Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Reminder This Christmas

December began for me with the ambivalence resulting from seeing too many traffic accidents almost every week in our city. It is a sad reminder that people are careless with their own lives. It is also a sad reminder that the irresponsible actions of careless or drunk drivers can lead to the deaths of innocent men, women, and child. The reminder we need to take heed of is that with so many drivers without proper education of traffic rules on the road anything can go wrong.

We also prepare ourselves as Christians to celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ. We prepare ourselves both mentally and physically. Mentally we prepare ourselves to rejoice in the birth of our saviour as man to live among us. Physically we slow down or wind down in our activities or take a break from what we do every day of the year. Christmas is a time to celebrate, sing, praise, and dance to the new born King two thousand years ago in the Holy Land.

It is also a time to say thank you to God who guided us on our journey through many trials and tribulations. Let’s be the three Kings.

It is a time to say thank you to those who shared the faith, walked with us on the journey through 12 months, and made us grow in spirit and in strength to face the challenges we had encountered along the road.

Our families and friends need to know that we are thankful for their support, understanding, co-operation, respect, and company in the past 12 months.

Find the time to say thank you to God and everyone who made your life what it is now.

I take this moment to thank everyone who spent K1.00 every Friday to read Steven’s Window in The National newspaper’s The Weekender. The time you took to read my column every week is acknowledged and valued much more than you realize.

For me it is a rewarding feeling that many people across the spectrum of our society read this column every week. I know it is impossible to impress everyone, but at least in my column I am able to share my thoughts, knowledge, and experiences with the public. Whether my views are liked or not, I know that it is important to bridge the gap between what people know and what they don’t know.

In particular I would like to thank those with whom I have worked with to make a difference in other people’s lives. I am thankful to the teachers and students of the University of Papua New Guinea, The National newspaper, The Bible Society of PNG, the Education Department’s National Literacy and Awareness Secretariat, and the Office of Libraries, Archives, and Literacy, the Department of Community Development’s Task Force Secretariat on Social Protection Policy, the PNG Media Council, the National Research Institute, the University Bookshop, Theodist Stationery, the Correction Institution Services, Buimo Prison officers and prisoners, the Summer Institute of Linguistics (Lae), and the Kubalia students of UPNG.

We must also thank those people who worked so hard this year to bring us happiness through religious processes, through the commitment of their kindred spirit, and through the little things they did to make the difference.

We must also thank those in positions of power who have lived up to their duties and responsibilities to see that our people have their social, political, and economic struggles addressed through proper channeling of government and partner funding. We must also thank the political leaders who made a difference in our lives this year.

In the global level many political and economic changes affect us in Papua New Guinea as well. We must thank the leaders, organizations, and governments that promote positive humanistic changes and ideologies.

We must thank those who continue to help us develop as a nation.

We must also thank those people who made important positive changes in their personal lives so that others were also changed to be good, positive, and productive citizens.

In the Good Book we read of Holy Mary, mother of Jesus visiting her cousin Elizabeth, after the angel Gabriel had visited her. On seeing Elizabeth, Mary expressed her thankfulness and praise to God for choosing her to be the mother of the Lord (Luke 1: 46-49). From Luke 1: 50-55 Mary ponders over the magnitude of her part in delivering the Son of God to the world, especially God’s mercy, deeds, power, grace, providence, goodness, and blessings to those who believe in him:

“His mercy extends to those who fear him,

from generation to generation.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

he has scattered those who are proud in their

inmost thoughts.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones

but has lifted the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things

but has sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

remembering to be merciful.

To Abraham and his descendants for ever,

even as he said to our fathers.”

Tomorrow is the 25th of December, the day of the Birth of Jesus Christ. Christians will celebrate this day all over the world as they have done for two thousand years ago. Papua New Guineans will also celebrate this important day as a Christian country.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and may you all enjoy the festive season in peace, harmony, and godly ways. Let’s fear God, let’s stop drinking any form of alcohol, let’s stop partying, gambling, and fighting; let’s stay home this Christmas with our families, and let’s make this Christmas a special one for our children to remember as the one they don’t have to cry, go hungry, fear the drunkard father or mother, or be a witness to violence.

Please avoid overdoing what you do, especially drink driving or extravagant partying and other forms of counter productive social behaviours that come with our poor interpretations of the word ‘celebrate’ in the season of Christmas when Christ Jesus was born in Bethleham.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Political Lessons from Shakespeare

As this week’s political drama unfolded we asked ourselves if Shakespeare’s play Julius Caeser had a broader appeal to democracies outside of the Greek-Roman empires. Indeed, the answer lies in our interpretations of the thematic concerns of the play as well as the associations we make from the characterization, plot, and dialogic encounters in the play.

