PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Dec. 17) - We need to face the truth.

Papua New Guinea has had 28 years in which to prove its ability to manage its own affairs.

Can we in all honesty claim to have achieved that goal?

We are fond of declaring ourselves an independent state.

We like our voice to be heard in international forums.

But when we are criticised, no matter how gently, many of us take instant offence, and attack our best friends among overseas countries.

Some of us are inherently suspicious of any move that we interpret as demeaning to our independence, or our standing as a free nation.

It is right for us to be proud of our inheritance, and proud of our standing as an independent nation.

But real independence comes with price tags.

Prime among the costs is the obligation to run our own affairs efficiently, and to the betterment of our own people.

A truly independent state does not need to be propped up by overseas aid.

More importantly, a truly independent state recognizes when circumstances have rendered overseas aid a necessity for preserving that very independence.

If we are so thin-skinned that we hide behind the hollow sham of an independent facade, we are simply fooling ourselves.

These thoughts are prompted by two stories carried in yesterday's edition of The National.

On the front page, we read that the Auditor-General of this free, independent nation has been found guilty of no less than 33 charges of misconduct under the Leadership Code, and that this public officer received almost a quarter of a million kina in allowances over a four year period, and breached the regulations 120 times in that period.

This particular case is no different to many others.

Chairman of the Leadership Tribunal, Mr Justice Kirriwom, noted that PNG is now "riddled with rampant disrespect for the rule of law at all levels of society."

On page three of yesterday's newspaper, the Engan Governor Peter Ipatas expressed strong disapproval of Australians occupying line positions in the public service when there are "enough educated Papua New Guineans to fill these positions."

We respect Mr Ipatas, and admire his patriotism, but it seems to us that he is ignoring cold fact.

There may be enough educated Papua New Guineans to employ in these jobs, but it seems that education is no guarantee of probity, or of an ethical and moral obligation to the people.

It is not a question of whether there are enough of our people qualified to fill top -level jobs.

We all know there are.

But 28 years of experiencing an ever-increasing level of mismanagement, misappropriation, and bald-faced theft places a massive dent in our reputation for self-reliance.

It is time for us to accept the salutary lesson that will flow from the appointment of suitable foreigners to key positions.

If we have any real concern for the "independent state of PNG", then this is the opportunity to welcome every grain of practical assistance we can garner.

Patriotism and loyalty to one's country that ignore the realities we are now facing are worthless expressions of gratuitous sentiment, and risk exposing us to the ridicule of the very nations that have shown a ready willingness to assist PNG.

We need to stop and think hard about our experiences as an independent nation during the past quarter of a century.

Are we better off today than we were at independence?

In the decade that followed the gaining of our free status, PNG was imbued with a sense of urgency.

Governments and people alike strove to accomplish the myriad of goals we set ourselves on September 16, 1975.

Today in 2003, how many of those goals have we achieved?

The simple answer is not enough.

Our nation is now engaged in a fight to the death against corruption.

Under the Somare government, we are at last making tentative progress in that battle.

Let us make the best possible use of the high-level personnel assistance that has been offered by Australia, and let us evaluate that assistance in the same spirit in which it has been offered.

If we can achieve that, we will be well on the way to creating real independence for our struggling nation.

December 17, 2003

The National:


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