in the world. Too many freedoms to count. PNG has huge economic potential in natural resources. Majority of land (and resources) are owned by the people. PNG has a very strong currrency, better than some well developed nations. Go anywhere else in the world and you will see how PNG has so much potential to grow and blossom.

      1. JW I wish I agreed with you but,em tingting bilong you.Why then do I see such HOPELESSNESS in the eyes of young men aorund Pom streets and at villages looking like they need to get out off the delemma they are at this mornent in PNG’s Boom.
        Good points you raised but when there is very little paticipation by PNGs themselves and are barely keeping their head above the miserable miniium wage that has been stagnard for 30years what is so good about your pionts.
        We have weak currency,money paid out in royality payments have benefited few,the boom that is going on at the moment are and will benefit the few.PNGs are in the rural areas of PNG,they are the ones who are left in a sinking ship.
        The Government that we all elected in the parliament of PNG are leaving them in the sinking ship and they dont give a dam about them/us.The parliamentarians have missed used all the millions and billions of kina up to date.Madio for all of us,we all in that sinking ship!

  2. Concerning most of the issues raised, I have to rely on the opinions of others, like those given in this blog. However, one thing is certain: the government of PNG, like that of Indonesia and surrounding countries, has been despoiling their country of its natural resources. This devastation of the land has gone a long way and the politicians are to blame.
    I am also prepared to believe that the politicians have kept the profits largely for themselves and have not fulfilled their duty of serving the people.

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