Shakespeare’s intention in Julius Caeser is to present a genuine piece of Roman history to the English audience.

“Roman history offered some of the most impressive themes available to the Renaissance, an era when political lessons were ardently sought in antiquity—themes such as despotism and republicanism, strong rule good and bad, stable and unstable realm, scrupulous and unscrupulous motives, the relations between rules and subjects (particularly the populace), and so on,” says Arthur Humphreys, an eminent Shakespearean scholar.

So what are the political lessons that we can learn from William Shakespeare’s Julius Caeser? What associative meanings are possible in our reading of Julius Caeser against the political stage in PNG at this time? What correlations to our own political leaders can we make to Julius Caeser, Brutus, Marcus Cassius, and Marcus Anthony?

The play is about the events that led up to the assignation of the Roman Emperor Julius Ceaser. Brutus and Cassius plot and assassinate Caeser. Their plot includes assassinating Anthony as well because he is a close aide of the Emperor. Anthony is spared the blood from the dagger of Caeser’s murderers simply because Brutus persuaded Cassius and the Plebians that Anthony is the one to take care of Caeser’s body and later extol the Emperor’s virtues and present to Rome the last will of Caeser.

Arthur Humphreys highlights some of key lessons on politics and morality as captured in Julius Caeser.

“The first and fundamental point of attention is the antithesis between republican ‘virtue’ and imperial ‘tyranny,’ both words in inverted commas since neither is a clear-cut case. Republican ‘virtue’ blemished in a way which idealizations of ‘liberty’ ignore. Casius on principle hates an overlord, yet much of his utterance suggests the ‘envy of great Caeser’ which motivates all save Brutus. Brutus kills in moral muddle, and he stands on his spotless principles while expecting to share in Cassius’ extortions. His followers revere freedom, yet they misread Rome’s prospects and are redeemed only by the dignity of their deaths. As for ‘tyranny’ that amounts merely to Caeser’s imperiousness; Brutus himself admits his moderation, and only in Cassius’s hostile bias are Plutarch’s accusations of violent ambition reflected. Caeser is by turns grand, arrogant, pompous, fallible, genial, dignified, and (in his will) generous. His overthrow proves to be a sacrilege. The second question the action poses is that of personal morality under political pressure, of private conscience under partisan strain.”

The play is based around the ambiguities of Caeser who sees himself as a demigod and fallible man, monopolist of power yet the essential axle of Rome’s wheel. Rome is to Caeser what Caeser is to Rome, an indivisible pack that suggests that Caeser is so sure of himself that he even refuses to have personal body guards accompany him, just before his death.

The political development in PNG of recent times, especially under the current regime, brings to mind such ambiguities closer to that of Caeser’s regime. Papua New Guinea much like Rome under Caeser’s emperorship nurses its wounds from hurried legislations and policy directions, lacking sustained, intelligent, and moral debate. As a result the parliament was found to have breached constitutional requirements. Supreme Court rulings on a number of cases are as follows: The Australian-PNG ECP program, the Integrity of Political Parties, and the Appointment of the Governor General this year. The Supreme Court rulings have given integrity back to the people, whose Constitution was breached by its own leaders, and some form of relief and trust in the Constitution it has set for itself at Independence in 1975.

The country is now a stage with an Acting Prime Minister, Acting Governor General and soon Acting Chief Justice when the Chief Justice goes on holiday. The events that led up to this are not limited to the Prime Minister stepping aside to allow a properly instituted Tribunal to investigate allegations of misconduct in office, the unconstitutional appointment of the Governor General, and the Speakers actions of impartiality in Parliament during Parliamentary sessions.

The Ombudsman Commission, the Opposition, Governors Luther Wenge and Bob Danaya and their Provincial Governments, the NGOs, Community Based Organizations, and the populace have made it their business to hold leaders accountable for their actions and decisions that affect the lives of Papua New Guineans.

Issues of corruption and unconstitutional politicking characterize the current regime to the point where the only hope left for people is to depend on the courts to intervene on their behalf. In order for the courts to reach a just and fair decision it relies on its integrity and Independence. In the major decisions of the Supreme Court this year overturning the table where leaders were so sure of themselves, the panel of judges have carefully read, analyzed each case thoroughly, considered the consequences of their decisions, and offered their verdicts on the issues before them. That in itself is maturity, strength, and Independence of the Judiciary.

It is hoped that justice will continue to prevail in the land. Our justice system must continue to serve the greater good of Papua New Guinea. The greater collective good or the interests of the people of this country must come before individual interests. The courts must not compromise their integrity to the interests of few leaders and powerful individuals. It is assuring to read by Thursday that the courts will perform their functions as required by the Constitution.

