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Old 14-03-2007, 01:18 PM
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PNG A FAILED STATE Article by Dr Alphonse Gelu

Everyone have shied away from making a public statement that PNG was already a failed state. People who attempted to make the statement were heavily criticized. Now at least an academic has made it official whether the politicians or administrators like it or not.

Here is his article from the Post Courier Focus of Wednesday 14th March 2007


Focus Wednesday* 14th March , 2007

When considering the many definitions of a “failed state”, does Papua New Guinea exhibit those features, or is it just “very fragile”?
Is PNG a failed state ?
This article is part of a presentation to the recent Global Development Network workshop, on “Fragile States”, held in Beijing.
The concept of a failed state is a new phenomenon in the study of modern states.
The concept of a failed state is highly controversial, but it must be discussed frankly in order to answer the critics who have branded Papua New Guinea as a failed or fragile state, or the optimists who believe PNG is not a failed state.
The emergence of the modern states brought with it the need to satify certain obligations to the people.
As a political association that is based on legal and political conventions between itself and those that it represents, the state is seen as a political authority that also has a legal character.
This description of a state shows that Papua New Guinea possesses all the features of a modern state. However, Papua New Guinea belongs to a group of states which scholars of comparative politics have collectively branded as “Third World states”.
Those states possess signs of political weakness in terms of performing their primary responsibilities.
This weakness has contributed to the argument that Third World states are undemocratic, as well as weak.

Defining a failed state

The Wikipedia gives several definitions of a “failed state”.
The term is used in one sense, as a state which has been rendered ineffective; that is, there is nominal military or police control over its territory because there are no armed opposition groups directly challenging state authority. Also, it is not able to enforce its laws uniformly because of high crime rates, extreme political corruption, an extensive informal market, an impenetrable bureaucracy, judicial ineffectiveness, military interference in politics, and cultural situations in which traditional leaders wield more power than the state over certain areas, but do not compete with the state.
Another definition of a “failed state” is that it is a condition of “state collapse”; that is, a state which can no longer conduct its basic security and development functions, and which has no effective control over its territory and borders. A “failed state” is one that can no longer reproduce the conditions to continue its own existence.
Despite the obvious controversies which can arise from these definitions, the term, “failed state”, refers to a state that can no longer perform its basic functions, and which has lost the ability to provide the basic vital services for its people.
This stand is from the development and economic perspectives of a “failed state”.
From the political and legal perspectives, a ‘failed state’ is one in which its legitimacy has been undermined and its authority is no longer respected.
The different perspectives of a “failed state”, show that the term is multi-faceted.

Features of a failed state

Arising from the different definitions, the features of a “failed state” can be clearly identified. From the Wikipedia definition, the features of a “failed state” include:
° different groups challenging the legitimacy of the state;
° high crime rates;
°extreme political corruption;
° extensive informal markets;
° an impenetrable bureaucracy;
° judicial ineffectiveness;
° military interference in politics; and
°cultural leaders wielding more power over the state in certain areas.
From the second definition from the Crisis States Research Centre, the features of a “failed state” include:
° the state can no longer perform its basic security function;
° the state can no longer perform its development function;
° the state has no effective control over its territory and borders; and
° the state can no longer reproduce the conditions for its own existence.

Is Papua New Guinea a failed state?

There are signs to show that Papua New Guinea has features attributable to a “failed state”.
Although Papua New Guinea is not a “failed state”, there are signs which render it so, based on the various features exhibited by a “failed State”.
The statistics provided by government agencies, international organisations, aid organisations, and non-governmental organisations provide further evidence for labelling Papua New Guinea as a “failed state”.
Simple features of a “failed state” include the inability of the Government to provide basic services.
For example, there has been no garbage collection in Port Moresby for many weeks despite the fact that the city’s residents pay taxes for such services to be provided.
Also, the deteriorating road conditions and poor street lights in the city are indications of a “failed state”.
During December 2006 to January 2007, the traffic lights situated at two busy intersections in Port Moresby were inoperative. The city council, as well as the Government, did nothing to fix the traffic lights, and did not even think about serious accidents that might occur.
These assertions cannot be challenged, as that is exactly what is also happening in many other parts of the country. Some districts have been declared as “failed districts”, as a corollary of the term “failed state”, to explain the deteriorating conditions in the districts.
In a general sense, we do not need statistics to verify the situations, as there are real-life signs everywhere, showing decline rather than development.
The massive migration of people from rural to urban areas in Papua New Guinea is an indication that the rural communities are no longer attractive to live in, despite the fact that it is far more difficult to survive in urban areas.
Several studies carried out by the Australian Institute for Independent Studies revealed the conditions that could make Papua New Guinea look like a “failed state”.
The institute’s report argued that Papua New Guinea shows every sign of following its Melanesian neighbour, the Solomon Islands, down the path to economic paralysis, government collapse and social despair.
The report highlighted PNG’s general downward trend in economic, social, and political conditions.
The main points presented in the report included:
° deterioration in the living conditions of the majority of the people, an increase in violent crimes, and the inability of the Government to protect its land and sea borders;
° democracy has been hijacked by corruption, which has become systemic and systematic;
° population growth is high, and the economy cannot provide for or sustain the needs of the people;
° crime has spread throughout the villages; and
° there is no national cohesion, and the central government is losing control of some parts of the country.

Current status of the state

Further analysis of the social, economic and governance situations strongly indicate a decline in general conditions.
Living standards have failed to rise, and despite some signs of improvement, there is still negative growth in per capita income.
Many of the problems relating to the fragility of the state in Papua New Guinea have been caused by poor leadership.
There is a general perception that today’s leaders no longer serve the people.
Instead, they take from them. In the past, the “big man” died poor. Today, he appears to be on the road to dying rich.

Dr Alphonse Gelu is a senior research fellow in the political and legal division at the National Research Institute.

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