The curse of the ‘Tiger Economy’

PNG’s economy has been growing at an average 8% per year for a decade – supported mostly by increased demand for raw materials and their high market prices. The immediate future appears certain to experience further growth albeit at a predicted slightly lower growth level until 2014.

Of late some commentators have found it fitting to brand the PNG economy a ‘tiger economy’; once a brand that the PNG nation could only wish for. And many citizens might have smiled and of course bragged a bit about how we’ve grown and how good future prospects seem.

PNG has to a certain degree, succeeded in changing perceptions and now appears to be romancing (apart from traditional partners) new big players in the Asia-Pacific region. How long this continues on for is anyone’s guess, but one thing’s for certain: there’s virtually almost nothing tangible on the ground to show for as evidence for a decade of economic growth. So the question that begs to be answered is: Is PNG really a tiger economy?

The phrase ‘tiger economy’ is used to define any economy that has continually experienced economic growth through its trade and industry sectors and as well as improvements in living standards of a country’s citizens.

PNG has experienced economic growth but has growth been experienced in other sectors such as education, health, infrastructure and manufacturing – the very sectors that enables her citizens to improve their living standards? Isn’t the elementary reason for a country seeking economic growth the ‘improvement of living standards and prosperity’ for its citizens? How could PNG be a tiger economy when its citizens are still living on the edges?

This branding (tiger economy) may invoke images of improving education and health services, a burgeoning manufacturing (downstream processing) sector, and etc. These aren’t happening in PNG and we have succeeded in fooling people outside and even ourselves. It is highly likely PNG citizens will have developed illusions as to true state of the economy thus allowing the government and its thinkers to take a bit more laidback approach towards fixing PNG’s many problems.

PNG hasn’t reached that stage yet, although it has achieved sustained economic growth for a decade, to be called a tiger economy. Some other name, maybe, ‘pussycat economy’ might fit well.

Remember the Asian economic meltdown; where the Asian tiger economies were brought to their knees. They however, were able to quickly bounce back, due partly to their solid manufacturing, education and health sectors which they’ve developed during happier days.

If PNG is to experience a meltdown or slowing down due to downturn in demand for our raw materials, huge dept-servicing expenses and an inequitable distribution of wealth; what sector is there to aid PNG’s speedy recovery?

PNG needs to first build, re-build and strengthen its appalling self.


The Eastern Highlands: trains, railways and tyranny of terrain

By Jeffrey Mane Febi


They call us camels. They call us white horses. They call us semi-trailers. They call us many names. Names of things we don’t know much about. We’re they who walk with the strength of our grandfathers; those bygone men who tamed angry rivers; appeased bellowing clouds and walked with mists. Our coffee beans shall not go to waste! Our coffee beans shall not go to waste! O no – no – no; shall not go to waste!


This morning a weary traveler, somewhere under a rock shelter, or under a tree’s roots, or from a hastily constructed temporary shelter during yesterday’s twilight, is awaken by a pre-dawn song; an eerie sound made by unseen creepy crawly creatures close by. A loud yawn and a stretch, then a glance at neatly stacked pile of white bags dissipates lingering weariness from a restless night. The journey that started 38 years ago must continue but the destination seemed further still.

On many a rugged hill, where clouds more often than not come to watch and cry over those that rise in any given gloomy morning with sweaty brows, blistered shoulders and burdened hearts; a father, a mother, or a  child moves on under heavy load.


On a rocky ridge where violent winds come to play, a mother firmly cuddles in her weary arms a package from which a pair of sickly eyes peered into hers; though devoid of animation, they manifests life and all its flaws quiet dramatically. It is only a matter of steps before life itself is shut out.

At the foot of this ridge, way down below, over a fast flowing river, a rope bridge swings dangerously to the left then right under a massive load. A stretcher, of wood and reinforced used-rice bags, is being ferried across on shoulders; one step at a time. One wrong step and certain death is inevitable. A skinny arm, like a dried tree branch, reaches out and attempts to grasp a side pole as if to steady the unsteady stretcher.

