Weekly Commentaries

This is Sunday Chronicle's weekly commentaries on various issues of interest affecting the country. All individual commentators are done by elite Papua New Guineans from diverse educational backgrounds.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Small Man Issues

Settlements - not as bad as we think

IN EITHER the Longman or Oxford dictionaries, you find various definitions but none leads you to what we understand 'settlement' to be in the PNG context.

Even the encyclopedias I looked up do not seem to lead me anywhere closer. Instead they highlight the historical developments of settlements as institutions with some extends of charity or such. Text books alike talk about the struggles and the issues surrounding the day-to-day existence of a settlement, especially in the developing world. The mass media creates exaggerated levels of fear thus drawing a settlement as a side-effect of urbanisation that is a hindrance to development.

I never had the chance to look up 'settlement' in the PNG dictionary but I am convinced, if there is this word 'settlement', one of its definitions will surely be: dwellings springing up around the fringes of towns or cities, whether legally or illegally. In other parts of the world, especially economically troubled nations, settlements as in PNG are referred to as slums, ghettos, or shantytowns. In developed nations it is referred to as 'community' referring to a particular ethnic group that decides to surround itself into one section of a suburb or town, like the Chinese community in say Sydney's Eastern Suburb. They speak about the same thing but the name changes because of the characteristics of the dwellings the inhabitants who call it home, and the legality surrounding its existence.

It is true, many of us upon hearing the name, 'settlement', will not want to have anything to do with it. Because of our pre-conceived knowledge that settlements are infested with rascals and anti-social behaviour rules 24/7 without any chance for peace of mind we see it on a one sided view that settlements are bad. Other common dilemmas that go with it like no water, no electricity, and disease prone unhygienic practices completely shut it off as a no-go-zone for any person who is used to the comforts and confines of a corrugated iron fence.

But, do not say 'no' yet because there are always two sides to a coin. These so-called settlements are changing rapidly within PNG. Here, let us for now forget settlement as place of illiterates, village-based life-styles, lunatics, rascals, and the unfortunates and take a look at the positive developments and the immense contributions that are not indispensable. To draw generalised and exaggerated statements that settlements are hindrances to development is only committing the fallacy of petitio principii, Latin for begging the question. This is where you implicitly use your conclusion as a premise where still more information is required to prove your argument.

This story about China always gives me a good backing to what the formalised systems see as hindrances to development are actually blessings in disguise. China has the highest population in the world with a good percentage of it being peasants, illiterates and lives below the poverty line or just being poor according to economic standards. Their government in trying to see what they can do with this population explosion came to the fore that these was human resources the greatest resource of all resources that should be harnessed in the best possible way to convert it from being a liability to an asset for nation building. Look at China today.

Urbanisation and people movement is all about rural-urban drift. The industrial society is an urban society. In general view Karl Marx (Capitalist) saw the direction of the future as away from the country and towards the towns, away from the 'idiocy' of rural life to the creativity and heterogeneity of urban living. But this theoretical emphasis was on the productive life of man, the social and political form this took and Marx was largely unconcerned with the spatial and ecological features of the environment with which this productive life was played out.

Take stock of the organisation's workforce today and you'll find that a good number of the unskilled, semi-skilled handyman workforce reside in the settlements. Jobs like cleaners, gardeners, tea boy, courier man, wasman, and the likes are carried out with due diligence by this group of people. To me the most important job in an organisation is the toilet cleaner. Not the Chief Executive Officer for a simple fact that no job is completed until the paper work is done. These unskilled/semi-skilled settlement dweller handymen occupy the bottom of our organisational structures to complement the whole picture.

How many organisations can build homes for these unskilled/semi- skilled handyman? They are always given the last look or nil consideration due to their low income which handicaps them in home ownership participation, yet they put the hard yards in having the office toilets shinning and freshened, the flowers to dress up the office premises, and the hot coffee for the many that skip breakfast at home. Imagine if there aren't any settlements around the fringes, would those who live inside corrugated iron fences patch the missing link?

The many good hearted people who live within the settlements put the hard yards to earn a honest, decent living. In a place like Port Moresby they plough the land in the name of survival but in doing so supply the city folks with fresh vegetables around the city markets. Not forgetting our friends who flock into town with bags of vegetables from the highways. Talking about highways many are also settlers who've found their way around there and are now seeing good returns in supplying vegetables to meet the urban resident's needs.
These, if I may call 'little people with big hearts' are always available with big cash to meet the financial worries of the big shots and the trim and groom with street loans. I was totally upset when I learnt that one of my friends living in a settlement had to give away some grands to a so-called LNG landowner who has by now fled the scene. I wish the devil does a good job on him.

There are millions of kina in cash and assets floating around in settlements today. Many high people and elites are living and going to work from settlements. Those shantytown looking sheds are phasing out fast with high post high covenant houses with the underneath being converted to meet accommodation demands. Whether these real estate enthusiasts are escaping the hefty land bills, water bills, electricity bills, and other associated bills is another matter. Otherwise, the settlements are playing a big part in meeting many of our every day needs.

Some times I deliberately release rubbish from my hands onto pavements or roadsides with the intention to create jobs. If there aren't any rubbish then our town commission cleaners will be without jobs. Forgive me, I don't do it often and it does not mean that you do it, too. The picture I am trying to convey here is if there aren't any dwellings like our settlements the policemen and women will not be active in their roles, the social workers will be short on work, the NGOs will be scaled down with less aid donations, and organisations will be short on handyman manpower and life will not be interesting. Things happen for a reason, so that others can benefit from it. After all, the settlements are an economic hive in many ways to nation building.

When National Election Day comes the intending candidates flock into settlements to win votes. Because they know here their tribesmen and women are. At the same time the settlement is where a good number of eligible voters are. The politicisation that goes on gives support and pressure groups help in the formation of a government. A member put into power is truly a backing from the settlement dwellers that hold onto politics as a lifeline to their survival. They pool resources, mobilise support in the true spirit of national election, the PNG way, and are prepared to die with their candidate. Win or lose it's a game that is played to the final siren. Even court battles of election petitions is a testament to never say die attitude. Our settlement dwellers contribute in a big way to the politics of the day both formally and informally.

The different ethnic groups that live within the settlements may be the reason for many ethnic clashes but it also provides that environment to learn new things from each other. Like knowing a bit about the other's local dialect, the customs and traditions, and general way of life gives one the satisfaction of being a Papua New Guinean. Even intermarriages take place and that is what makes us unique. It gives us the sense of belonging to PNG and that is what keeps us intact as a diverse nation in unity. The next generation of off springs may say where they come from but the place of birth is where their heart is. So a new breed of Papua New Guinea thinking population is on the rise. It is healthy for development as conundrums like nepotism, wantokism, regionalism are minimised in some ways.

Going back to our story on China's ability to turn its population liability into an asset, we can do likewise by taking our settlements to the next level. That is by properly identifying land, we have plenty of it, portioning it and relocating the current settlements there. Illegal settlers can be identified and sound actions taken to free up land for metropolitan developments.

True, we have failed to curb new blocks from springing up but there are ways around it like I have just mentioned. Let us not turn a blind eye on it but take it head on and reap the positives of it. If we can't remove it or control its expansion let us work with it for our benefit. They aren't bad as we think.

Email me on pohromo@hotmail.com for comments. Keep reading your Chronicle for our next 'Small Man Issue' on "Emphasise Public Transport".

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