We hope this political drama viewed through Shakespeare’s Julius Caeser has taught us a lesson in what could go wrong when political leaders ignore the consequences of their actions, expectations, ill-advised decisions, and most important of all using political expediency as an excuse to stay in power.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Media Awards is for Excellence

In this year’s Media Awards, the judges dropped several categories of awards. The main reason is that in those categories only one entry or no entries at all were submitted. This does say a lot about the organizations and media companies’ obligation to those hard working media personnel such as journalists, broadcasters, and TV reporters, programmers, and producers. For a start we don’t have a crowded media industry as illustrated by two dailies, one weekly, two TV stations, and a handful of radio stations. Nominating media personals and programs from these media organizations should be an important responsibility of a responsible media industry. The people who work so hard and with tireless commitment to achieve excellence in their respective media should be rewarded and encouraged to set the standard for excellence.

It is also fulfilling to see some of the students I had a part in their formative education at UPNG receive award in this year’s Media Awards night. Congratulations to them and other winners.

I make these remarks as someone connected to the media industry as a columnist in one of the dailies. If every organizations and media companies can submit their nominations in call the categories for the awards then a high percentage of excellence is achieved.

Talking about excellence I think some remarks as a reader, listener, and viewer is in order. The issue of language and stylistics need also to be addressed in bringing out excellence in quality of writing in newspapers. A reader is easily distracted by poor handling of language. Editing and proof reading of newspapers must be meticulous before they are printed. So many poor lexical errors in writing lower the standard of excellence. The challenge is to maintain excellence in stylistics through high standard of editing and proof reading.

TV presenters need to have clear, voice, and language training before they appear before the cameras. Nothing is more distracting than the poor voice inflections and improper pronunciation of words. Poor lighting on subjects distracts concentrated viewing of TV news and programs.

Radio broadcasting has been around for ages. Difference in radio personalities and approaches are necessary, but voice choice and program control are also necessary to bring out undistracted presentation. Listeners switch stations easily because they cannot bear the way some radio personalities carry on with trivia and unimportant conversations.

Having said that let me return to what I think should be included in next year’s Media Awards. In my view the Media Awards should include Best Editorial in a newspaper, because of the function editorials play in making the most important and sharp statement as the newspaper sees it. I also think the overall quality and presentation of a newspaper should also be considered. The award should also include the commentaries and columns of newspapers as these are written by people other than journalists employed on a full time basis by the newspaper companies. These commentaries inform, educate, prompt, and disseminate knowledge to a broad spectrum of society, helping to initiate political action, enlighten the way people see and do things, and inform people about knowledge that improve their understanding of the world and their own lives.

The media awards should also include the best TV programs that are creative, innovative, and illustrative of the kinds of TV programs that Papua New Guineans like to view. Television and other electronic media in Papua New Guinea are recent innovation that influence people in very profound ways. The total participation of Papua New Guineans in this technology driven media is still developing. Future awards may include categories such as TV documentaries, programs, presenters, and innovative community media programs.

For radio programs I think a survey of the listening public on what radio station they tune to often, and what programs on radio are important to them should be the basis for nominating a radio station or its programs for awards. The public should be the judge on this and not the judges of the media awards. I bet some of the judges might not be radio listeners at all. All radio stations must submit their entries for the Media Award. Having the same station or stations win awards every year does nothing good to setting of standards in radio.

As I remember Mr. Toguata’s comments on this year’s awards, the judges’ decisions were based on what they have before them. If nominations of competitors were made then these were judged accordingly within the categories they were nominated under.

A challenge to the Media Council of PNG is to recognize the benefactors of the Media Council funding through its Community Initiative Programs. I think an award should be created to recognize the media initiatives in our communities and also programs that promote the role of media in the development of Papua New Guinea. Recognizing community initiatives should promote a receptive, responsive, and an enlightened community to media technologies and influence. It would also show the development partners and partner organizations that their funding has achieved the desired result.

So many people are critical of media ethics and standards, especially the politicians. Maybe the Parliament or any critics of media should sponsor an award for ethics and standards of quality in next year’s awards to make the point that this is the kind of ethics and standards they are bragging about. That should set the benchmark for other media organizations and companies to strive for in their conduct. It should also demonstrate a sense of ownership of what people want of media in terms of ethics and standards to follow.

The views I make here do not necessarily reflect those of the daily newspaper that I contribute as a columnist. The views expressed here are made in appreciation of the media’s role and function in our society. The awards made this year, no doubt will, improve and raise the standards of excellence expected of media personnel and media organizations.

The challenge is to remain on top without compromising to the unwitting demands of our societies.


