Looting and Riot is a result of the wrong model of development.

Wednesday 10th January marks a dark day in PNG’s history. The nation’s capital came under siege, Parliament house stormed, Manasupe’s Haus breeched, the city was pillaged, business houses looted and set aflame after failure to reconfigure what is said to be a technical glitch in the payroll system that caused the Police and public to protest.

48 years of independence and there's no record of such level of devastation in a single day. The country is still reeling from this senseless and unacceptable tragedy and traumatized by the fact that people have lost their moral compass and that's something poverty does.

Since 'Independence' in 1975 Papua New Guinea has become dominated by a foreign and imposed model of development based on unrestrained capitalism. This is a far cry from what was envisaged in our Constitution - as revealed in ACT NOW!'s analysis of Vision 2050.

Papua New Guinea's written Constitution is our Supreme Law, and it touches on almost every aspect of public life. It is both a political statement and a legal document and it sets out Papua New Guinea's National Goals, the rights and freedoms of every citizen, and the principles on which our system of government operates. 

The five National Goals and the accompanying Directive Principles are supposed to define the Model of Development for Papua New Guinea.

Our National Goals are:

  • Integral human development and freedom from every form of oppression
  • Equality and equal participation
  • National sovereignty and self-reliance
  • Wise us of natural resources and the environment for current and future generations
  • Reliance on the use of Papua New Guinean forms of social, political and economic organization

Over the years, successive governments have failed to use these principles to guide our country's development. Instead we have seen the increasing domination of an economic model based on large-scale resource extraction and exploitation of natural resources; dependency on large foreign-owned corporations; land alienation; export revenues; promotion of the individual and self rather than community; dependency on money; and employment in the 'formal economy'. The result has been devastating social, environmental and economic consequences for local people and most Papua New Guineans are still denied access to basic services.

This current development model has been imposed on Papua New Guinea from outside and has been adopted and is endorsed by unthinking politicians and many bureaucrats. This is despite the fact the model is in total contradiction to our Nations Constitution and our National Goals and Development Policies.

Papua New Guinea is now at a critical point in its history, and enormous internal and external pressures mean that choices that are being made today will determine the future of the nation, its people and their natural environment for many generations.

Unfortunately, the country is crippled by corruption and self-interest and the government consistently puts the profits of foreign multi-national corporations ahead of the interests of its own people. As a result, wise decisions are not being made and at the same time foreign companies are ignoring the rights and interests of local people and destroying the environment as they rip out our natural resources.

PNG Parliament continues to fail to function as a proper organ of the State. There is no accountability for poor performance or corruption and most of our resource wealth is shipped of shore while people remain without access to basic services.

About 95% of the nation’s land mass is legally recognized as still in the hands of families and clans. Further there is virtually no feudal legacy, and therefore no large land-owning families. This means that at times of crisis, almost all people have access to basic food and shelter as well as to social identity and social support. Highly productive gardens and crops ensure that rural PNG are insulated from the impacts of a global food price volatility which had shaken many other countries. Further, domestic produce markets support a thriving (but often unrecognized) cash economy, at least where there are good roads. In sum, the country has probably the most equal distribution of land on Earth, and to some extent this substitutes for the great lack of state services.

Papua New Guinea’s customary land systems, almost unique in the world and resilient over many centuries, faces many new challenges. They have long supported ecologically sustainable livelihood social inclusion and community control in flexible ways.

 However, along with the strong financial demands from schools and limited health systems they grace pleasures form investor groups to dismantle this community controls, and the unaddressed huge rural urban drift in search of employment opportunities and improved social economic conditions can be seen in increased urban poverty.

The absences of income earning activities, job opportunities, lack of basic services (most notable is the health and education services) and the need to be in a safer place to live (in cases for tribal fights or land pressures) has caused an influx in rural urban drift according to new research by PNGNRI

Rural decay and urban poverty reflect lack of capacity, proper planning, poor management, and dysfunctional governance structures, all levels of government have become major stumbling blocks to development in Papua New Guinea.

More emphasis should be placed on the real economy, the land that employs more 3 million people, more than the widely published and promoted fragile formal economy.

Instill in Papua New Guineans to be employment creators than employment seekers.

The destructive extractive sector made up of the logging, mining, oil and gas has been widely promoted since independence with the very same promises of increased employment for Papua New Guineans. Where are the employments? We are still repeating the same promises, even in the recent Papua LNG and the Wafi Golpu projects.

Govt must stop attacking our customary land which is our social safety net, our security and livelihood. 

What happened last week is an indictment of the reality of people who are living on the bare minimum. The mayhem should atlases give us an idea of how people are struggling to survive and the frustration that is building up.

The bloody riot last week  reveals the hollowness of governance that is failing to meet public needs, thus risking deeper violence and instability. Gordan Peake, Senior Advisor Pacific Islands in a commentary on the riot.

It is an awakening call for the government of Papua New Guinea to have a good hard look at ourselves and promote a better model of development based on our National Goals.