Friday, November 5, 2010

Failure of Traditional Safety Nets

Roadside fish market at Yonki Dam area, EHP

The general sense of a failure of the traditional safety nets in PNG can contribute to an impoverished society. The traditional forms of authority no longer matters to the post-independence generation. A host of uncanny hooliganism throws its dark shadows on what remains of the traditional structures of power. It is the perfect recipe for chaos, crime, violence, and unlimited threat to life.

Traditional safety nets support social notions of care for elderly, looking out for each other through an elaborate wantok system, communities and hauslains maintaining peace, harmony, and respect for each other and their properties, and promoting sustainable communities with happy people.

Many of our young people are stranded in the crossroad between introduced ways and traditional expectations. Young people stray into alcohol and substance abuse, aggression, and violence. Violence against women and general disrespect of older people and traditions mar our everyday lives. Disruptive social behaviours have become the norm.

Subsistence farming is too hard and labourious to many people. Fast money through street vending of cheap Asian goods and betel nuts coupled with a variety of informal sector activities draw the rural population to flood into urban areas. The consequent result of this is over population, over-crowding, congestion, and suffocation to every nerve of development in our evolving democracy.

In the academic sense, our traditional idyllic village societies are no longer the same village societies we left asunder a while back to move into the modern world.
 Global trends and fluctuating economic conditions force our people into scratching deeper into the skin to make ends meet. Already the income earning Papua New Guineans are stressed out. Their social obligations to support other members of their families and communities are becoming thin. The Government tax regime without any rebate is too harsh on individuals.

What we can do, however, is to reframe, rethink, or reinvent the elements of our traditional societies that are effective as social protection safety nets. Some of these are retrievable through various programs within the ambit of community development, cultural and social advocacy networks, and through various community-based initiatives in agriculture, law and justice, literacy and knowledge transfer activities, and in health and education.

We already have in place many such activities, thriving with or without the support of government, church agencies, and international development partners and organizations. The challenge is to have them work together through an enhanced policy framework that delivers service as well as protection to all Papua New Guineans. The state can then without haste perform its democratic function of service delivery to its citizens.

The question that begs an answer now is whether our traditional safety nets of social protection and social services have failed in today’s PNG societies. That is the million Kina question.

The answer to the question is so critical in understanding the work undertaken by the Department of Community Development through the National Taskforce on Social Protection Policy and the Secretariat. Right now, PNG has no Social Protection Policy.

The Secretariat, headed by Mr. George Wrondimi, was tasked to research and report their findings on the possibility of a Social Protection Policy for PNG. The result of that report should help the National Taskforce, chaired by Secretary Joseph Klapat, to persuade NEC to set up the Social Protection Policy.

The Secretariat’s work is strengthened by a number of international organizations (World Bank, UNICEF), development partners (AUSAID, ADB), and local organizations (INA), institutions (UPNG, NRI, PNG Medical Research Institute), and various local community groups and individuals.

Department of Community Development Minister, Dame Carol Kidu, Secretary Joseph Klapat, and Mr. George Wrondimi and his team should be applauded for taking on this mammoth task with the promise of bringing positive change to our societies.

In line with their strategic plan, the Secretariat organized a workshop on the Social Protection Policy at the March Girls Resort in Gaire Village last week. The workshop involved the Focus Group and the researchers for the development of the Social Protection Policy. A report prepared by the Secretariat was the focus of the workshop. The final report will serve the foundation for developing a Social Protection Policy for Papua New Guinea.

At this stage the basic premise driving the push for a Social Protection Policy is that many Papua New Guinea societies are no longer able to buffer against the onslaught of dramatic changes sweeping through the land.

The observation that the traditional safety nets for protection against social, cultural, economic, and global political shocks on small communities is weakened to the point of being useless as a safety measure or utility to service the needs of the fragile communities. The risk is that a whole wave of negative impacts on our communities can stunt growth and cohesiveness in our societies.

The need is for the intervention of the state to use its instrumentalities in the service of its people. At the outset, the State has initiated the process through a NEC decision for the Department of Community Development to set up a Taskforce and a Secretariat to research and propose a model of social protection policy that is home-grown and relevant to Papua New Guinea.

Among several key issues considered in the workshop, there was a general feeling that the report of the research group must “stress the complementarity between core social protection provision and other policy areas, such as health, education, social services, agriculture and labour policy. Social protection programmes will be critical in supporting human and economic development outcomes across all sectors. At the same time, ongoing commitment to strengthening the quality and reach of essential services is required to ensure that social protection gains are maximised. Coordination and partnership across all sectors will ensure that social protection and other sectoral policies mutually support each other.”

Prudence tells me that caution must be exercised in the development of a Social Protection Policy for it to be realistic, do-able, and achievable. Such a policy must aim at finding a balance between successful universal models and indigenous models.


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