Alternative to bad politicians?
By Lt-Col James Laki
MANY Third World countries have taken a similar path to “alternative governance” in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
In our region, Fiji’s military coups in 1987 and a coup attempt by George Speight in 2000 portray scenarios that many would consider not possible in Papua New Guinea.
One of the many reasons given is that the country is ethnically too diverse and this provides natural “checks and balances”.
In general, the people are understanding, resilient and would not support such socio-political actions. Recent explanations that dispel any coup d’état are that weapons remain secure in defence armouries and the Defence Force has been effectively downsized, thus poses no threat by itself as an alternative government.
Further justification could be that the leadership in the force is exceptionally loyal, is bound by contract to the State and would prevent any action of that nature.
For almost three decades, civil military relations within the bureaucracy have been very genial. Some rank and file members appear to have been the main source of disturbances in the Defence Force in the past.
For example, some of them were absent without leave during the recent national elections, campaigned and stood for the elections. They have now returned to active service.
Their mission was to achieve what the concerned middle class advocate in a proper democratic process; that is, to stand for election and gamble on the outcome for the benefit of the people.
The Political Challenge
The mission envisioned by those citizens was to participate in PNG’s politics — a duty that is mandated to the parliamentarians who “play politics” at the expense of the general populace.
Also, parliamentarians squander the wealth and goodwill of the nation. They prey on the ignorance of the people.
PNG lacks an outspoken middle-class to take up issues with parliamentarians in order to guide the country forward.
The civil society in PNG is weak. It tends to rely on government handouts, hence the recent appeal by a leading academic for groups of people such as women, tertiary students, the churches, the trade unions, the business community and non-government organisations to assist in the “real governance” of our country, along with committed bureaucrats.
As well as these groups, the military could perhaps be considered as another political middle-class supporter of “real governance”.
Such involvement may be discounted for various reasons but if the current political trend continues — where politicians are disinterested in the people and serve their self-interest — then five years of waiting for changes through national elections may be too long.
Constitutional crises appear too frequently. Just as politicians are not necessarily top-level government bureaucrats, they need not be top-ranking military officers.
A corporal led the protest against the implementation of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons’ Group Report.
The protesters’ demands forced the National Executive Council (NEC) to “completely remove” the planned reform to the Defence Force.
As a result, it was decided that the Defence Force should lead in policy preparation, which included retrenchment. The protesters also demanded amnesty and promised to return the weapons which had been removed from the defence armoury.
Upon receiving their petition, the then Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta announced this action was a significant milestone which demonstrated “democracy” was at work.
This shows that members of a disciplined force can “play politics” as well. The Government can easily accommodate competing groups, when allocating pieces of the State’s “pie”.
Many members of the Defence Force and the emerging middle class have established very good links and networks with politicians, political parties and other prominent people.
However, collective actions by such groups through coercion and collusion would not be in the best interest of the country.
What remains is that the ingredients for such options are echoing loud and clear.
This potential politically unstable situation could be critical, particularly if there are in-country connections to international crime syndicates and possibly even Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
There appear to be many loopholes in our legal system if some laws can be conveniently overlooked and foreigners with criminal reputations can enter, or be assisted to enter, the country and remain.
Many criminal activities seem to involve these same people who have already flaunted the laws of our nation. Guns and other arsenals may readily come into the country if the desire and the desperation are there. Also, weapons may appear to be locked away in the disciplined forces’ armouries, but some may still find their way out — as happened with the automatic military weapons that were intercepted when destined for Southern Highlands Province.
What Is The Message?
The message appears to be quite clear — some politicians of the day are self-centred and are incapable of governing the country.
Also, the Government is only as good as the politicians who are part of it. Many seem disinterested in the collective decisions that political parties make in party rooms.
Such politicians are usually there for the bargains, perks and privileges that they can muster, because such “inducements” do not come with the political party.
These are individual gains and if there is the likelihood they will be lost, parliamentarians will seek the “most lucrative” option that may be immediately available.
The Prime Minister cannot be blamed for appointing vice ministers because, politically, he may have no other option.
There are also genuine politicians who do a hard day’s work on behalf of their constituents.
These politicians have upheld the integrity and pride of society — and have earned the respect of the people and the country. However, the following scenario is becoming all too common — “politics in PNG is laughable and incomprehensive” and many of the concerned middle-class wonder how much longer the country can hold out.
The other clear message appears to be that only a few people have access to the national wealth — the national politicians.
This means that people in the rural areas who have excess cash crop production which cannot be delivered to international or even national markets, have been marginalised.
When the rural people migrate to the main centres — especially the young and energetic — and acquire more world knowledge, they show contempt for the State, which is controlled by the politicians.
Their resultant “political play” is the wilful destruction of State infrastructure.
To them, that all seems fair in a cycle of mutual destruction.
On the surface, this appears to be their strongest message while politicians continue to frustrate and manipulate the average citizens.
Politicians need to be continuously reminded that some political games are too deadly and sensitive to be playing.
If the general civil society is weak and unable to wrestle power from the disorganised political leaders, perhaps the emerging middle class — comprising the business community, trade unions, women, tertiary students, the churches, non-government organisations and committed bureaucrats — can effect positive changes in our governance.
In such circumstances, could the military be coerced to become an active part of the middle class and play a role in ensuring good governance in our potentially rich country?
* Lt-Col James Laki is a Senior Research Fellow in the Political and Legal Studies Division at the National Research Institute.
If parliamentarians want to continue to “play politics”, there is a group of concerned citizens who are prepared to plan towards an alternative government, which is quite different from that which politicians on the opposition bench envisage.