Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a developing country with a young and growing population. The economy is largely resource-based, with mining, oil, and gas accounting for a significant share of GDP. However, the country also faces a number of challenges, including poverty, inequality, and corruption.
This article presents a contrarian view of development in PNG, with politics at the centre of the discussion. It argues that the country needs a fresh perspective on development, one that is driven by visionary and humble leadership.
Highlights and Lows of the Past 50 Years
The first two decades (1960s – 1980s) of PNG’s independence showed immense promise. The economy was booming, and the Kina stood at par with the US dollar.
Roads, infrastructure, and essential services were being built. However, from the mid-1980s to 1990s, the country’s trajectory took a sharp turn as certain political leaders deviated from the development path, plunging PNG into a downward spiral.
Politicians Leading with Humility
One glaring issue that has plagued PNG’s development is the stark contrast between the privileges enjoyed by politicians and the struggles faced by ordinary citizens. Politicians often seek medical treatment and education abroad, perceiving local facilities as inferior. This attitude needs to change.
To drive a contrarian approach to development, politicians should attend local hospitals, send their children to provincial high schools, and invest in the development of local facilities. This would demonstrate a commitment to public service and send a powerful message to the people.
Power to Transform
To bridge the gap between political privilege and public hardship, legislation must be enacted to ensure that lawmakers, who hold the power to use public funds wisely, lead by example.
Lawmakers need to realise that they can provide the best health and education services in PNG without going overseas. When they build it at home, everyone can enjoy its benefits.
In the next 50 years, one significant change that should take place is that politicians must “feel powerless.” This may sound counterintuitive, but it means that they should operate within the bounds of the law and the judiciary, free from a sense of entitlement or immunity. This shift towards accountability and responsibility is essential for sustainable development.
Service Over Wealth: The Humble Path to Progress
To serve the people effectively, politicians must be driven by a deep love for their constituents. This entails sacrificing personal wealth and humbling themselves to prioritise the welfare of the nation over personal gain.
A modest salary relative to doctors, nurses, and teachers reflects a commitment to public service. Politicians can lead by example and prioritize the welfare of the people by:
- Using local services, such as hospitals and schools.
- Empowering law enforcement bodies to hold them accountable.
- Accepting a salary that is comparable to other essential workers.
- Respecting the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.
- Putting the needs of the people ahead of their own personal interests.
Remember that a higher pay packet does not equate to serving the people well. By taking these actions, politicians can make a real difference in the lives of their constituents and help to build a better future for their country.
As Papua New Guinea looks back on 50 years of independence and ahead to the next half-century, it is evident that a fresh perspective on development is urgently needed. Politicians must lead by example, focusing on building local infrastructure, feeling accountable to the law, and prioritising the welfare of the people.
It is only by taking this contrarian approach that PNG can embark on a more sustainable and equitable path to development.