CHAPTER 6 - CHAPTER SIX - Unity, Diversity and the Problems of Reform
In "Problems of Devolution of PNG Education" -by - Dr Gabriel Kulwaum, Adminstrator, Manus Province, PNG
CHAPTER SIX - Unity, Diversity and the Problems of Reform
In the previous chapter, I identified bureaucratic rationality as a major problem for the implementation of the policy of devolution in PNG education. I argued that, in PNG, bureaucratic rationality operates in an historically specific way that is filtered through a range of local practices which define the manner in which most PNG educational administrators approach their tasks. I also suggested that in PNG, bureaucratic rationality is mediated through colonialism. As an aspect of the colonial legacy, the Bigmen are socialised into bureaucratic modes of thinking through their "western" education and training: their views on education development in PNG are not only framed but are also imposed by bureaucracy. Such views often conflict with, and are insensitive to, local conditions and to the aspirations of the people in the provinces and villages. This situation, the relationship between centre and periphery in PNG educational governance, is highly problematic.
In this chapter, I discuss the issue of centre-periphery relationship around three themes: unity in diversity; the theme of Bigmen and their management style; and the theme of equitable resource allocation between regions and provinces. As I have already indicated, Papua New Guinea has never been a nation with homogeneous culture. Since independence, PNG has not found it easy to maintain its unity, and simultaneously recognise and accommodate the regional and provincial cultural diversities that exist in the country. In PNG, I want to suggest, it is the search for a political settlement between these competing imperatives that has defined the relationship between politics of the centre and periphery; and by implications the politics surrounding the policy of devolution in PNG education. Second, I maintain that the role of the Bigmen in reproducing the highly centralised bureaucratic structures which PNG inherited from Australia is a highly a significant one. In defining the structural and functional relationship between centre and periphery, the Bigmen are the key players in the negotiation towards a political settlement between the centre and the periphery. Third, I suggest that the control of resources--both allocation and distribution--does not only define the relationship between centre and periphery, but also determines the capacity of the implementing agencies at the periphery.
Unity in Diversity
As argued throughout this book, PNG is a nation that has been mediated and constructed through colonialism. As such it has instituted a range of Western political and social institutions which continue to be supported by the PNG Bigmen. As Latukefu (1985:41-42) maintains:
It is significant to reiterate that PNG's construction was achieved at the cost of suppressing the cultural traditions of pre-colonisation tribal communities. Thus, the tribal members were not only expected to identify themselves with the political entity--"Papua New Guinea"--but they also became accountable overtime to the "centre" located in Port Moresby. As a fisherman who also chairs a BOM, points out,
Thus for many people in the villages the centre-periphery relation has not changed in any significant way following independence.
However, it is interesting to note that what constitutes the "centre" is problematic in the context of PNG. The villagers have a different concept from that which is assumed by the central bureaucracy. Many villagers view provincial capitals such as Lorengau, Wewak, Hagen, Kerema as centres, rather than Port Moresby. Such a perception is understandable since PNG was constructed only a half of century ago; and many have yet to accept PNG as a nation with its capital in Port Moresby. The concept of centre is thus highly contested in PNG: much depends on who defines it and for what purpose.
The concept of "centre" can be understood in at least four ways: in terms of the physical location of former colonial towns and cities; in terms of the functions the centre performs and the dominant role it plays in the development process; in terms of the power arrangements in decision-making it has with the periphery; and finally, in terms of an accountability structure. However, while in the PNG context the concept of the centre is contested, the interviews from the field clearly suggest that the centre is mostly understood in terms of its functions, and the approach it employs to implement them. The centre is defined in terms of its dominant directional role in dictating how the needs of the community are defined and delivered. Given its need to ensure accountability, the centre demands conformity to maintain the State's cohesion. Given this power relationship, it allows the Bigmen to be make decisions on behalf of the community. Not surprisingly therefore the centre is viewed by the villagers as a property owner, since it controls the allocation and distribution of resources (Burnheim, 1985:43). As a tribal leader suggests:
This comment suggests that many villagers view centre-periphery relation as describing the bureaucratic relation between Port Moresby and Lorengau, rather than the relationship between the State and the people. This view on what constitutes the "centre" is significant for the discussions of the relationship between the centre and the periphery; and how this relationship is essential to maintain the historical construction of PNG as a "new nation"; and how this construction undermines the implementation of the policy of devolution.
