Make PNG’s National Goals relevant again

Parliament, PNG (Credit: ABC News/Louie Eroglu)

The National Goals and Directive Principles (NGDPs) in the Preamble are prominent aspirational statements in the Papua New Guinean National Constitution. Yet, they are also the most neglected part of the national conversation. The National Goals include: integral human development; equality and participation; national sovereignty and self-reliance; wise use of natural resources and the environment; and Papua New Guinean ways. In my view it is important that as a nation, Papua New Guinea (PNG) goes back to the basics, using the NGDPs as the instrument by which to mobilise our peoples.

Much of the discourse leading up to Independence in 1975 and later in the immediate post Independence period consumed the mental energies of our most gifted, visionary thinkers. The NGDPs are the product of this exercise. But today, these important thoughts are all but swept under the rug and are given less attention by younger generations.

While people are currently invoking slogans such as ‘Take back PNG’ they are merely sound bites that will almost surely be emptied of their meaning in due course. They do not come close to the status of the NGDPs. The NGDPs are enduring. The fact that they are stated at the start of the Constitution and then reiterated in subsequent sections of the Constitution means something – they are a permanent part of the vision of what PNG was to become and, as such, were intended to continually inform our nation building. The NGDPs, even with the challenges at the time of their creation, are identified as the outcome of a legitimate process of popular consultation undertaken by the Constitutional Planning Committee (CPC).

The CPC was very clear about the role of the NGDPs. They were supposed to define, ‘the philosophy of life by which we want to live and the social and economic goals we want to achieve’. It was also envisaged that constitutional bodies would work, ‘to apply and give effect to’ the NGDPs (Schedule 1.7 of the Constitution).

To familiarise Papua New Guineans with the NGDPs, the CPC recommended that the NGDPs be given, ‘the widest possible publicity at all levels of government; in towns and villages; in schools and tertiary institutions; in churches and other organisations so that our people will become fully aware of them, discuss them and obtain a clear sense of the direction in which our country is heading’. These were visionary ideas on the very question of citizen responsibility.

What is the importance of the NGDPs?

Consider some possible practical effects. If the NGDPs are made to be – as suggested by the CPC – the ‘philosophy of life’ at both the individual and national level, imagine the kind of citizens PNG would be nurturing. What would be the aggregate outcome for national virtues, if the political education of citizens began at an early age, with the NGDPs forming part of the educational curriculum? Yet most Papua New Guineans are unaware of the existence and practical application of the very aspirations of the NGDPs.

There is also another important reason why the NGDPs matter. Papua New Guineans are pragmatic people. In most instances, we are impatient with abstract ideals. Notions such as the ‘rule of law’ or the ‘supremacy of the Constitution’ do not always resonate with the practical realities of Papua New Guineans. People may not always see the connections of abstract concepts to their daily lives.

This was noticed by the CPC who saw the symbiotic relationships between the legitimacy of the Constitution as tied to the actual application of the NGDPs. According to the CPC, ‘If the Constitution is to be truly the fundamental charter of our society and the basis of legitimate authority, it should be an instrument which helps to achieve these goals and not one which obstructs’.

Presently there is disillusionment about the state of our nation. Trust in our national institutions and the constitutional foundations of the country is negligible. By way of re-building the trust and confidence of citizens, and to reinforce the legitimacy of the Constitution, practical meaning should be given to the NGDPs. Yet government instrumentalities tasked with decision-making rarely use the NGDPs in vetting the decisions or public policies concerning the welfare of the country. This was revealed in a landmark study by Papua New Guinean scholar, Sam Sirox Kari. Even the CPC’s recommendation for the creation of a permanent parliamentary committee to review laws and policies to ensure their alignment with the NGDPs has not been a priority of Parliament. It is not surprising therefore that a commentator dismissed the NGDPs as ‘a dead letter’.