On a lookout, a resting place where multitudes have paused to gaze and marvel at the beauty of the seemingly unending mountain ranges, waterfalls and the evergreen faces of those ranges; a teenager pulls out a piece of newspaper from a side bag. Before he rolls his dried tobacco leaves, he reads: …the gov…ern…ment… and stops. However the next word is pronounced and whatever the bloody hell it means isn’t going to stress his exhausted mind; not now. Soon he’ll be puffing his exhaustion into tiny circular and skinny columns of drifting mists of vapour.

These typify the struggles of many of our rural Eastern Highlanders. Places like Unavi, Gimi, Marrawaka, Unggai and Wesan, for instance are daily impoverished by the tyranny of our rugged terrain.

Other places in PNG: Teleformin, Menyyama, and Salt-Nomane, to name a few, encounter similarly daunting circumstances.

The prevailing challenge is how to connect these largely organically rich and pristine areas to vital government infrastructure or how to deliver vital government services to them on a daily basis.

Roads seemed to be the answer at the outset but, over time PNG has learned that they become increasingly problematic. Soil type, high tropical rainfall, sheer vastness of these ranges and enormous costs of maintenance, makes building roads to remote places an overwhelming challenge.

This brings to mind railways and trains. Though un-tested technology in the PNG modern situation, it’s worth a try. No need for a province wide railway network. Imagine connecting only rural areas of Eastern Highlands named, to Goroka and Kainantu. Organically grown Coffee and vegetables which grow in abundance would be easily transported to markets. And medicine and school materials would be ferried back. It’s about tapping into the potential of under-utilised fertile rural areas; the opening up of a world of potential and ensuring rural people partake meaningfully in the economy of PNG.

And if all rural areas of PNG are likewise connected to markets, what may become of PNG will truly be unprecedented.

The next face of development and growth envisioned in the PNG Vision 2050 could ride on the back of trains and railways connecting the potentially rich and under-utilised rural Eastern Highlands and other rural areas of PNG.

Taim bilong kaikai

I reckon you thought I’d be talking about food; or a mumu or something to do with food. Nope, you’re wrong! I want to talk about something different; different in the sense that it is not food that I want to talk about here.


“…bus broke down on the highway. It would cost K3000 to fix the crack engine. Assist me with K1500, it is urgent!” The voice demanded into the phone.


“…have been in town for two weeks now and I have been going around empty stomach. Send me some money so I could find food and catch a PMV home.”  A pleading tone echoed.


“…got two vehicles here in my yard. One needs to be registered and should be up and running on the road. The other needs a bit of fixing. Will you assist?” A proud owner of the two useless vehicles asked.


Did you get the picture now? It is not food but now is taim bilon kaikai.


“…we’re in town and the boys have bought themselves beer. Because we’re many what we have won’t be enough for all. Please send us K50 to get a few more bottles.” A drunk blasted into the phone.


I guess by now all know what I meant by taim blong kaikai.


All intending candidates are bombarded by requests, mostly preposterous requests. And they will have to find ways to make their potential voters happy. A request that is not met by a favourable answer means loss of support. And it is bad; actually worse than bad.


It is any wonder, most politicians, when voted into parliament; spend more time enriching themselves and less and less time worrying about the state of the poverty in the country.


For an intending candidate, it is not an easy road. Even after much publicity and awareness about the dangers of kisim na votim the PNG voter, especially in the highlands, are more inclined to do just that.


This is why the election time, especiall for the highlands regions, is time bilong kaikai.


The challenge now is; how can we as educated people change this kind of mindset. Blogging, Facebooking etc won’t work. If they do it would only be minimal. We must go to where it matters and spend real time; I mean time in years between elections to educate people.

Easter gift for PNG?

We all have heard of the phrase ‘blessing in disguise’, haven’t we? And often we see the fruits of this blessing sometime later. Then we would reflect on and comment either positively or negatively as per the results.