Since independence PNG has confronted the challenge of achieving unity and political stability among the diverse cultural and tribal groups which were forged by colonial administrators to become a national entity. In its attempts to avoid political fragmentation and social chaos, the post independent PNG government has not only continued to maintain most of the Australian instituted political systems, administrative structures, legal dictates, and its highly centralised planning system, but it has also adopted social and economic policies which are based on western views of development (Axline, 1988). As the PNG National Development Plan 1986-1990 (1985:iii) states:
The Plan insists that unity is an as essential condition to PNG's development. And to achieve this unity, it is assumed that there must be "meaningful development" in this country; and that this development can not take place, unless PNG has a strong and stable government. Most Bigmen and Australian expatriates believe, furthermore, that stability requires a form of government that has centralised powers for decision-making. It is also assumed that it is only through the centralisation of decision-making powers that the nation can achieve the required rapid development in the country. It is in the interests of the Bigmen and expatriate advisers and consultants to keep the highly centralised political machinery modelled on the Westminster parliamentary and administration system. As a senior politician, committed to a more participative idea of devolution points out:
Given these fears in PNG, the centralised bureaucracy has continued to thrive in the last twenty years, supported by a rhetoric that centralisation is needed to ensure that all ethnic groups serve under one national public service. The pattern is familiar enough in most Third World countries which have been granted independence since World War Two. As Dwivedi (1991:2-3) argues:
Although since independence some attempts have been made to reform the PNG public service, these changes have only been symbolic. The public service remains essentially the same with most of its significant powers for making decisions centralised. However, as an implementing arm of the government, the centre has established its extension in the form of provincial departments which are directly linked to the centre. The provincial public service exercises authority on behalf of the centre, and the centre continues to maintain direct control over the activities of the provincial departments, often under a rhetoric of national unity. As a senior public servant in Port Moresby suggests:
The provincial departments established at the regional level are thus not autonomous, and in so far as devolution policy in education has developed parallel participation structures, they run counter to the decentralisation model--which defines centre-periphery relation in PNG public administration. As Bray (1985;59) points out:
In PNG education, functions are organised under administrative divisions of education and arguably semi-autonomous bodies such as the Provincial Education Board (PEB) and School Boards of Management (BOM). But these two centres of power often conflict since the divisions of education are only the extension of the centralised bureaucracy. Officers employed at the regional level report directly to their superiors in Port Moresby--and yet they are also expected to serve PEB and BOMs. This causes a considerable amount of confusion. As a senior educationist in PNG suggests:
So although regional decision-making structures have been established in PNG, they are subsumed under a more pervasive ideology of efficient and effective planning. Upon independence PNG chose to keep the centralised planning mechanism which was assumed to be responsible for identifying, designing, approving, funding and implementing projects. It is still maintained that centralised planning mechanisms were necessary to engage in viable national economic projects, and that the regional needs had to be standardised so that the centre could determine the national priorities. This thinking is reflected in the recent PNG Economic and Development Policies, 1994 (1994:57):
However, the language of coordination, national development and effective communication represents a central desire for control. Since the central planning system determines the priorities and the planning strategies in PNG national development, it also dictates the priorities and approaches in such a system appropriate for education at the regional level. Educational administrators at the regional level find it difficult to respond effectively to local needs. And while PEBs and BOMs are also responsible for planning, their decisions often reflect PNG national priority rather than the wishes of the community. As a headmaster of a community school suggests:
What is clear then is that there is a fundamental conflict with PNG's administrative and legal system and its desire to encourage local initiatives. The rhetoric of the "PNG Way" is merely symbolic since it has remained trapped within the colonial legal framework which defines PNG's administrative system. In a similar way, Narokobi (1983:81) argues:
The PNG National Education Act of 1983 is linked to this national legal system, despite its regulations that permit a small degree of consultation, the outcomes of which have to conform nevertheless to the broader administrative legal imperatives. So provincial autonomy is at best limited. Provincial autonomy is also restricted because of PNG's reliance on centrally determined and coordinated development plans (for example, see National Development Plan: The Medium Term Development Programme 1986-1990, 1985). The main emphasis of these plans is on economic development, with other public policy areas viewed as secondary. Most Bigmen see economic development as "the only way" to generate more capital to develop PNG as a "new nation"; as well as to meet the ever-increasing costs of providing the social services such as education and health to the community. Economic development is also viewed as one of the key development strategies in maintaining PNG unity and stability.
In PNG, education is thus inextricably linked to nation's social and economic policies through its role in national development. Like other Third World countries, PNG views education as a significant strategy for not only maintaining national unity, but also providing human resources for the PNG cash economy. It is not surprising therefore that the PNG educational governance, both at national and regional levels, is dictated by the nation's political aspirations and economic demands.
However, the attempts to maintain PNG national unity through the inherited hierarchical political and administrative structures, centralised planning mechanisms, legal dictates and social and economic policies have not been without their problems. Many of these problems relate to the nation's apparent inability to develop a coherent national system of governance which nonetheless recognises the cultural diversities which exist in the country. The stress on the need to develop a national identity must be maintained, and thus has overlooked the importance of the issues of the identities of the regions and tribal groups which predated colonisation. On many occasions the central government has sought to suppress the regional and tribal identities, giving rise to alienation and people's reluctance to show loyalty to the nation. The political rhetoric in the country is about equality and democratic participation, but this is not matched by administrative practices and procedures. As a senior politician argues:
However, this noble rhetoric seems incapable of resolving major differences that often arise when there is a conflict between national and local aspirations.
