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How PNG ended up as one of the most corrupt countries in the world

Flyover bridge in Port Moresby. Photo by James Pesul
Opinion  : By Lucas Kiap
When PNG gained independence from Australia in 1975, the great Founding Fathers they had made a grave mistake, which today continue to haunt the prosperity of this great country.
The founding fathers they failed to foresee the future that the country needed a “long-term vision” to steer its course in the right direction.
They thought the Constitution was sufficient to run one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse countries in the world with a mostly uneducated and rural population living scatted across some of the toughest terrains in the world.
In their excitement and rush to finally run their own country, they failed to recognize and derive from the Constitution a long-term vision to guide the path of the country from one stage to another – from a third world country to a developed country, for instance.
In other words, the five National Goals and Directive Principles enshrined in the Constitution were not translated into long-term development strategic plans; placing the well-being and prosperity of the people at the center of economic growth.
The failure to recognize the need for strategic planning was a grave mistake that set the course of the country completely in the opposite direction from the very beginning.
Sadly, our founding fathers not only made the grave mistake but also they inherited it as a legacy from their colonial master, the Australian colonial administration.
If not deliberately, the colonial administration should share the blame for not doing enough to prepare their colonial outpost to become a sovereign country of her own, before allowing them to gain independence.
If you had been to cities in Australia or Europe, you would observe infrastructures that were built centuries ago (during the 1940s to 1970s) still exist today side by side with the modern infrastructures. But there is nothing of that quality, standard and design was built in PNG by the colonial administration, which can be still seen today.
When the Australians left in 1975, everything else seemed to follow them, leaving behind their temporarily outposts to deteriorate while plantations and farms to run down at the mercy of their new owners, whom at that time were not that much educated or experienced to run them on their own.
To Australians, PNG was only seen and used as a temporarily colonial outpost to exploit and defend their country from any invading enemy armies.
Now after 40 years, with a lot of Papua New Guineans getting highly educated and experienced, we would have learned from our mistakes and corrected them.
Yet we are worse now than we were before independence, still embracing and building substandard infrastructures inherited from our colonial masters but at inflated prices.
What has really gone wrong with us?
In the absence of feasible long-term development and strategic action plans, all subsequent governments have resorted to temporarily (short-term) measures to govern the country, but usually on ad-hock (reactive) basis, wasting limited government resources on unnecessary things.
Development funds were then just thrown away for political leaders to use and spend on anything as they wish.
Politicians soon realized then that they could easily have access to huge public funds at their disposal, something neither they nor their ancestors used to before. They also realized that they could buy anything in the world with money; a life they never thought would be possible, let alone their parents whom were all rural subsistence farmers.
In a country where everyone else was illiterate, the leaders soon become the gods and celebrity figures (in their societies, provinces and country). Everyone started looking upon them and worshiping them. It was the start of the emergence of PNG’s “big-man-money culture” – a businessman is a “big man” and above the laws of this land.
PNG’s big-men slowly transited into the world of the Colonial Masters – Western civilization, ahead of their fellow Papua New Guineans, leaving them behind to fend for themselves.
They started to develop an appetite for misusing, abusing, and stealing public funds to buy the kind of life that commands great respect from their fellow ordinary rural Papua New Guineans.
The appetite they developed is now responsible for swallowing billions of development funds every year, denying people equal opportunities to a better life.
Since then, the misconception of politics as a means of wealth creation was emerged. Elections meant nothing more than becoming an instant overnight millionaire.
This has now grown into a cultural norm, slowly spreading across the country from the highlands to the coastal areas – every candidate is now contesting the elections to become an overnight millionaire.
Politicians they begin their political careers as ordinary persons and they become instant millionaires after becoming politicans. The emergence of politicians-turned-businessmen or vice versa after 1975, and the difficulties in separating business from politics, had sent out false signals to aspirants to political office. Contesting elections today has become a god sent opportunity to wealth accumulation in a short time.
Our founding fathers they failed to have a vision for this country, but they gave us a choice whether or not to follow their footsteps.
That choice has been the dilemma for many years and generations as each generation continues to follow their footsteps, repeating but improving on their mistakes, slowly taking this natural resources rich nation closer and closer to the edge of hell.
Yet here we are confronted with the same choice and dilemma whether to forge a new destiny and save the future or let history to repeat.
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