The merits of constructive criticism in the WikiLeaks report on PNG

8 09 2011

Two critical articles on Papua New Guinea’s “rotten” politics appeared in two major Australian newspapers last week in the wake of the recently released confidential US embassy cables by WikiLeaks.

This generated a fair amount of debate and discussion on online noticeboards, forums and blogs. As expected, there were those who were quick to go on the defensive, calling out for some sort of rebuttal (!).

I, for one, found those two articles as objective observations on the state of politics in PNG. For starters, how could I disagree with this opening line?

PAPUA New Guinea is entrapped by deeply corrupt politicians who have enriched themselves on resource revenues and Australian aid programs, according to United States diplomatic reports.
Philip Dorling, The Age, September 3, 2011

As such matters go, a discussion ensued between some of my friends on this issue in my email mailing list. Here my esteemed friend Monpi of The Monpi Suit fame pointed out some critical points in response to points raised by another friend. I have reprinted the response notes in full below with the ‘question’ points summarised and in bold.

  • On… the purpose of this report (cable) and why the US were interested in PNG:

“The report would have been generated as part of standard diplomatic reportage on countries in the region in which the US has interests. Every nation acts in its own best interest (first rule of international relations) and the US is no different. It has some interests in PNG…not on the level of its interests in other countries (Libya for example) that would necessitate any action for regime change.

If anything, we as Papua New Guineans should take this report on its constructive merit. I recall the Economist releasing a very unflattering report on the state of Aussie politics and it was taken for its constructive merit (mind you, Aust is one of the few countries that has made it through the GFC* relatively unscathed) albeit mainly by the Coalition.”

  • On… AusAID being a boomerang aid and how it has made any impact, if any:

“Yes, I accept that Australian Aid has largely been boomerang aid but while that argument has legitimacy, its also getting tired. For its significant investment in PNG, Australia has some right to be querying the application of that aid. Ausaid’s budget for PNG (years 2011-2012) alone is $436.5 million. Other australian aid funding is $45.8 million so total aid is $482.3 million. I don’t know about you guys, but if i was spending that sort of money on anything, I’d be wanting some evidence of my returns (Is a cost benefit analysis on a major project too much to ask?).

Of course, Australia expends this money in the furtherance of its own national interest but when are we going to start showing ourselves to be proper managers of what we are given. Shouldn’t we be taking stewardship of the money spent in our communities? Which brings me to my next point….

I notice our politicians are given to promising massive sums of money on various projects…e.g Belden Namah’s recent proclamations in WHP. but there is one glaring omission…there is little to no detail. NONE….no detail on how the money is to be spent, no detail on financial acquittals (if any) and we the people are so blown away by the large figures that we get caught up in the b.s without realising that very little of that will actually translate to anything of substance.

If Julia Gillard was to announce a project in my area worth 10mill, you can almost guarantee she’d turn up here with an understanding of the figures, the policy and an acute appreciation of the expenditure. THAT is what leaders do in the rest of the civilised world….not grandstand on borrowed money.”

  • On… PNG’s law and order situation and the flaws in the ECP (Enhanced Cooperation Project) in light of this nation’s sovereignty:

“Sovereignty has its place but our grasp on ours is tenuous after the manner in which we have conducted ourselves since independence.

The ECP was flawed yes….however, the article does mention that Mr Kimisopa was considered “effective” by outside (objective) observers. At least one of our own was given credit where credit was due but obviously, he wasn’t corrupt enough so he wont survive for very long in PNG politics.”

  • On… the majority of our people having very minimal to nil education as the main cause for politicians being corrupt…”until such a time when all PNG citizens are educated to a level where we all understand western concept of governance then probably real change will happen”:  

“You should know by now that your leaders have capitalised for far too long on the apparent “ignorance” and “simplicity” of the people.  The argument that due to the simplicity of the people, tangible development will be some time in coming cannot hold water after 35 years of independence!

How is that we seem to have regressed rather than progressed when there are more of us who are educated than there were in the era of our parents?! I agree that we cannot change people’s mentalities in a generation but when are we going to grow up? How can we expect change when we don’t hold our politicians accountable?

When we ourselves are so myopic, we can’t see beyond our immediate needs? If the villager is content to vote for their incumbent but corrupt member because he gave them a K50 for their lamb flaps and SP, how does that make him any worse than the bureaucrat who will accept a kickback? Its a matter of degree but the evil at the root is the same……..”

In echoing my friend’s words, the Wikileaks cables and those newspaper articles mentioned should be taken for the constructive criticism that they provide.

They are simply mirrors to reflect upon. They have value as fodder for critical thought and consideration, where we can take stock of our current situation so that we can look into taking a more positive approach in offsetting this trend.


*GFC – Global Financial Crisis

*Sydney Morning Herald – Papua New Guinea teeters on a wide political fault line
*The Age – Australia, US damn PNG’s rotten political practices
*WikiLeaks Cables – Port Moresby Embassy



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