Since PNG is a nation of different tribal groups which were once autonomous and had very limited physical contact with each other, it is not surprising that various members of these cultural groups do not see themselves as belonging to PNG, but relate instead to their tribes and provinces. Many Papua New Guineans thus have divided loyalties and a contradictory relationship to the State. Many feel obliged to serve the nation, but they are also expected to be loyal and obedient to their tribes. These conflicting obligations often lead to administrative indecisiveness. As a senior public servant points out:
It is clear that when the tribal groups have different ways of life, and thus arguably different needs and problems, it is difficult for PNG to decide on what the needs of the country are, as opposed to the tribal needs. When aspirations differ widely, it is difficult to reconcile the needs and priorities of the nation as opposed to what the regions and tribal groups consider as their needs and priorities. Yet the central bureaucracy insists that for there to be proper administrative coordination, it must have the ultimate decision-making power to judge how provincial needs are prioritised. Understandably, from the regional point of view, this causes not only delays, but also frustration. As a senior public servant in Manus argues:
The provincial leaders feel that their aspirations for devolution are not frustrated by the central bureaucracy, but that they are further complicated by the conditions that aid-donors and foreign investors impose on PNG. Ultimately these conditions are based on the views the aid-donors have of the needs of the nation, as well as of the regions and tribes. In many ways, the regions and tribes find themselves at the mercy of the aid-donors especially when they wish to initiate projects that require resources which the national government cannot provide. Under this pressure, the regional and tribal groups are often confronted with the dilemma of whether to maintain their regional and tribal identities or to submit to the conditions of aid-donors. A relationship of dependency on aid-donors appears to have developed in PNG, as more and more Papua New Guineans find western goods and life styles attractive in ways they have never done before. So in becoming increasingly dependent on western goods, and thus on overseas aid, people in PNG have also conceded some of their autonomy. They also feel that once programs are instituted, they are very hard to abolish. As a public servant at the provincial level asserts:
The manner in which centre-periphery relations function in PNG is influenced by the new economic order that has resulted from the globalisation of world economy.
Globalisation has created conditions of both dependence and interdependence of nation-state economies (Oman, 1994). In this new economic order, a nation-state such as PNG can no longer survive in isolation from the rest of the world. Increasingly, it depends on others for the provision of its needs, in terms of capital, technology and physical and human resources. In this global economy, PNG is pressurised in its needs for capital, technology and human resources in particular ways which compromise its ability to define unity and identity, and its centre-periphery relationship. From the point of view of overseas investors, PNG's cohesion has been viewed as a condition for its establishing and maintaining a relationship with the international community. The conditions which aid-donors and investors stipulate often dictate the terms in which PNG is able to define its development. As a community leader maintains:
So, the issue of how PNG might manage its resources is affected not only by the political and cultural factors within the country, but also by the economic interests of the members of the international community and its new players such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), Asian Development Bank (ADB), multinational companies and aid-donors. To a great extent, the interests of these key players determine the relationship between the centre and peripheries, since it is through the operations of the central State that international agencies organise the exploitation of resources in the provinces.
PNG's abundant natural resources such as minerals, timber and fish attract foreign investors. The PNG government's foreign investment policy encourages the exploitation of these resources with the claim that it is not only in the nation's economic interests but it will also bring social benefits to the people of PNG. However, one of the conditions demanded by foreign investors is that PNG ensure a political environment which would not only boost the confidence of the investors, but would also guarantee a return of large profits. The foreign investors view PNG's diversity as a major threat to their economic interests because diversity could mean that the investors have to deal with not only the PNG government, but also a number of local players who own resources. For the investors, central control of resources guarantees the economic viability of their projects.
In PNG, more than 90 percent of the land has customarily been owned by the local tribes. Under PNG's current land tenure system, the leaders of the tribes give approval for their usage and transfer of ownership. The National Government, however, wishes to gain greater control over the exploitation of these resources. It fears that if the owners of the traditional land and sea deal directly with the foreigners, then the National Government would lose its role of the constitutional guardian of people's resources. Thus, the dilemma which confronts PNG government is that, on one hand it wishes to encourage exploitation of natural resources for economic gains from the centre, while on the other hand it wants to protect the rights of the traditional owners to be in control of their own resources. To a large extent, this dilemma serves to define the ambiguities of power relationship between the centre and periphery in PNG. As a senior public servant points out:
What is clear then, is that in PNG, the debate concerning the centre-periphery relations, revolves around the nation's desire to achieve unity in diversity. However, this aspiration has been thwarted by both internal and external factors, as PNG has encountered a number of dilemmas. The interviews from the field have indicated that there are different views on the issue of unity in diversity, including the role of the centre in decision-making; the role of the centre in the assessment of community needs; and the role of centre in the delivery of goods and services.