The way of men is to react to situations. And sometimes, instead of rectifying a problem we contribute towards its magnification. But in the end, lessons; presumably life changing lessons are learned.

In PNG, many now think the government’s actions of late have brought us turmoil. Many wonderful adjectives have been used to depict the gravity of our situation and the hopelessness generally felt across the nation. We’re right to express our dismay and disgust at a bad government; which only recently replaced another equally bad government. PNG is left now with no alternate government that is for the people and by the people. This is all the more reason for fresh elections; and the sooner the better. But hang on a minute!

The O’Neil-Namah government has successfully brainwashed the rural majority as the government for the people and by the people with their free-education policy and the yet-to-be-implemented free-health policy. The word now on the lips of many is; “Peter O’Neill is the right-man and we all should vote for his party this election”. This message has gone far and wide to all corners of the country.

It would take a great deal of time and effort to convince the rural majority that the O’Neill-Namah government is not the right government for PNG. Peter O’Neill has addressed an ongoing problem that has disadvantaged thousands of rural kids from advancing in their studies.

What is the blessing in disguise in the government’s move to defer the election by six months? Please don’t get me wrong! I am not a fan of the O’Neil-Namah government.

The rural majority will vote in new leaders. With the mindset they currently have on O’Neil-Namah government, you can be sure these gentlemen will form the new government. So we need time. We need time to attack the government and the way it does business. We must reach out to the people through some form of awareness programs or other means that can effectively change mindsets and perceptions. A deferral of six months, if the government is adamant, is ample time to damage the government’s reputation. While making noise in Port Moresby is good, it is just not enough to change mindsets in the rural areas. We have to be smart; may be smarter than Mr O’Neill. It is time now to take the message to the masses and let them know who Messrs O’Neil and Namah really are.

So the gift for us this Easter, if the government stands by its decision to defer the election by six months would be ‘time’. Time we will have to tarnish its reputation and integrity. Remember PDM (People’s Democratic Movement)? It only needs time to gradually kill the party.

Cheers all.

What’s missing?

PNG will turn 36 years come September 16th, and it is only a few days away. When Independence Day arrives, will every citizen of this country know the words of the PNG National Pledge and the National Anthem by heart?


Honestly, I have struggled to memorise the Pledge and would certainly fail should I be asked to recite it from heart. By extension, I can safely assume many are in the same boat and even more cannot sing the anthem without pausing to check if they are singing the right words. Don’t you think all educated PNGeans (all who have gone to school) should know them by heart?


This is not surprising as many of us do not think highly of our country PNG. We think only in terms of our regions or provinces or districts or clans. And there is very little evidence of patriotism for PNG. This compartmentalization, if you will, has unfortunately kept us from creating fruitful people to people relationships that may otherwise have set the foundation for a truly national force.


On this note I’d like to post below the PNG National Pledge. Please learn this and find a place in your crowded hearts to keep its words – words that are powerful enough to inspire the patriot in each of us to wake from an all conquering slumber.


The Pledge



•united in one nation

•pay homage to the memory of our ancestors—the source of our strength and origin of our combined heritage acknowledge the worthy customs and traditional wisdoms of our people—which have come down to us from generation to generation

•pledge ourselves to guard and pass on to those who come after us our noble traditions and the Christian principles that are ours now.

By authority of our inherent right as ancient, free and independent peoples

WE, THE PEOPLE, do now establish this sovereign nation and declare ourselves, under the guiding hand of God, to be the Independent State of Papua New Guinea.

AND WE ASSERT, by virtue of that authority

•that all power belongs to the people—acting through their duly elected representatives

•that respect for the dignity of the individual and community interdependence are basic principles of our society

•that we guard with our lives our national identity, integrity and self respect

•that we reject violence and seek consensus as a means of solving our common problems

•that our national wealth, won by honest, hard work be equitably shared by all


Now PNG has been politically independent for almost 36 years. During this time, we have witnessed upheavals that threatened our democracy; others harshly demanded an abrupt change in the course PNG was taking; while others tested the patriots in each of us. In our diversity and at the most trying of times we continued to hold on as one nation. This fortunately is testament of our resilience and determination to remain one nation, one country and one people. And this may well be the only shining achievement thus far.


