Saturday, April 26, 2014

Embrace Melanesian Conversations

The discussion began, on the week ending the 25 years Silver Jubilee Celebration of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), among a group of Papua New Guinea’s top intellectuals and senior bureaucrats must continue to provide the conversations that drive the MSG engine forward.

Dr. Ray Anere, senior research fellow and program leader of National Research Institute, made an important point on more regional integration among the MSG group of countries is indeed a key point to embrace. Integration must take place in various strata of society in all MSG countries. In the areas of education and research there is a need for a kind of Melanesian Think-Tank that must be established. Through such an establishment a lot of the challenging developmental issues and agendas can be researched to better inform leaders of the MSG countries.

There is a need for improvement in governance in Melanesia, especially in the Parliamentary procedures. Mr. Douveri Henao, Executive Director of Business Council of PNG, gave a spirited and informed discussion on how the MSG can strengthen some of its existing socio-economic systems and processes to better improve the way things are done in the MSG countries. One of the useful observations he made is about the empowerment of people through economic incentives and financial independence. How can the MSG direct its attention to helping people capture the emerging market? How can MSG also work at lobbying as a group in the Asean regional level? There must be a liberal approach in the future if MSG is to get beyond its immediate influence.

Dr. Andrews Moutu, the Director of the PNG National Museum and Arts Gallery gave a background to the peopling of the Pacific, especially the focus on Lapita group of people. The importance of culture and the invaluable knowledge system of Melanesia is something the MSG can promote as its backbone, but it must also look at ways in which it can combine culture and economic development. The discussion put forward in Dr. Moutu’s articulation is that cultural knowledge is an important basis in which we can find how to deal with some of the challenges we face today.

The discussions by two of the respondents to the keynote speakers had also struck a chord with me. First, the discussion that Mr. John Porti made on the issues of security and the sovereignty in our region and nations. How much of sovereignty are we willing to sacrifice as a nation for a regional sovereignty? Where does security among MSG members begin and end. The MSC countries must take on board the issues of security and sovereignty at this time as global security issues become critical to every nation on earth.

The former Governor of Sandaun Mr. John Tekwei, a true indigenous son and leader of Melanesia wasted no time with words. Among the many agreeable points he made I particularly liked his idea that if the governments can give enough money straight to every villagers to do their businesses, extract their own timbers, gold, oil or gas then we would see real empowerment of the people. Right now our people are still disempowered, marginalized, and disillusioned with the way their governments operate and why so much corruption and public money is stolen by the leaders and few individuals.

It is good to see that the Department of Foreign Affairs is embracing this Melanesian conversation. The conversations were televised on KUNDU2 TV on Sunday. Televising the conversation on TV gave a broader dimension to the conversations.

The MSG needs to do more in terms of publicity and awareness among its own people. Apart from the Melanesian Festival of Arts and Culture it must also support various innovative programs and activities that promote the ideals and images of Melanesia as modern, changing, and forward moving region. The image of Melanesia as a regional backwater infested with all kinds of social, political, and economic woes must be erased with a radical push for greater regional stability and support network using existing Melanesian values that make our people a proud group in the region. 

People of the MSG countries need to take stock of the progress or lack of it in their respective countries. There is a need for critical self-evaluations on what we have done so far and find ways to forge ahead. Has much was done in the last 25 years? Do we need to do more in the next 25 years?

I am comfortable with the notion that encapsulates all aspects of Melanesia rather than just the political or the economic interests. It must capture culture, education, and social life-styles that are becoming increasingly caught up in the technological age, often ignored as impact oriented change.

The promotion of Melanesia needs to come from the Melanesians themselves. Sometimes we are caught up with the trap of allowing others speak for us. We must move away from depending on others to speak or represent us. We must be honest with ourselves when it comes to who should speak for Melanesians and who should not.   

In many ways the notion that Dr. Anere shared with us on having a Melanesian Think Tank academy or research institution is good idea. Using such an institution the promotion of Melanesian ideas, philosophies, understanding of the world, and knowledge about Melanesia may increase its understanding.

 The High Commissioner of the Solomon Islands to Papua New Guinea shared an important point through a story he told about asking Solomon Islanders studying, working, and living in Papua New Guinea. The High Commissioner asked them to return home to the Solomon Islands. They are already home they replied to his question. The only difference is the passport. That’s what is called integration.

My experience of travelling through the Melanesian Islands is that many of our people still remain cut off from each other, living in outer islands where government services are hardly ever heard of, but where people are living the way their ancestors have lived for thousands of years without a worry.

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