The push for national unity has meant the denial of the democratic rights of once self-reliant tribal communities in making their own decisions. However, people in the provinces feel that this role of decision-making has now been taken over by the PNG government and its bureaucracy; and that the tribal social institutions, which had been responsible for community decisions, have either been overturned or suppressed. The community leaders who had once been the only sole decision-makers have had their powers and authority replaced by western educated Bigmen. A provincial public servant expresses his frustration in the following manner:
There are also others who argue that centralisation of decision-making is essential to ensure accountability. The centralisation of powers, it is suggested, provides checks and balance to ensure that the Bigmen at the community level use their power for the benefits of the community rather than for their own benefits, and to provide favours to their "wantoks". It is also asserted that if national unity is to be maintained then the needs of the community should be framed and defined in terms of the needs of the nation. This becomes problematic when the needs of the communities are the same as those of the rest of the nation. Those who favour greater devolution suggest that the centre does not have the capacity to identify the needs of the local community since it is too remote from the locus of action. It is also maintained that the centre is not capable of assessing, accommodating and providing for the needs of the diverse cultural groups. Also, it is widely feared that "the needs of the nation" invariably means greater standardisation and uniformity. In contrast, the centralists argue that if the peripheries define their own needs, then this could only mean duplication which could prove to be expensive in terms of human and financial costs. Also, it is suggested that if there are too many sites for decision-making then this would inevitably lead to conflicts which a young nation cannot afford.
In this section, I have suggested that in PNG one of the major difficulties of devolution is that the nation is divided. The only element which binds the tribal groups of PNG is their shared history of colonialism. The cultural diversities which existed in the pre-colonisation days still exist, but in the context of the policy of devolution, have become a major source of dilemmas. In this context, some have seen greater centralisation as the only way of achieving national unity, while others have pointed to the social costs of centralisation and have argued that greater devolution is not only desirable but also essential for the perpetuation of PNG as a national entity. At the heart of this debate have been the Bigmen, whose role plays a significant part in the politics of devolution in PNG education. This is so because it is they who are in the best position to negotiate some of the structural dilemmas of the centre-periphery relations that I have discussed in this section. It is the Bigmen who hold the power to translate policies into effective action, and the way they work with the constitutional and administrative structures of PNG determines the extent to which the policy of devolution is able to be implemented. Their administrative style is thus a crucial ingredient in the politics of devolution in PNG education. Their role will be considered in the following section.
Bigmen and their Management Style
The role of Bigmen has not only been significant in the construction of PNG as a "nation", but it has also been dominant in nation developing processes since the post-independence period. Any reforms which had been instituted by post-independent PNG government have had to be mediated through them.
In its construction, it was thought by the colonial powers that the PNG would not be able to survive without having western educated "manpower" to manage it. Writing in 1976, McKinnon (1976:201), one of the architects of PNG education, maintained that:
It was assumed that in order for PNG to "develop", it required the indigenous people to be educated and trained to think like colonial administrators and imitate the administrative practices needed to facilitate the realisation of the goal of development. In the lead up to independence, then, indigenous people who had been educated and trained in western schools began to occupy key policy positions in the PNG public service which was highly centralised with power for decision-making concentrated in their hands. It is these officers who now hold the reigns of power in PNG; they are known as the Bigmen. Since independence, the Bigmen have dominated both politics and administration in PNG. They have steered most of the issues which affect the development of PNG as a nation-state. However, the dominant role of Bigmen in decision-making has not been without dispute. And nowhere has this been most evident than with the policy of devolution in education.
In the post-independent period, PNG has instituted the policy of devolution both in public administration and educational governance, which meant that on one hand the Bigmen have continued to dominate in the decision-making, while on the other hand they have been expected to share powers of making decisions with other people at the local level. The response by the Bigmen to the policy of devolution in PNG education has been, to say the least, ambivalent. As Latukefu (1985:40) notes:
In its attempts to implement the policy of devolution, and at the same time maintain the status quo position of being dominant in decision-making, the Bigmen have been engaged in a struggle for power with individuals and pressure groups both within the bureaucracy and in the wider community. The Bigmen have been reluctant to relinquish the power which was transferred to them by the colonial administration. As one of the senior public servants stated:
Clearly, when the powers of the Bigmen are challenged through the policies such as devolution, they resort to self-protective strategies to ensure that power is kept within the dominant circle. As a senior public servant notes:
What is clear in PNG is that the Bigmen have become increasingly anxious and insecure as the nation has moved tentatively towards a devolved system of government. Their management style and administrative practices reflect this fact. As Axline (1993:41) has suggested:
However, with this recognition have also come various strategies of resistance and bureaucratic obfuscation.