Upheavals and many setbacks PNG experienced were unfortunately internally caused. And many would have been easily avoided if it were not for our Melanesian, or rather PNG way of doing things. For instance, PNG Time, Wantokism, the over rated Big Men system, cargo cult mentality/free handout mentality and etc. These are demons that have combined together to keep us from achieving bigger things.


We quite often preached education would liberate us from the stranglehold of our way-back ways, but the opposite is happening. In fact we use education to fine tune and utilize in smarter ways these demons, then, stand prepared to defend ourselves if the results are undesirable.


The conducts of our political and public service leaders are classic examples. Many commentators, especially foreigners, use the cliché ‘the land of the unexpected’ to mock us but we seem perfectly alright with the way things are going and seldom come together as one people to fight for what is right. Thus we’re all guilty of making this country whatever it is right now.


With a huge pool of educated leaders and public servants, successful business men and women, big multinationals and the massive potential we have in terms of untapped natural resources; so far nothing has gone according to plan every time we embark on what initially may seem promising. So what is wrong with us? Have we overlooked something?


I, in all honesty will not subscribe to any thought that may remotely or otherwise suggest lack of experience, knowledge, resources, or plain guts. In fact we have all but something seem to be lacking still. What might this be? I would like to think that it is wisdom that is missing.


It appears , as Wikipedia puts it; ‘a deep understanding and realizing of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to choose or act or inspire to consistently produce the optimum results with a minimum of time, energy or thought’ is glaringly lacking or non-existent in this country. Furthermore, ‘wisdom often requires control of one’s emotional reactions (the passions) so that one’s principles, reason and knowledge prevail to determine one’s actions’ is again almost missing.


Though this world isn’t a perfect one, when have we heard or seen something done in this country that consistently produce optimum results with a minimum of time, energy or thought? Or when have we heard or seen something done without producing half baked results or none at all? We as a country have been inconsistent thus far and the future seems unlikely to change. As another author, Martyn Namorong, correctly puts it; ‘the only thing consistent in PNG is the absence of justice.’ And sadly we excel in this regard.


We suppose to make the best use of our knowledge to achieve optimum results however, to our detriment, we have consistently failed and the state of this country is a testament to this. And this should send us all to the dens of shame and wailing. But why do we continue to maintain this status quo? Why do we still not react and be alarmed that in all these confusions and tragedies we live each day, we’re slowly drowning?

The illusion of wealth

The illusion of wealth


Have you ever seen a landowner whose land has been dug up or drilled into for resource extraction? I mean have you unconsciously taken a second look at one? And see how he/she carries himself/herself? Then mumbled something that isn’t a gasp of jealousy or a sigh of admiration but something that reminds you of a truth and that puts you at ease?


Have you ever seen a landowner who goes on a drinking spree as if tomorrow’s purse will always be full? And hear them brag about their reckless adventures? Then wear a smile akin to that of a person who has just achieved a milestone?


Seriously, do you sometimes ask yourself what drives the so called landowners mad with intoxicating confidence buttered with recklessness?


These landowners have a valid reason to be cheerful. They seem to have what it takes to pump up their adrenalin levels and maintained them at a certain high level for long periods. And sometimes it appears as though it is their nature to be cheerful.


The reason for their cheerfulness is basically their potential for wealth accumulation due to the impending or ongoing extraction of natural resources under or on their traditional land. Actually it is the thought of pockets full of money and owning expensive toys that is the basis for their cheerfulness.


Money, savings, investments, homes or other forms of “financial capital” Is what we almost always associate with wealth.  By wealth accumulation we all will think of accumulation of these and in PNG include number of wives. But wait a minute; is wealth really what we automatically perceive?