When the NGDPs are bypassed in government decision-making, it can have the unintended consequence of instilling doubt in the minds of citizens about the relevance of these pre Independence visions of the country. Instituting the NGDPs into popular discourse is a sure way of bringing the Constitution to life for the ordinary citizen, long disillusioned by the way the nation is managed.

What can be done?

The National Department of Education (NDoE) recently developed the Citizenship and Christian Values Education curriculum. It plans to use this curriculum as a compulsory subject in PNG schools. Transparency International PNG is coordinating the School Based Civic Education Project with the NDoE, which aims to, ‘create a generation of responsible citizens that work to ensure good governance at all levels of society’. However there is no emphasis in this curriculum on the CPC Report and the NGDPs. The dissemination of the NGDPs and creatively using various learning methods in teaching the NGDPs in learning institutions is consistent with the recommendations of the CPC.

Also, designating a ‘Constitution Day’ (perhaps during the week leading up to Independence Day on September 16) could be a useful initiative. Institutions and citizens should be encouraged to initiate interactive ways to personalise the NGDPs and the Constitution. It is absurd that PNG has earmarked specific dates for other national celebrations, but not for the Constitution. The Constitution and the NGDPs are not only for students of the law to read. They should be accessible and digested by every citizen. Although the NGDPs are non-justiciable (they cannot be enforced in the Courts or used as basis for legal proceedings), this is not an excuse to disregard creative ways of making them a part of civic life in PNG.

The NGDPs are not a panacea for institutional challenges like corruption. However, Professor Eric Uslaner, author of The historical roots of corruption, has noted the transformative effects of civic education in curbing the abuse of power in modern societies. Promoting the NGDPs and incorporating them into the daily conversations of Papua New Guineans would provide a much needed boost to national efforts to foster civic responsibility.

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Patrick Kaiku

Patrick Kaiku is a Teaching Fellow in the Political Science Strand at the University of Papua New Guinea.


  • Great Insightful Thought Mr Kaiku.

    I was just contemplating on the NGDP’s strategy of which you have clearly stated in the article.
    However the Directive Principles component of this bigger concept that was constituted by the founding fathers of this nation was basically based on the ethical values that governed our societies back then. Justice and respect was paramount, thus contributed to the upbringing of this nation.
    Hence, this is not the case nowadays; what is the missing link? How is the system operating nowadays in this globalization post-modernism era? What contributes to the fading away of our traditional ethical values that protects the sovereignty of our people?
    Therefore is there any possibilities to contextualize the system by merging our traditional ethical values which our fore fathers made application to the constitution back than and make it relevant to this present age.
    By saying all this I see that our Melanesian way of life does have a great value towards the integral development our people. Hence, definitely we are pragmatic people therefore we can see it has an advantage to formulate ideas and see instant result that can solve problems in the lives of the people holistically.
    I do not intend to put my thoughts into what you have mentioned and bring us back to the past. But I believe that our way forward to bring about change is to really consider our home-grown ethical values rather than abstracting ideas elsewhere that does not suite our context to govern our society.

  • Mr Kaiku this is an excellent piece of advise worth considering by our Government and development partners.

    I believe that the five national goals and directive principles were divinely inspired by God to our forefathers who wrote the preamble of our National Constitution.

    The Five National Goals & Directives Principles were comprehensive and whole inclusive of what national development challenges were ahead of their time. They are relevant to our present time.

    It is therefore incumbent upon the current Government or any future Governments to annually review and reprioritize our current development trajectory based on these important directives and guidelines.

    I applaud the author of this paper who outlined the importance of the five NG & DP and their need to be made relevant again.

    The main challenge now is the rapid phase of globalization that is somewhat impeding our national goals – to become globally relevant while keeping PNG ways and traditions.

    There are other challenges such as the introduction of big data or the internet of ways and AIs which places our national goals and directive principles to meet the needs and requirements on how we fair as a independent sovereign state but at the same time become an effective member of the global community of nations.

