Saturday 26 December 2020

H.E. the Rt. Hon. Mekere Morauta Kt MP

 Mekere Moraoutam, who was Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea (PNG)  from 1999 to 2002, died a few days before Christmas.  He was born in what I take to be the remote village of Kukipi in Eastern Kerema.PMG, was educated a the village primary school and local high school, then Sogeri National High School,  Lae Polytechnic and the University of PNG.  He tidied economics and before his political career,  served as Governor of the Bank of PMG,  the Central Bank.  I'd like to be able to say that  taught him but I didn't.

In 2006 whilst still an MP but no longer PM he visited Martyrs' School in Ooro Province where I had taught in the final three yeas of the 80s.  A pupil from that time, Harold Badirega has , as a tribute to Morauta, circulated a copy of the speech he made to the students and staff on that occasion.

Here are four  extracts.

In this first one, on the value of education, I love the inclusion of knowing how to maintain your outboard motor (PNG has a lot of coastline) and " the joy and opportunities that come from reading" as among the essentials of life. I wonder if any of our recent education secretaries  would recognise them.

 . . . [E]ducation is a social leveller, but it is also an investment. Education is the key to equipping people not just for big jobs in government or the private sector, but for everyday life. Understanding the world around us, knowledge of the world and of practical things, of health,sanitation, nutrition, of mathematics, of new ways of doing things, whether it is building a house or growing crops, fishing or animal husbandry, or maintaining a vehicle or outboard motor - these are the essentials of everyday life. The joy and opportunities for discovery that come from reading - these are not privileges, but things every single person has a right to.

 In this second extract Morauta stresses the need for the majority (my emphasis) of leaders to be "ethical, principled  and honest. " He is not unrealistic: he is not suggesting they all should be.  I wonder how many of our present UK cabinet fit the description.

. . .[N]either development, nor ethical government, can be wished into being. The chances of good government are certainly improved if the majority of leaders are ethical, principled and honest. But these personal traits,on their own, are not enough to institute or sustain good governance or development.

Other factors must also exist.One is political stability. Another is the existence of strong and appropriate institutions of state, institutions which are structured to promote the principles of good governance in their functioning — accountability,transparency, openness and predictability. Also required is a well-informed civil society, led by people who understand the issues, objectively voice concerns and contribute to finding solutions to issues. Churches,universities, the media, business, NGOs and community groups all have a role to play. 

 This third exact describes some of the social problems facing many developing countries, but some mature ones as well.

 Our social indicators show that health standards, in particular, are worse than they were 25 years ago. We constantly hear of, and experience, the shortage of drugs and medical equipment in our health centres and hospitals. Infant and maternal mortality rates are the highest in the region. Our literacy level is still low — only around 60 per cent. Children do not have books and other educational materials at their schools — some do not even have pencils and paper, while others are not at school at all, because their parents cannot afford to pay the fees. 

Per capita income has declined, despite the mines, oil fields, timber projects and factories that have been developed. There is greater disparity in income levels than at Independence - some people are much better off, but the gap between the haves and the have nots is wider. The population is growing faster than the economy and faster than the Government's capacity to provide basic  services. Infrastructure is inadequate, and deteriorating. HIV/AIDS is spreading fast, indeed killing many of our youngest and brightest.

And now cones the sting, the explanation.

What are the root causes of these problems? Lack of vision  of leaders; failure to invest for the future; the bigman culture of politics; politicisation of the public sector; waste in public expenditure; inefficiency and lack of capacity of the public sector; corruption, and use of state power and privilege for personal gain — these are the factors that have held back our development.

 PNG gained independence from Australia in 1975, while I was there (I am not claiming cause and effect.) Its first Prime Minister,  Michael Somare, once joked that he regarded Westminster  as "our grandmother parliament."  

Their present grandparents have a lot to learn from this single  grandchild.

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