One of the main strategies of resistance has been to insert ambiguity into the processes of devolution. So, for example, organisational goals and objectives are intentionally confused and lack clarity. It is often difficult for teachers and parents to understand, interpret and implement the policy prescriptions devised by the Bigmen. This lack of clarity serves an ideological function and may have a hidden agenda. Giving PNG the policy of "free education" as an example, a senior public servant in Waigani states:
Another strategy of resistance to devolution reforms involves the insertion of long delays in the implementation processes. As an education officer at the central office candidly admits:
Such delays are not very hard to achieve in a devolved system where there are multiple power centres. The Bigmen are situated in an ambiguous relationship with the centre and with the provincial governments, as well as with the villagers whom they are expected to serve. The PNG bureaucracy is very hierarchical, but it also encourages direct negotiation with the local communities. The Bigmen are able to exploit this structural ambiguity by aligning themselves to whomever can provide their "favours". As a senior public servant in Port Moresby notes:
At the same time, it should be acknowledged that the Bigmen in PNG are not operating in a harmonious working environment. They have to deal with individual and group demands and pressures. The villagers expect them to satisfy their needs and solve their problems. This involves a lot of negotiation, consultation, and compromise. Yet the government expects quick results. As an education officer indicates:
The Bigmen's style of management is dictated by increasing and often contradictory pressures from within different levels of government. A demand from the provinces to make curriculum more responsive to the needs of the community conflicts, for example, with the central expectation that the Bigmen in the provinces are responsible for implementing the nationally devised curriculum policies. As a senior public servant representing the national bureaucracy in Manus argues:
The Bigmen who work at the centre also experience a conflict of expectations--of having to negotiate between the demands of the politicians on one hand and of the bureaucracy on the other. As a senior public servant notes:
In PNG, most politics are based on a system of favours. Many politicians do not understand clearly enough the distinction between those who are politically appointed and those who work for the bureaucracy. They expect therefore that the Bigmen will be loyal to them. This creates problems for senior public servants who often find it difficult to ensure that the Bigmen are bound by the policies and procedures of the bureaucracy. Such a situation creates a sour relationship between senior public servants and their political masters. A senior education officer in the national Department of Education relates:
Of course, such administrative difficulties are compounded by the demands of the communities to the Bigmen to behave as traditional tribal members. As a public servant in Waigani states:
However, this becomes difficult when the Bigmen are expected to satisfy the demands of their "wantoks". If they can not, then they are believed not to have fulfilled their obligations and brought shame to their family. Being concerned with this problem, a public servant in Manus asserted:
This view reveals how Bigmen in PNG are confronted with numerous conflicting demands with respect to the bureaucracy on the one hand and to the community to which they have to respond on the other. It has not been that easy for the Bigmen to resolve these conflicts because in PNG the relationship between the centre in Port Moresby and periphery dictates a politics that is located between various and changing power centres. As a senior education officer in Port Moresby suggests:
What makes this problem even more difficult is that the policy of devolution has created more complex relations of power than those simply confined to the centre-periphery and political-administrative relations. Axline's (1993:40-41) findings correspond with this argument:
The process of decentralisation has created new expectations of power sharing; yet the political and bureaucratic cultures have not changed to any significant degree. Both the politicians and the public servants want to participate in the decision-making processes. Tensions arise when there are no clear demarcations of responsibilities between the public servants and their political masters.
It is interesting to note that since the policy of devolution was instituted there has been a marked increase in conflict among politicians at the national and regional levels. Most central politicians see the policy of devolution as a threat to their power and are reluctant to share the powers for decision-making. They support the idea of devolution while seeking election, but once elected increasingly move towards the centralised culture which exists in Port Moresby. Axline (1993:40) suggests:
Not surprisingly, therefore, there is a move in PNG to revert to a more centralised system of government. In describing this move, a provincial politician argues:
The establishment of provincial governments has also meant the national government's traditional role as provider of goods and services has increasingly been taken over by the regional governments. But since politicians in PNG have traditionally secured their authority by providing goods and services for their voters, the policy of devolution has meant that national politicians have had to concede some of the influence they once enjoyed over their voters to the provincial leaders. As a public servant in Manus argues:
It is suggested that if national politicians are not able to provide goods and services then the voters will lose faith because most voters expect some tangible personal benefit for their vote. The credibility of politicians in PNG depends upon their ability to make this contribution to the people, and if national politicians cannot do this then provincial members would become inevitably more powerful.
The general public in PNG believes that the current national leadership in PNG is opposed to the policy of the devolution as a political idea, but is happy with it as an administrative strategy which emphasises efficiency and effectiveness and a corporate decentralisation in which the ultimate power is at kept at the centre. From the point of view of the Bigmen, the more radical participation form of devolution represents uncertainty and lack of predicability. It requires them to plan and collaborate with a range of other administrators, politicians and members of the general community. In contrast, the decentralisation model provides the security of a range of instructions that are prescribed from the centre--clear rules that need to be followed to ensure effective and efficient implementation.
As a general rule, the Bigmen as a group have resisted the more radical practices of devolution. This is quite understandable as people fear change, especially when they are expected to manage the process in any organisation or in the community. After years of colonisation, they have developed fears of uncertainty, insecurity and anxiety. Most of them lack any experience in radical practices of democracy and have lacked confidence; and are therefore reluctant to take risks. In expressing this fear, a senior public servant suggests that:
To combat fears of certainty, the Bigmen devised a range of protective and defensive strategies to ensure that they survive the bureaucracy. These strategies have proved to be a major a hindrance to the processes of democratisation and participation in the decision-making processes.
