The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (March 28) – It happens every time we have a national election in Papua New Guinea. Intelligent voters hunt in vain for the policies of the nation’s political parties.

Year after year we publish pleas from our writers and our readers for clear and unambiguous information about party policies. And year after year those requests fall on deaf ears.

The political party system of government can only work if and when the principal parties spell out what they stand for.

In most of the large number of other countries that employ this system of elections, parties display the most marked differences possible between themselves.

Here are three hypothetical cases.

Landowners would never vote for Party A because the politics of that party reflect its links with the poor and the landless in society.

Women would not vote for Party B, because it has a policy of downplaying the importance of women in the electorate.

And the trade unions and public service associations would certainly ignore Party C because it believes in banning industrial action and supporting the nation’s employers.

These are the type of considerations taken into account by voters in other democratic developing countries.

But in PNG, voters cannot exercise those rights, because the political parties either keep their policy platforms a closely guarded secret, or more commonly never get around to developing such policies. Instead, voters are thrown a few broad-based policy scraps.

Example: Out of the blue comes a promise to spend PGK100 million [US$] on school fees.

Voters ask themselves whether such a huge promise is genuine or merely an election ploy.

And if it is genuine, thinking voters want the fine print as well as the grand promise.

They want to know how the money will be raised and whether the payment will be a one-off gesture dropped at the end of the next financial year.

They will question whether education authorities, parents, school teachers and provincial authorities have been consulted over the issue and seek to find out their response.

Voters want to know the specifics of that party’s educational policies – how many schools will be built over the next five years and where they will be sited, how much will be invested in them, what plans does the party have for upgrading the unfortunately low standards of teaching and teacher education in the country, and so on.

That’s just one example centred on education.

There are dozens of areas in which people have a right to know what a vote for a certain party will mean when translated into political action on the floor of Parliament.

Take another example.

For which party should the women of PNG vote?

Is there a party that has defined a specific platform of policies that will address the many and varied concerns of women?

There certainly appears to be no such party, and worse, there seems to be no party committed to endorsing women to contest half of the available seats.

In fact, none has had the vision to see that the political party that can corner the votes of a majority of PNG women on polling day will, without question, control the new Parliament.

Where are the foreign policy initiatives that will determine the contents of PNG’s future friends and foes list? Do we look north, south, east or west – or perhaps we will continue to conduct our foreign relations in a series of knee-jerks.

Where are the policy directions for exploiting the manufacturing industries in PNG, and what initiatives are needed to get them off the ground?

Which party will stop toying with tourism, and throw K100 million into developing this potential goldmine?

Is there a party prepared to give unequivocal support to a ministry of higher education, so that the bumbling disaster that is our tertiary sector can be rebuilt and redirected?

Is there a party committed to re-opening the closed clinics and health centres scattered throughout the nation?

If so, do they have a specific plan of how many centres they will open, who will staff them, a projection of the costs?

The voting public of this nation has been fobbed-off with airy non-specifics for far too long.

Let’s get down to the basics, and start dealing in clear and achievable policies.

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