Days when patrol officers rule

Editorial, Normal

The National, Friday, May 20, 2011

THERE was a time not too long ago when the medical officers would patrol into the remotest parts of PNG.
Patrol officers, so-called because that is what they did for most of their term in office, would travel with a small detachment of police officers into rural villages to update records of births and deaths in the village register and conduct court hearings on disputes.
They did this for no special allowances except the pay they were on. They survived on the provisions they carried with them and on the kindness of villagers who appreciated their presence.
Such efforts paid off immensely. Most of the adults living today have been fully immunised from the debilitating effects of polio, meningitis, tetanus and other illnesses.
The government had accurate records of the number of people living in every village. The crude system of justice, administered by the patrol officers, proved most effective and law and order problems were kept to a minimum.
Indeed, Papua New Guinea was a far more peaceful place to live in throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s than it is today.
Now imagine that those periods, when there seemed to be law and order and far greater presence of government in the rural areas, were when far too many of our people were illiterate or under-educated. Compare that to today, when hundreds of thousands have been educated to university and college levels.
Quite suddenly, the scenario flips. Crime is running riot. Public service numbers have grown and the wages bill has increased, but the services are receding fast back towards towns and cities. Even in those towns and cities, what passes for services is often laughable.
These conditions seem to defy the intent of the very first goal in the National Directive Goals and Principles, which calls for integral human development as a means to free the individual from the bondage of ignorance in order for that person to be fully involved in the nation’s development and to share in its benefits.
Education was seen as the means to deliver that goal but, instead, a far better educated population had brought the country to its knees in social and economic problems.
Why has this happened? What has gone wrong? These are two probing questions whose answers will not be found easily.
Department of Provincial and Local Level Government secretary Manasupe Zurenuoc has pointed to the performance of public servants as one area which needs drastic overhaul.
Speaking in Mt Hagen to provincial deputy administrators, divisional heads and senior public servants, Zurenuoc told public servants to perform and deliver.
Under the decentralisation of powers, the national government had pumped millions of kina and resources into the provinces, Zurenuoc said.
This is unlike the past where all powers and resources were locked up in Waigani.
The intent of the decentralisation process was to empower people so that they could be meaningfully involved in the political decisions which affect their own lives and welfare. That involves moving the machinery of government with its powers closer to the people.
This was the intent of the Organic Law on provincial governments when passed as the first amendment to the constitution in October 1976.
When that system appeared to flounder, parliament began the process in 1987 to review and reform the law. It eventually did so in 1995.
Sixteen years on, and, has the reformed system delivered the goods as intended?
Physical evidence and the cries of the people from every part of the country would suggest that the reformed system too had failed.
The National is of the view that it is not laws, rules, regulations, systems or processes that are at fault. Rather, it is the people who make the laws and rules, who are required to respect and uphold the laws who have failed.
The law, or system, is only as good as the people who respect and uphold it.
In this great country basking in the tropical sun, leaders make the laws and believe that it is good enough to rule the mobs with but not themselves.
The enforcers of the laws, the Royal PNG Constabulary, often think that they can enforce the law on people but they are above the law.
The people, seeing that the lawmakers and law-keepers do not respect the laws, feel no great compulsion to obey them anyway.
Hey presto! Chaos reigns.
Until and unless every person learns to respect the laws, systems and processes, we will continue to face mounting problems.