FIJI COUP ATTEMPT HIGHLIGHTS PACIFIC'S 'INDIGENOUS' DILEMMA

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By Kevin Pamba Lecturer in Journalism, Divine Word University, Madang

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (June 2, 2000 - The National/PINA Nius Online)---Our Fijian wantok, George Speight, has a succinct object lesson from us in PNG about how incompetent a virtually 100 percent "indigenous" political and bureaucratic leadership can be.

If Mr. Speight case studied PNG, he would notice that since independence in 1975 his Melanesian 'big brothers' here have proven incapable of grabbing the opportunity with both hands and govern their country well.

He will also discover the same situation in the Melanesian countries of the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Mr. Speight also knows that Fiji was in the hands of the "indigenous" folk from independence in 1970 until Sitiveni Rabuka's two coups in 1987.

Mr. Rabuka's problem? For the first time, the democratically elected government of Fiji was dominated by born and bred Fijians of Indian decent.

The Indo-Fijians rose to political dominance after remaining in the shadows since the British imperialists brought their ancestors from the subcontinent and dumped them in Fiji to work the British sugar plantations about 100 years earlier.

In PNG, the political leadership is almost exclusively indigenous Melanesian. The formal workforce, apart from top and middle management positions in certain cases, is Melanesian. This is despite the medium to large businesses being predominantly foreign owned.

The informal sector is 100 per cent Melanesian. In fact, the 4.5 million residents of PNG are dominantly Melanesians.

Yet this dominance has not seen PNG Melanesians determining their destiny with a sense of vision. Instead, Melanesian Papua New Guineans have been living for the day and rarely thinking with a collective vision beyond that wall. In living so, the socio-economic status of ordinary Melanesians here has been falling and appears appalling.

Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta has been frank about this sorry state of affairs in recent times. The elite few here have been able to do themselves favors on what they can lay hands on.

The Melanesians of PNG have in essence, been on the back pedal.

What happens to be the order in PNG is that:

Ironically, certain reports suggest Fiji is much ahead in the socio-economic status of its people than PNG.

The 1999 Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), for example, ranks Fiji at 61 while PNG fares lower at a dismal 129th out of 174 countries.

The high ranking of Fiji perhaps reflects the socio-economic status of the enterprising Indo-Fijians who account for half of the population.

The indigenous political leaders of PNG have the constitution and all other laws on their side but have not used them to their country's collective benefit.

Instead many of them have benefited individually. You just have to travel to Cairns or thereabouts and watch their family members and themselves enjoy their gains.

Mr. Speight and other outsiders would realize that in their incompetency, the "indigenous" leaders of PNG instead have been looking north, south and elsewhere for saviors in recent years.

In that pursuit they have opened the floodgates for foreigners to enter and compete with small-time Papua New Guinean entrepreneurs. It has also lead to standards dropping in some of the goods and services provided by these invited investors. These poor standards go virtually unchecked because of an under-funded "indigenous" bureaucracy.

In the most recent manifestation, the incompetency of PNG leadership coupled with recent external shocks on the economy has brought the country to a point where it is at the mercy of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and other bilateral and multilateral sources of help.

When Mr. Speight and his armed supporters seized the Fijian Parliament at gunpoint two weeks ago, several PNG politicians jumped the gun in Parliament here reminding their colleagues that PNG must be on guard against such an incident happening here.

These comments came few weeks after several others expressed fear in the media that race-based riots in Zimbabwe over land where people of European descent run successful farms, could also occur here.

Then came the juxtaposed diplomacy from our Foreign Minister, Sir John Kaputin, on the events in Fiji. Sir John diplomatically denounced Mr. Speight's action and sympathized with the plight of the indigenous Fijians and called for the "need to look for underlying causes, and make sure that they are addressed."

In the same breath, Sir John announced a plan to review PNG's foreign policy.

As part of the review, the Minister wants to see that economic activities like tucker shop operations that foreigners his colleagues have invited by looking elsewhere for saviors, be curtailed.

When addressing the foreign policy review meeting at Parliament House last week, Sir John said: "Next time you buy a snack from a tucker-shop operated by a foreigner without the substantial capital or skill - ask yourself what happened."

"How? Why? And to whom do the benefits (of these businesses) trickle down to?

"The obvious answer will tell you why I regard the (Foreign Affairs) Department's migration and citizenship activities as integral to its operations and vital to achievement of PNG's foreign policy and development objectives."

Sir John then acknowledged the cross-sectoral incompetency in PNG that also rules in his department and called for its remedy.

He said now that foreigners without substantial capital and skill are here in their numbers "it will explain why I regard personal, professional and institutional integrity as absolute requirements and why I will, therefore, encourage the most vigorous possible prosecution of dishonesty of any kind."

Sir John added: "And make no mistake, the security, economic well-being and the political rights of our people are just as surely affected by the foreign tucker-box operators I have described above, as they are by discussions at meetings of the World Bank, other international organizations and bilateral partners.

"Indeed, the impacts are often more direct, immediate and adverse."

Though the circumstances in Fiji are peculiar and rude repercussions of what was left behind by the British, the above are in Sir John's own words the same sentiments held by Mr. Rabuka and Mr. Speight.

In what is before Fijians and Papua New Guineans of all persuasions, the bottom-line is an irony. That when we are opening up to globalization and free trade that governments tend to have little control, we also feel being an "indigenous" people we can stand in the shadows and dream for special treatment, particularly towards economic pursuits of our countries.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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