Among these strategies are the cliques that the Bigmen have formed based on trust and confidence developed over the years through their professional interactions. In PNG, favours such as appointments and promotions are often based on friendship networks. As a senior public servant suggests:
In these self-protective cliques those people who do not share the same way of thinking and practices are excluded. The exclusion of others is built around secrecy where information is often suppressed or it is disseminated only among the clique of favoured Bigmen. It is feared by the Bigmen that the wide dissemination of uncontrolled or unselected information may create instability within the bureaucracy. Most change, initiated either at the political level or at other centres of power within the bureaucracy, or in the community, is considered as a threat to the long-established practices, many of which have been inherited from the colonial days. Many view devolution policy as creating a hostile environment which presents a threat to what the Bigmen are doing. As a senior public servant states:
The other self-protective strategy employed by the Bigmen is a campaign of misinformation conducted quite deliberately which suggests that the democratisation of decision-making would disrupt the routines and practices of their work, and that the new values and practices it represents are dangerous because of the social costs and the risks involved. The Bigmen also maintain the status quo as a result of their knowledge and experiences of the organisational culture of the educational bureaucracy. As a senior public servant in Port Moresby admits:
In this section, I have suggested that one of the major problems with the implementation of the policy of devolution in PNG relates to the attitudes, the work practices and the structural location of the Bigmen within PNG public administration. In general, the Bigmen hold attitudes which they have inherited from the colonial administration and their western management education which is not very sympathetic to cultural diversity--nor to the participative social democratic notion of devolution. The work practices of the Bigmen are influenced by their attitudes as they resist democratic initiatives to protect and produce their position of power. However, this resistance to democratic reforms has only been successful because of the structural location the Bigmen hold within PNG society, which has enabled them to exploit the ambiguities inherent in the way centre-periphery relationships are played out. In the next section, I want to develop this argument further by examining the way resources are allocated and distributed in PNG education.
Allocation and Distribution of Resources
As has been clearly established, PNG is a colonial construction in which the power to control and allocate resources has been retained at the centre in Port Moresby. The power of allocation and distribution of resources represents another colonial legacy which PNG inherited from Australia. These processes have now become entrenched in PNG's financial arrangements. Since independence PNG has continued to use the financial machinery which was instituted as an integral part of the colonial centralised bureaucracy. In it the Department of Finance plays a significant and overriding role in dealing with all financial matters that affect the regions. One of the main functions of the Department of Finance is the planning and budgeting of resources. In the budgeting process, although the regions are able to submit their resource requirements, in the end it is the Department which makes the decisions on the levels of funding within which the provinces have to operate. Indeed the "centre" in Waigani now plays a greater role in how resources are distributed and allocated to the regions than was planned at independence. As Axline (1993:42) points out:
The allocation of resources to the regions is thus strictly framed by the PNG government's economic policies. These policies are based on a western view of development; on a view that places a greater priority on economic development over social development which includes education. In PNG there has also been a growing emphasis on the development of a manufacturing sector for which the government has sought private investment. The private sector is thus viewed as an engine for economic growth in PNG; consequently the government has made it progressively easier for many national corporations to invest in PNG. This thinking is reflected in PNG's 1994 Budget. The PNG Economic and Development Policies (1994:8-9) states:
PNG thus encourages overseas investment to fund viable economic projects which are expected to generate more taxes for the nation to sustain its cash economy. This, of course, was one of the original economic motives for the colonisation of PNG; and it seems that with independence overseas investors have been allowed to continue to exploit PNG's natural resources.
The allocation of resources to the regions in Papua New Guinea has also been framed by the legal dictates such as the Organic Law on Provincial Government (OLPG) and Public Financial Management Act. These pieces of legislation define the formula for the allocation of funds by the central authority to the regional authorities. How the funds are to be administered are also dictated by the procedures devised by the centre which ensures that those who use the funds are ultimately accountable to Waigani. So while Departments like Education, Health, and Primary Industry are managed from the provinces the central Department of Finance retains the overall budgeting control over their activities. The provincial departments and the national line departments are therefore accountable to the centre.
Of course since resources are significant in any policy implementation, they define the power relationship between the central and regional authorities. In cases where Port Moresby has the power to allocate resources and where the provinces become merely the recipients, the relationship between the centre and periphery is asymmetrical. And given that most of the allocations are tied to particular objectives and tasks, the space to develop participative practices within the framework of a policy of devolution in PNG education is severely constrained. Since the allocation of resources has been directed from Waigani, the regions have encountered numerous problems in implementing the policy of devolution. These problems include the lack of political commitment at the centre; the lack of supportive economic policies; the lack of appropriate levels of funds; the lack of qualified "manpower"; the lack of curriculum and basic materials; the lack of infrastructural and physical facilities. As the Pokawin Report (1990:11) notes:
These financial difficulties are compounded by the ambiguities surrounding the policy of devolution. There is a shifting discourse of what it is, how it should be implemented, and what should be the expected outcomes, and who should benefit from it. But most significantly it is not clear what the parameters of the provincial responsibilities are. Those elected at the provincial levels are expected to do much more by the voters than is possible with the limited amount of funds allocated by the centre.
The PNG Government's views on development also have an impact on the resources it makes available to the provinces for education. The Government appears to accept the view that "development requires economic growth before social or educational programs can be put in place". It thus places emphasis on economic ahead of social development, giving low priority to education which is reflected in low levels of funding for education, especially at the provincial level. As an education officer in Port Moresby notes:
This view is shared by many others in education, as they see the educational share of the national budget decline every year. Those in charge of education are expected to do more with less.
