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The erosion of truth and trust places democracy in PNG at Peril

By G Bopi.

It is perhaps fair to suggest that Papua New Guineans have been on this island since God created humankind. Since then, our societies have morphed into over 800 language groups and cultures, organized in thousands of clan-holdings.  Hence, our ancestors had systems and institutions that sustained them.  The systems and institutions were not as sophisticated as what we have today, but were sufficient to sustain their existence. For instance, in the central highlands region, they had an economic system manifested in trade and moka (gift exchange) ceremonies based on the barter system. To co-exist, they had networking, peace-building and peace-making systems ranging from bride prices in marriages to compensations. To sustain these socioeconomic systems, they built elaborate ‘ples singsing’ grounds and round houses as infrastructure and institutions to nurture and foster leadership, and so on.  

At the time of political independence, PNG was still a country of over 800 different nations, each language group and clan-holdings locked in their own ways of leadership and governance systems and institutions.  Under this reality, strictly speaking there was no PNG or Melanesian way of doing things.  In the absence of a common culture, churches and European colonisers introduced their rules and laws to unify a culturally diverse group of communities. 

Since political independence, the constitution provided the universal set of principles to guide our diverse cultures and communities under one country.  Importantly, it provides a neutral zone outside of politics, where leaders of all parties are expected to act in the national interest.  The churches, on the other hand provide the moral compass through its teachings to guide us along the right paths. 

Underlying all institutions and systems as vital shock absorbers are truth and trust. We could always count on enough of us trusting each other to collaborate to accomplish big things together. We could always count on enough of us embracing the same truth to collectively navigate our way out of any crisis. 

Sadly, all these are now crumbling before our eyes. When we convert the governing of the country into a cult (political patronage or 'kaikai' culture) where the price of admission is through rigging the systems or taking short cuts, we compromise the institutions’ integrity; therefore, we cannot depend on the truth protecting us. When the public institutions and systems are inundated with unscrupulous inexperienced managers and advisors, implementing policies based on falsehoods; we cannot count on trust protecting us. Progressive cancel culture has permeated our universities, institutions, and mainstream media that many people are afraid to say what they believe so much that, truth and trust are both faltered.

Nothing can be more dangerous, because truth and trust are to our democracy, what polar ice caps and tropical rainforests are to our biosphere: essential stabilisers that keep the systems working. Once they melt away, our democratic system and society starts to unravel.

Because without a minimum level of truth and trust, everything becomes politics. Normal objects and chores - like ambulances and jobs in public offices - suddenly become neon signs identifying who you are for or against. When everything becomes politics there is no neutral, sacred ground for leaders to gather in and collaborate in the national interest. Our weakened democracy, like our climate, is much more fragile than we think and places our country at great peril. We risk disintegrating back to our respective cultures for survival.

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