The National, Tuesday April 19th, 2016
With next year’s general elections expected to be one of the most important in Papua New Guinea’s history it is worth mentioning here the impact it has on departments and other major state and private institutions when they brightest, most experienced and best attempt to enter the fray.
Election years seem to have a profound effect on enticing the crème of the country’s professionals from the public service.
These men, many of them seasoned veterans and quite a few on the cusp of attaining top management and administrative roles in their careers, choose to enter the electoral game with idealistic intentions.
One can say with a certain degree of regret that while there have been some success stories from these five-yearly exercises in democracy, the truth is that elections have served to ravage the cream of the civil service more than it has produced triumphs.
In many cases this is to the detriment of the department or body which the individual has opted to leave. It deprives the public service of talented and highly skilled individuals and leaders and furthermore leaves a void that often times takes years to fill.
The investment in terms of training and development of these individuals seems to be for naught as once the decision is made to resign and contest an election the results are for the most part irreversible.
One of the better known departmental heads that has made a success of his foray into politics is Oro Governor Gary Juffa, the former Customs Commissioner.
Juffa took a bold step in 2012 to abandon a rising career in the public service and his departure no doubt left a gaping hole in the commission.
Another individual who left a high ranking role in to chase a seat in parliament in 2012 was former chief ombudsman Ila Geno.
Both these men forged reputations for being effective managers and have the requisite track records to prove this but that is no guarantee they will enter parliament based solely on their professional accomplishments.
One must ask if their loss at the polls will be a bigger loss for the country given their achievements in their former roles.
Rarely if ever has a senior bureaucrat or experienced public servant returned from where he came after a failed attempt at politics.
And if a return to familiar settings is sought it is mostly in a reduced or lesser role.
There is no leeway or quarter given to individuals in the genuine pursuit of political and legislative power.
The time and investment in training and skills acquisition becomes a fruitless exercise for departments in this regard.
Aspiring to public office is an endeavour fraught with risks in a country where citizens more often than not are prone to vote, not necessarily for the best lawmakers or politicians, but for the candidates who are prepared to buy their way into their hearts and minds, and along tribal and regional affiliations.
The net result is that men who would have otherwise been a boon and credit to the country in the public service domain are left tainted and in some cases ruined by the vicious process that lends itself to; garnering support, creating alliances, endearing themselves to the voting public and the compromising of values, reputations and integrity which they may have spent years building. Some unscrupulous individuals hedge their bets by standing for elections while technically still employed by the Government.
This ensures their continuity in the case of failure. Critics may dismiss the loss of the professional elite to politics as something borne out of a thirst for power and prestige but in many instances a desire to effect positive change from a position of power is what drives these men. Some of the most notable individuals who have
left stable and successful careers in the public sector are the who’s who of PNG poilitcs.
A name such as Sir Michael Somare, a former teacher and journalist, has achieved a great deal and won admiration and respect from his 40-plus years as a member of parliament.
Sir Mekere Morauta, Sir Bart Philemon, Sir Rabbie Namaliu and Sir Puka Temu are just some of the success stories of men making a successful foray into politics from the public service.
But they are the exception to the rule. This coming elections for every successful former government employee who wins a seat in Waigani we fear there will be at least two, maybe three more, who miss out and pay a heavy price.
Collectively PNG will be the poorer for it.