Friday, December 3, 2010

Development of Indigenous Jurisprudence

The government has done well as a responsible government in this year’s budgetary allocation in investing in the human resource capital of the country. The education sector received the highest budgetary allocation this year, which in itself is a political statement of the government’s medium term development policy. By allocating the highest funding to our education system the government has reinvested the earnings from the country’s natural resources and from the taxes it collects from its citizens.

The government has also considered the legal education of our people to be of utmost importance. Its budgetary allocation for the construction of a new law school at the University of Papua New Guinea is major investment in the education of our legal experts. With the construction of a new law school the government is well assured in producing a steady supply of graduates who can meet the expectations of the government and people of Papua New Guinea.

This new School of Law will need additional funding to increase its teaching staff capacity, attract practicing lawyers as adjunct lecturers to impart their knowledge and experience to law students, fund research and publications and develop a research library within the School of Law.

A major challenge for the government now is that it must invest in the development of law in Papua New Guinea. There are aspects of our law that need more development, elucidation, and refinement. For example, so far the development of customary law as part of the underlying law has not been a successful story. Our courts and lawyers rely on the common law in most of cases before the courts.

The Constitution itself is clear on the place of custom in the underlying law. Owen Jessep, a legal scholar describes custom as the “elusive” partner in the underlying law of PNG. No matter how slow it is for custom to have a fully developed role in the underlying law the future of an indigenous jurisprudence based on custom is a slow evolving process.

Owen Jessep (1998), among others, continues this observation: “In what is now almost a quarter of a century since Independence, there has been no shortage of complaints about the lack of progress in developing an “indigenous jurisprudence” (the expression used in s 21(1) of the Constitution), that is, the failure of custom to achieve its rightful place as a primary source of the underlying law.”

The trend has continued to the present day with more concerns raised by the judges and some lawyers. Finger pointing seems to suffuse and frustrate the efforts to develop indigenous jurisprudence.

“Some early criticisms focused on the apparent ignorance or laziness or antipathy of expatriate lawyers and judges towards custom, and the failure of Parliament to pass the legislation contemplated in Sch 2.1(3) of the Constitution.

Other analyses have referred to the quality and content of education given to Papua New Guinean lawyers, the assumed superiority of common law principles, and the reluctance of practising lawyers to look outside the confines of their common law training. In addition, technical problems of proving the existence of custom and the lack of any consistent judicial methodology in dealing with issues of custom have been highlighted.”

The then Chief Justice of PNG Amet CJ argued that the idea of an indigenous jurisprudence had become simply “meaningless rhetoric or cliché”, and that, instead, there still prevailed in the Papua New Guinea legal system “an umbilical cord of dependency upon principles of the Anglo-Australian common law and equity”. This sums up the position of judges in their view of the poor development of the underlying law based on customs.

In 1983 the Law Reform Commission of Papua New Guinea published a monograph on customary law in Papua New Guinea. “The Customary Law Development Project” according to the editor, Richard Scaglion, “was designed to provide the basis for developing a Papua New Guinean legal system based on Papua New Guinea values, customs, beliefs, perceptions and institutions. It was expected to gather customary law materials with a view to developing such materials along national policy lines and integrating any underlying principles discovered into a self-reliant and uniquely Melanesian national legal system.”

Developing an underlying law based on custom is a cumbersome process requiring more than a legal process to deal with it. The development of the underlying law based on custom is a constitutional direction. In the 1980s the Supreme Court came under criticism for failing to incorporate custom into the courts decisions following the Constitutional directions.

The Chief Justice shifted the blame to lack of time and resources: “In his 1983 National Court opinion in The State v Paul Pokolou, Sir Buri Kidu responded to the criticism by some legal practitioners that the Courts are failing to take custom into account and also failing to develop the underlying law as required by the Constitution. The Chief Justice placed the blame on the legal profession for failing to produce evidence or the material necessary for the judges to use to recognize custom. “Judges have not the time and resources to undertake their own researches in most cases and it is unfair for lawyers to expect too much from judges who are already overworked and under rewarded.”

The Chief Justice also criticized Parliament which “has failed to perform its duties as given to it by the Constitution.” Thus, he made it the responsibility of the legal profession to raise issues of custom and on the legislature to incorporate custom into the underlying law.”

One suggestion is to fund the research and publication of customary law in Papua New Guinea. Law students can return, if they wish, to their own communities to collect data on customary law, which can then be published and made available as evidence of customary law in Papua New Guinea. In the PNG Legal information from PacLII Database, customary law is missing. Maybe here’s where the funding of research of customary law will find its home and serve the need for the development of an indigenous jurisprudence.