Let us be realistic and pragmatic

Letters, Normal

The National, Wednesday, May 4, 2011

THE debate on land ownership has been limited to the legal arena where moot points of law as well as historical legal developments have been contrasted against the all too important issue of ownership and the traditional connotations that give merit to the case for those that espouse the old maxim of “for whoever owns the soil, it is his up to the heavens and down to the depths”.
The delineation of views is clear enough.
If it were to be resolved through the legal area alone, I would suggest it would be an open and shut case even if it took 10 years to adjudicate.
Unfortunately, this is not so since it draws into question the whole purview of the “nation state” both at the conceptual level and its core.
In this regard, we may be selling ourselves a little bit short if the debate is restricted to the realm of law alone.
To do justice to what is a very critical and important debate that traverses the intellectual terrain, a broadening of the parameters of the debate is necessary.
This will entail broaching the definitive boundaries of the state even at its most rudimentary level and reaching out to the higher echelons of enquiry that deal with the complexities of contractual relations that instil bondage between the state (in this case PNG) and the people within its boundaries.
Statist utterances as those propounded by the attorney-general mask the reality in so far as the societal power structures are concerned.
Adherence to his view salutes the status quo in which the majority is perpetually locked to the whims of the ruling bourgeois who controls the state apparatus.
Here you are, content with the idea that the worth of humans is derived from his immersion in the activities of the state.
The state knows better and distributive justice is well served.
The state, therefore, is the penultimate creation to which all should submit in pursuit of individual happiness.
Egalitarian or liberal viewpoints as those echoed by Peter Donigi deride the state’s absolute stranglehold on ownership and control.
It is a revisionist approach which seeks to correct the purported misapplication of law vis-a-vis land ownership but which inadvertently draws to fore the age-old debate about the value of the state, the power relations within its boundaries and the worth of the state.
If we set aside the legal questions, his arguments have a sound philosophical basis that is grounded in centuries of voluminous treatises that emanate interestingly enough from traditional concepts of ownership.
The statist approach is also grounded in voluminous dissertation although it has to be said that in so far as the time line is concerned, it is a relative newcomer.
As Adam Smith, the father of the modern market economy, wrote in his treatise The Wealth of Nations: “Civil governments so far as it is instituted for the security of property is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor or of those who have property against those who have none at all.”
I propose a realistic and pragmatic approach that examines all possibilities, however, subtle.
Otherwise, this may become an exercise in futility that leads us all to a cul de sac.


John Paska
Port Moresby