    Overall, the writers call is a timely reminder to all Papua New Guineans to become active participants of nation building so that collectively we build a stronger, prosperous, wiser and smarter nation.

  • A great and timely reminder to realign and refocus on the Pacific Way and Vision. And, this calls for special awareness and inclusion; genuine participation, exchange and diplomacy.

  • Very good article I enjoyed reading it. The main problem needed to be solved is deep inside of us and it needs people who are wise. We have brilliant people who are well educated yet our attitude is beyond what we have in hand. Most can talk nicely and act like they have professional heart but in reality they are the ones who fail to implement. Therefore PNG needs to get back to its roots and see if we have lost our values in the midst.

  • Good article getting to the core of why we are so lost. The gap between strategy (what we think we should do) and operations (what we do) is very wide and has few bridges.

  • Well stated brother, I hope this will help and change our country in such ways as that.

  • An excellent article on the importance of having clear direction as a nation. Without clear dreams, aspirations and direction, we as a nation will wallow in the mud of mediocrity and poverty. The NGDP are the original aspirations we need to recapture to move us forward. Successive governments have lost the way. Without a clear north star guiding us, we will see more rampant corruption eating away the nation’s wealth. Patrick Kaiku’s essay is a timely reminder, to recapture our original vision and realign ourselves so that we become a ‘purpose driven’ nation.

  • Outstanding Remarks from Patrick Kaiku – explain to current leaders and coming leaders,

    I really support that directive principles of state policy are enshrined in part IV of the constitution and are basically directives given to the state to bring about a just and welfare society. These principles serve as guidelines for the government while framing policies and programmes.

    National goals are goals set by the nation’s President during the presidential elections. Goals are in three categories, society, economy and military. Achieving a goal will earn the country a monument.

    The contentious reign of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill ended on 30 May 2019 with the election of James Marape as Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) new Prime Minister. Since his elevation to Prime Minister in 2011, O’Neill proved an effective tactician, overcoming numerous attempts to unseat him through the parliament, in courts and on the streets through protests. While O’Neill deserves credit for significant infrastructure developments and hosting of international events that arguably brought prestige to PNG, his legacy, like many of his predecessors, is shrouded in controversy.

    The Constitution contains a select number of human rights: the right to life, liberty and security of person and protection of the law, the right to take part in political activities, freedom from inhuman treatment and forced labour.

    The vision of the five National Goals and Directive Principles compelled post- independence governments to deliver social, economic and political development with consideration to equality, economic self-reliance, national sovereignty and protection of the natural environment.

    I’m the political Science student completely saluted my lectures have said – not to mockery the 8 million people. Understand the National goals before independence.


  • Thanks Patrick for this piece of notable remarks.

    I concur with your remarks that, in the post-independence state of PNG, the core ingredients of the NGDPs had never been used through any medium for public education and appreciation. I remember once I learnt the NGDPs when I was doing grade 4 or 5 in primary education. In the later part of my life, I read it in libraries and other official government magazines. Even today, I cannot fully cite the NGDPs by heart, let alone other educated Papua New Guineans.

    Before the NGDP were developed, extensive consultations were held across the country when the medium of communication was limited – the radios, the TVs, social media, the internet and mobile phones, all so called modern communication modules. Now that we are exposed to these various modern communication systems, we should be better informed and inform other fellow citizens on the true meanings of the NGDPs. However, it is the contrary today as you have remarked.

    I came across few citings of the NGDPs in official PNG development plans and strategies. The obvious one is on “integral human development”. However, in the subsequent sections of the official documents and its practical application, the true meaning of this NGDP slowly disappeared, so as the core value of the preamble to the Constitution and the development aspirations it should otherwise promotes.

    I supported your suggestion for a constitutional week or day to honour the significance of NGDPs like the annual Independence Day celebration it could be a better idea for all educated citizens to learn and understand the core purpose of the NGDPs and inform fellow citizens. Various activities can be organised to add the significance of the NGDPs as the preamble of the PNG home grown Constitution.

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