Service delivery, in my view, must empower people to make independent decisions both in their own lives and in political choices that affect their lives. More importantly, they must be given the ability to make their own money so that they are not prone to the temptation of political handouts. They must be given the opportunities for intellectual development so that opinions are freely expressed without fear or favor.
But this is, precisely, what frightens politicians. An educated, free thinking population, with independent incomes and the ability to choose their political representatives, acts like a sieve straining out the garbage at the polls even before they even reach the Haus Tambaran in Waigani. In PNG politics, only the bravest of the lot have come to understand that taking risks by empowering people reaps huge political gains. A case in point is the Buang area of the Bulolo District of the Morobe province.
The Buang area is beautiful and mountainous. The roads are bad but the villages, still accessible. For now, the roads aren’t a priority at least for the next two years. Using government funding, the district has spent more than K2 million on two important basic services – power and communications – giving more than 20 thousand people mobile and internet access. For the newcomer, it seems the district’s priorities have been mixed up. Roads and bridges should have come first because of the region’s transport difficulties. But a closer look at Buang will quickly alter perceptions.
The Buang are an industrious people and the arrival of power and communications have added value to their unfaltering industrious spirit. The district spent up to K3000 on each household to install electricity service lines and PNG Power’s minimum supply kits that are ideal for rural areas. This has allowed for micro business to be created. These are business that understand and cater to the needs of the Buangs themselves. It is direct income owned and controlled by the people without foreign interference. They have access to real time information. Coffee and gold prices can be found online. Information about national developments and government budgets can be sourced through mobile internet access. An increasing number of teachers are staying in remote schools for longer. Access to EFFTPOS machines, SMS banking, television and radio broadcasts keep them up to date with the latest. State of origin games can now be watched in the comfort of their own homes.
In a previous blog article I wrote about the impacts the projects were having. In a small hut, Solomon Geame, squats on the ground in a small and unimpressive workshop soldering damaged parts of a DVD player. His generation is the first to have electricity supplied by PNG power. With the arrival of electricity, he has been able to start a small electronics business fixing mobile phones, DVD players and television screens. “I don’t think the young people will want to leave their villages because they have the conveniences of urban life in their homes.”
It is, as one commentator put it on Facebook: “a no brainer.” It is not the job of the politician to provide services. But about 20 years ago, they realized that it was sexy to be out there providing services than to be stuck in parliament making laws as is their mandated duty. So to the politician (currently, the functional service provider), I say, provide services that add value in the lives of people. The kind of services that empower and encourage people to remain in the villages and develop at their own pace. Not the steroid infused large scale investments that demand land from people and give them a minimum wage with slave like working conditions. Empowerment was Sam Basil’s ticket to an absolute majority vote in 2012. Learn from it.