PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Aug. 18) - Papua New Guinea is a parliamentary democracy, elected on the basis of universal suffrage.

The government of this country exists to boost the nation's unity, to devise and monitor our laws, to ensure the welfare of the people, and to lead us to a constructive and well-planned future.

Like most such governments, whose leadership is underpinned by national consensus rather than the rule of the gun, PNG has made mistakes in the past 28 years.

So has every other fledgling parliamentary democracy in the world.

We strongly support Prime Minister Michael Somare’s dislike of PNG and other South Pacific nations being referred to with the phrase "failed states", if for no other reason than inaccuracy.

We are not in a state of collapse.

Most of our public institutions continue to work, some barely adequately, others well.

Thanks to the unsupportable spending policies of some previous governments, we have an economy in dire straits.

PNG may have its problems, many in common with other far more "developed" nations - but that's a long way from being a failed state, a basket case, or the embodiment of any other of the glib and offensive phrases so often used to describe our country.

These buzz phrases are often the creation of technocrats with too little to do and too big a self-created reputation to admit it.

Such remarks are the acme of patronizing cynicism.

First, they assume that those who make them are qualified to assess this country's situation accurately, and take into account the very different amalgam of cultures that distinguishes modern PNG from its Anglo-Saxon neighbors.

That in itself is, as they say, a big ask.

To meet those criteria, commentators need to be at ease with PNG and its people at village level, as well as be able to maintain their supposed pre-eminence in economics and fiscal policy. 

Such people are few and far between, and those few rarely if ever use descriptions such as "basket case" or "failed state" to describe this country. 

Those titles mainly emanate from that bane of modern governments throughout the world, the "think tank". 

These clubs of former politicians, retired economists and would-be power brokers are frequently as nimble with their continually changing interpretation of statistics and policies as they are with their devious pursuit of political influence and power.

How are "failed states" measured?

What are the bench-marks for that unenviable description?

Pinned down, the think-tankers are frequently hard-pressed to respond - and their answers often reveal the superficiality of their experience and of their in-country knowledge.

The World Bank is a good example.

Blind to all but its theories and its spreadsheets, impervious to criticism, and contemptuous of sovereignty and national aspirations, this monolithic money manipulator is also deaf to those who dare to point out its fast-growing record of disastrous misjudgments.

Schemes worth hundreds of millions of American dollars designed to grow more food for a starving world have been, at best, less than successful. 

Then there are the decisions to rid this country or that of long-established industries because the World Bank considers them unable to compete profitably with others. 

The exercise of this autocratic power has become legendary and has caused incalculable damage globally. 

Or their notorious record of support for grandiose utility projects, including dams and water supplies. 

Tens of thousands of people have been uprooted from their homes in Egypt and China and many other countries through the Bank's determination to construct huge dams, and follow its own advisors in preference to more informed sources. 

It seems that the PNG government has been told bluntly to get rid of our timber industry.

Never mind that it contributes hundreds of millions to the nation's coffers.

Never mind that thousands of people and their families are dependent upon timber for employment or that landowners gain substantial royalties from the industry.

Doubtless this pressure will be met with hysterical applause by the Greenpeace hordes, certain left-leaning academics, and a noisy section of the media that wrongly judges its pose enjoys the support of the bulk of the literate public. 

The World Bank is not a democratic or a parliamentary organization. 

It must not be allowed to continue its faceless infiltration of PNG - loans, grants, donations or Big Brother notwithstanding.

August 18, 2003

The National:


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