Reflecting on the anniversary marking his country's four decades of independence, Papua New Guinea's former prime minister Sir Rabbie Namaliu says the country has done well to survive as a democratic nation.
PNG has done well to survive as a democracy, says Namaliu
A former Papua New Guinea prime minister says the country has done well to survive as a democratic nation.
Today (september 16th) PNG marks its fortieth anniversary of gaining independence from Australia.
Sir Rabbie Namaliu, a political scientist who was prime minister from 1988- 1992 and earlier headed PNG's public service among other leading public roles, admits the country has its share of big challenges.
But reflecting on the four decades of independence, he told Johnny Blades that PNG has done remarkably to hold it together.
RABBIE NAMALIU: Well, I think obviously we've had some problems along the way but I think on the whole the country has done well to survive as a flourishing and thriving democracy. We've had eight national elections since independence. We have never had a military coup despite people at the time predicting that the country would not survive, that it would go the way that many countries in the developing world would go. Despite that, the country is still holding together, even though it's so diverse linguistically, geographically, culturally. We've done extremely well in that sense. But that said, we've had many challenges along the way and those challenges remain to this day. We've had a crisis with Bougainville. And of all the crises we face, that was probably the most difficult. In addition to that the country still faces major issues in relation to health, education, good governance, climate change, law and order... all of these continue to be major challenges. But the country, particularly now that the economy has grown, it's placing us in a position probably where we're best placed to take the country to the next level, provided there is good leadership. That (leadership) seems to be a continuing challenge.
JOHNNY BLADES: After forty years, with the great diversity of tribes and ethnic make-up in the country, do you think people are thinking more about themselves as part of a national entity rather than a tribal or provincial entity, are things changing on that front?
RN: Yes, I think so. And obviously education is a great leveller. With the increasing numbers of kids now being educated and going to educational institutions, that is what is making more and more of our people aware of the fact that they belong to a much wider community than just their villages or their tribal areas. Obviously, with the growing improvements in technology, particularly in communications technology, mobile, I mean the country ten years ago did not have a mobile technology industry. Well, today we have one of the most flourishing in the whole of the Pacific, and I think that alone has helped to transform the country in ways that no one would have imagined ten years ago. People have now got better access to communication services, helping to break down barriers and improving education opportunities as well and exposure to the outside world. The fact that they can now see things happening in other parts of Papua New Guinea is helping to also raise their level of consciousness about the country as a nation and the role that they can play to make it an even better place to live in.
JB: One of the greatest assets of your country, it seems, has always been the traditional ownership of land. But are you worried about the, I guess, marginalisation of custom owners from land? In some cases around the country, there have been these land grabs, even in your own province (East New Britain).
RN: Yeah, that will continue to be an issue. I think what the government has to be careful of is to make sure that the interests of landowners are protected and that landowners are participating in development. I think the key is to make sure that landowners are not stuck in a situation where they have land that can be developed and yet whilst on the other hand that too can be exploited to the detriment, there are also opportunities where provided they are actively participating in any development, they can make that land available for productive purposes; productive purposes that will not only benefit the developer but also them as landowners and their communities.
JB: When you look back on the four decades of Papua New Guinea's path since gaining independence, do you feel like those of you who have been at the helm have stewarded it in the right kind of way, given the challenges of holding a state, a nation together, that it's on the right track?
RN: Well, obviously some things could have been done better. But that's with the benefit of hindsight. On the whole, I think we've done pretty well considering the diverse nature of the country. The fact that it's still holding together as one even though we had a major crisis in Bougainville, is in itself a huge achievement. You just imagine, how many other countries that are comprised of over eight hundred linguistic and ethnic groupings have ever survived? Look at Yugoslavia for instance, at where it was; well, now with how many countries came out of that nation. PNG is even more complex than the Balkans, and over eight hundred different languages that make up a nation. In a way, there are some advantages about that, because then no tribe can ever dominate the whole country in ways in which some countries in other parts of the world have had problems, because of the domination of major tribes over minorities. But in PNG, that's not the case, and that seems to be a strength that's holding the country together. Even though there have been regional movements and there has been regional disparity, the fact that it has succeeded in holding together is itself a huge achievement and the thing is to continue to work on that through education. Education is the key.
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