Wealth takes on different definitions, context-dependent, and there is no universally agreed upon definition. The word wealth comes from the Old English words “weal” (well-being) and “th” (condition) which taken together means “the condition of well-being”? And it is this that concerns me.


I’d like to talk about wealth in terms of well-being –happiness, joy and contentment one finds in the relationship with fellow human beings; in watching the sun sets; in listening to the orchestra of nature; in reading the poetry of nature as it is being written anew each new day; and in deciphering the mysteries of life as one grows older. I mean the things that make life worthwhile!


Do you sometimes find yourself really enjoying the company of your children, or your siblings, or your parents or spouse? And sighed; ‘wow’ then proceed to scribble these moments in your memory so that you’d retrieve them at an appropriate time in the future?


The satisfaction and joy derived from such social interaction with less material wealth is real wealth. It is wealth that can’t be purchased nor stolen or diminished in value with time. This is the wealth that landowners of PNG need; the things that make life worthwhile. The little things found only when a fruitful relationship with neighbours, family members, children or nature is established.


Unfortunately, a lot of the so called landowners appear to have no real wealth. A majority seem to suffer from bad marital relationships; alienation from their own children; bad debts; addictive behaviours; and spending very little time appreciating the glory of nature as it is splashed across the skies and space within our reach.


The potential of wealth (properties and money) accumulation has deceived many landowners into believing in the illusion that material wealth will certainly make life more meaningful and satisfying. In the process of acquiring this wealth many have fallen into a trap of their own making. And it is hard for them to escape from it.


There are many landowners who reside in the squatter settlements in and around Port Moresby; and live in impoverished conditions. Yet they behave as if they have material wealth, let alone real wealth; and make no attempt whatsoever to improve their livelihoods. Their lifestyles are actually tragedies; tragic tales that reek of recklessness, and unrealistic expectations.


All these landowners need is a pause and re-evaluation of their lives. Then start all over again by reestablishing broken relationships, spending more time with their children, appreciate nature and all that is provided for free by their neighbours and nature. Then map out a new path in peace and calm and proceed with life.


The illusion of wealth that is created when one’s land is been explored for resources or when resources are been extracted from one’s land lead many to be less aware of the real wealth-the little things that make life worthwhile.

Highest number of longlongs

“Port Moresby has the highest number of longlongs in the world!” my friend uttered suddenly in the back seat of the car.

It may not sound funny but for some reason it was to us that Monday afternoon, and in unison we all burst into loud laughter. We had a really good laugh.

Curious, the driver asked my friend to explain. And my friend said he thinks there are just too many people in Port Moresby who can’t live a day without doing something that goes against normal social order.

Things like spitting buai spittle anywhere one pleases, littering without care, shouting profanities in public, parking awkwardly, driving recklessly in Port Moresby’s narrow and crowded roads, and street fighting by students from different schools.

While he was talking, a passenger (who was in her work clothes) in a bus running alongside us threw out through the window a Coke PET container with betel nut spittle on to the road and my friend abruptly exclaimed; “gosh this is what I’m talking about!”

I pondered over my friend’s remark and thought in a way he was correct. Through either arrogance or ignorance many break simple rules at will and act in ways that make Port Moresby’s streets really filthy and unsafe.

The fact that people continue to do bad despite much public outrage and calls prompts me to think something is wrong with their minds. And my friend might be right after all if we loosely define a longlong as an apparently sane person who continuously does things against anticipated social order and or continuously does wrong without guilt.

Martyn Namorong suggested in his article ‘Attitude Problem’ that politicians have an attitude problem and needs to clean their backyards before pointing figures at the ignorant multitudes. Many of the politicians and high office holders are worst law breakers and are serial offenders. These are people who are supposed to know better, but don’t seem to so they fit the definition of longlongs too.

Port Moresby may not have the highest number of longlongs in the world but certainly it has the highest number of longlongs, educated and uneducated, in Papua New Guinea.


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