Yet, in the last five to ten years, the costs of maintaining education at primary, secondary, and post-secondary levels have increased enormously. While there is a need to maintain the existing educational services, there is also a mounting pressure for expanding initiatives in education. Education has been a very expensive area to maintain, in particular the costs of the new education reforms which have proposed greater accessibility at all levels. A senior public servant argues:
The pressure to finance the rising costs of education is not only being felt by the government, but also by the parents. The additional resources that are being provided by parents include finance, labour and materials; particularly at the provincial high school and community school levels. One of the Chairmen of the Boards of Management complains about lack of funds, and fears that the financial problem could become worse if the power to make decisions on school fees is centralised. He states:
With the increasing centralisation of resource collection and allocation, a new form of relationship between the centre and provinces is emerging in PNG education, which effectively sidelines the input of parents and members of their community.
Since independence the public service sector, both at the national and provincial levels, has expanded in terms of size and the number of officers employed to perform various functions. The expansion in education has necessitated the recruitment of new staff and the training of officers to enable them to perform their functions. This has given rise to problems not only of adequate forms of training, but also of the unequal distribution of public servants across all provinces. As a senior politician maintains:
What this centralist sentiment reveals is that while many politicians may wish to see a nationally coordinated system of public service, people in the villages prefer to see officers from their own tribe working for them.
Faced with the shortage of qualified manpower, education requires two categories of officers. The first are the public managers and policy advisers who would be expected to serve at the middle and top managerial levels of the public service. Their tasks would involved policy formulation and decisions, writing of project documents and providing executive services and advice to the Departmental Heads, the Minister and more generally the politicians. The second category of officers required are teachers, professional educators and specialists such as the curriculum officers at each of the primary, secondary and post-secondary levels. The need for secondary school teachers and administrators is urgent in some parts of PNG. As a senior public servant in Port Moresby states:
The shortage of school teachers in PNG is caused by two possible factors. The first is the unattractiveness of the conditions of employment. These do not provide appropriate incentives for graduating teachers to remain in the teaching profession. A good number of teachers look for better conditions elsewhere. Thus, the problem is not necessarily with recruitment of teachers but with the unattractive employment conditions such as low salary, deteriorating housing conditions and constant changes to the curriculum. The second factor relates to the supply of teachers at the secondary teachers' colleges in PNG. PNG does not appear to have the capacity to train the required number of teachers for the expanding secondary schools, especially now that the duration of training programs has been increased from two- to three-year programs. Exploring the problems of teacher recruitment and retention a PNGTA representative points out:
The problem of resources in PNG education is compounded by the inadequacy of appropriate teaching and learning materials in schools. While the PNG government wishes schools to provide human resources for the development of the manufacturing sector, it has not provided schools with the required materials and technology. As a school inspector in Manus reveals:
It is of course not only in Science where there is a severe shortage of teaching materials but more generally in the infrastructure of schools. In expressing this concern, another school inspector states:
While in the last five years education services have experienced a serious shortage of curriculum materials everywhere in PNG, the problem is the greatest in the rural areas. In Manus, for example, most members of the community interviewed expressed concern about the delivered standard of education, both at the primary and secondary levels. People in Manus feel that their education system has suffered more than the rest because of their remoteness from Port Moresby where most of the limited resources are allocated. They feel that the education system in PNG is becoming more unequal, with the ultimate power to distribute resources remaining with the central government. Not surprisingly, this view is contested by the central administrators who stress the need for a nationally coordinated system. As a senior public servant in Port Moresby argues:
Resource allocation and distribution are thus major sites of conflict over the kind of centre-periphery relation the nation should have.
To tackle some of the problems of declining standards, the PNG Department of Education, through the National Government and its agency OIDA, has sought to acquire a World Bank loan to remedy the problem of shortage of materials. This project is based on a needs-assessment conducted by the World Bank's educational advisers. The process of approach for this project has been a lengthy one. The objectives of this project have been to acquire funds from the World Bank for the production and purchase of curriculum materials for schools in PNG. However, as a senior public servant who has worked in PNG aid office states:
Although the World Bank loan has been approved and used for this purpose, the problem of inadequacy of curriculum materials especially in the provinces remains and will continue. There is a great deal of unhappiness with the way the World Bank loan for curriculum materials has been used. First, it is thought that the cycle of project development to project implementation has been conducted by policy advisers, mostly expatriates, at the centre with little input from the education officers and teachers in the provinces. Because of a lack of involvement from the field officers, the assessment of needs in terms of quantity and quality has been unrealistic and has favoured the larger urban centres. As a headmaster of a community school in Manus complains:
However, the problem of urban bias is more serious. It is generally thought that technocrats, namely, the educational planners, who were involved in the work of needs identification manipulated the data reflecting their biases. The people in the villages feel that technocratic procedures and the processes of screening and approving the project were inadequate to capture the real needs of community schools. As a senior officer in Manus notes:
Further, in the implementation of the project, a great proportion of the funds obtained from the World Bank has been spent on hiring consultants to write up curriculum materials. A large sum of money has been spent on the expatriate consultants' fees and contract officers' salaries which are much higher than the salaries paid to local officers. Because of these high-cost components, only a small amount of funds have been allocated for the design, production and printing of curriculum materials required by teachers for children's use. As a senior public servant maintains:
And even if the curriculum materials have been appropriately designed and produced locally or imported from outside, their distribution has often not been efficient and effective enough to enable delivery to the specified locations. The effective delivery of materials has been affected by the bureaucratic red tape, the lack of transportation and communication, and the difficult geographical terrain where most schools in PNG are located. In cases where the materials are delivered to the distribution centres, which are usually the provincial headquarters, there have also been problems with their use and maintenance. The unsuitable storage places have caused further problems where the materials are exposed to conditions which result in the deterioration in the quality of these materials. By the time the materials reach the schools, their condition has so deteriorated that the lifespan of their use is limited. As an education officer notes:
It needs to be acknowledged that the topography of PNG makes it difficult for the implementing agencies to deliver goods and services to localities where the majority of the population lives. Although attempts have been made, the roads network has not yet linked all remote villages where schools are located. The limited air links are too expensive to enable maximum mobility of people. The limited telephone/communication network is again limited to towns and cities, whereas the rural areas have been denied these services. The effects of these factors on villages are severe. As a headmaster asserts:
In terms of a policy of devolution, the factor of remoteness is highly significant because it impacts on the forms of interaction that are possible between the centre and the distant and remote regions.
While their interactions are necessary conditions for the facilitation of the policy of devolution in education, the need for a building infrastructure in the community schools, such as classrooms, teachers' and students' accommodation, is also of equal importance. The building infrastructure is a major problem in remote areas since it affects the performance of teachers. Because the schools in the provinces are generally of poorer quality, they do not provide conducive and attractive environments in which teachers might wish to work--and hence encourage a drift to the urban centres. An executive member for PNGTA commented in the following manner:
In PNG, the problem of infrastructure does not only relate to the school buildings and curriculum material, but also to the housing needs of teachers and of students who often have to live away from home to attend school.
The problem of deteriorating classrooms and dormitories is particularly felt in secondary schools. As compared with primary schools, most secondary schools are boarding schools. Students are often away from their village communities and students have to adapt not only to a "foreign" school environment, but also to living in ways that are not familiar to them. When a school is linked essentially to community needs, but is built on "someone-else's" land, then the need for compensation arises. This is increasingly a major problem for the government, already short of funds for education. It is a problem for educational authorities because the land upon which the schools are built is not owned by the State and was not compensated for by the colonial administration. A member of the Manus Provincial Education Board (PEB) expresses the problem in the following way:
If all the land owners in the villages are paid at the appropriate levels, the financial burden on the national government would be considerable, which it has no way of meeting. The politics of devolution is caught up in these dilemmas as the government seeks to find a way of providing adequate resources to community schools.
This discussion illustrates the extent to which a cash value is increasingly being placed on the land which was forcefully acquired by the "agents of development" during the pre-independence period. The transition from subsistence farming to a cash-oriented economy has now made the need for cash more significant in the lives of these traditional land owners. The actions of the landowners could conceivably destabilise the provision of educational services. Many landowners now demand that they be given cash so that they can either pay their children's school fees, or are only happy to make land available if their children could receive an education. The trend towards bargaining with the State authorities is becoming increasingly common in PNG. As PNG Economic and Development Policies (1994:90) indicates:
However, this trend also reveals the ways in which traditional social relationships and modern economic exchange relationships have created conditions for a volatile politics in which the policy of devolution is clearly caught up. The issue of the allocation and distribution of resources in PNG education is a site where the form of devolution most appropriate to PNG is being negotiated.
It should be clear that the issues concerning the distribution and allocation of resources--in the forms of commitment, manpower, funds, materials, infrastructure and physical facilities and land, play a significant part in the politics of devolution in PNG education. They represent major barriers to the effective implementation of the policy of devolution. Since the centre has control over resources, it is in a position to be able to dictate the terms of the relationship with the periphery. As it has been indicated from the interviews, PNG education is confronted with a range of problems concerning resources. The success or otherwise of implementing the policy of devolution depends, therefore, on whether, and how, these resources are distributed equitably across the various regions of PNG.
In this chapter, I have argued that one of the main difficulties of implementing the policy of devolution in PNG is that the nation is divided into many different cultural groups each with their distinctive cultures and political aspirations. PNG still remains a nation of many tribes. Since Independence, PNG has had great difficulty in maintaining its cohesion and integrity. It is a dilemma that PNG has struggled with since its colonial construction; it has to recognise and accommodate the cultural diversities in the country, while at the same time it has a wish to develop a confident united nation in which resources are distributed efficiently and equitably across all regions. In this political struggle, the Bigmen play an important role. Their style of management has ensured that PNG remains a nation; but equally it has meant greater central control of resources, and a form of development in PNG that is based on a western model. It has been argued that such a western model of development is necessary if PNG is to ensure appropriate levels of resources necessary for its survival in the global community. However, the resources "given" to PNG by the "global community" have conditions attached to them, which have framed the notion of educational development and how it should be realised. In the next chapter, I discuss the complex relationship between overseas aid and investment and development of education in PNG, especially as it relates to the problems of devolution.
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