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Date Posted: Thu, Jun 07 2007, 06:09:08pm
Mr Ipatas under the Microscope:
The True Colours Of Ipatas’ Leadership
“When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice:
but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.” (Prov. 29:2)
To some, Mr Peter Ipatas’ race for the country’s top post has become a joke while to others, it is one of the driving factors of motivations to win the coming elections at all costs. But the air surrounding Enga Governor Mr Peter Ipatas needs to be cleared once and for all, before the people of Enga decide whom to mandate their power. An in-depth analysis of the Ipatas-led government needs to be presented to the people of Enga and aspiring supporters throughout the country. Serious considerations have to be made on the characteristics of the Ipatas government for the last 10 years, his achievements and the future of Enga on the current sails.
On a general note, as implicated in the latest PAC findings, it is sad to reflect that the founding fathers of our nation and those that followed immediately thereafter with the likes of Mr Peter Ipatas, began the journey to self-governance with the same corrupt and bribery attitude as is widespread today. People like Mr Pais Wingti and Mr Ipatas were the ‘refiners’ of the corrupt system. As for Wingti, he never got a chance to finish his university degree but became a politician while doing his 3rd year at UPNG. Ipatas followed and left UPNG for Irelya, his home village in Enga, without completing his course and under questionable circumstances. There, it is understood that he started a band of notorious highway cowboys who frequently held roadblocks on the Highlands Highway leading to Porgera. During his time, many felt victims of our now good governor. He used the proceeds of the thieving venture and invested them in a trade-store which is still in existence at Irelya today. People became frustrated by Mr Ipatas’ continuous harassment of innocent travelling public that during one of the council elections, the Talyul tribe unanimously decided to appoint him as their councillor as a test to see if he could feel responsible and lead a normal life. And it did work but with a different twist.
Mr Ipatas as one of the youngest councillors set a track record of intimidation, harassment and bribery of the poor old councillors which eventually got him the council president. Diverting council and provincial funds by both appropriate and inappropriate means, Mr Ipatas, from the scraps of the Wabag Council Chamber rose up to be one of the wealthiest councils in his times. After 17 years of being the council president, it is truly indisputable that he does have a great array of experience in leading as a councillor as he himself stated (The National, 27 Dec.06). He further proclaimed that he had run the council ‘without instability’ for which, there is surprisingly no evidence of any substantive achievement over such a long period of LLG leadership. As a young university candidate with ambiguous motives, Mr Ipatas’ achievements as council president were best displayed in his valour for private entrepreneurship whilst diverting LLG funds to finance his pursuits. Using his position, he extended his family business which he began from thieving.
Many from the Talyul tribe believe that Mr Ipatas has changed since he was appointed councillor and they are not wrong on this. From being a petty highway cowboy to a rather more elevated crook, Ipatas did evolve to manipulate the council chambers of Wabag for his own good. Using LLG funds combined with proceeds from his own private ventures, Mr Ipatas made good use of LLG powers by building up a network of devout LLG followers in the whole of Enga, of which, most of them were old councillors easily susceptible to bribe, charm and chastisement. The network later became the stronghold upon which Ipatas won the first election in 1997 through a combination of tactical manipulations of the polling and counting processes.
What we see of Mr Ipatas today is a highly sophisticated bureaucrat who has exploited Enga people’s primitive phycology to maintain power and remain popular for the last 10 years as governor. From being a highway robber to a corrupt councillor, Ipatas has remained faithful to his old self, finally manifesting his true colours in his shoes as the Governor of Enga. He has been implicated in various misappropriation charges and corrupt dealings involving large sums of money over the term of his governorship of which, a mere penalty of a few thousand kina has been granted sufficient penance for his crimes. Most of the said funds have been diverted towards building up the Ipatas Empire and maintaining a neutralised, ‘Ipatas-positively charged’ political climate in Enga by supplying his die-hard supporters with cash and ‘necessary goods.’
From his very beginning, Ipatas had built up a questionable track record of leadership. Yet through political blunder and exploitation of the so-called ‘kenge-andake’ (of being proud) nature of the Engan attitude, we have continued to accept the current style of leadership as the best one, keeping as all happy and proud for nothing in particular. The Ipatas era is inherent of the ill-educated Somare regime of the 1970s but more a refined hub of systematically corrupt public servants which is implicitly evidenced by PAC findings as appeared under the headline ‘Mafia rules in Waigani’, stating such people have ‘...had used this system for 31 years’ (The National, 03 Jan.07). Accountability, independence and impartiality at Ipatas Complex are non-existent. A prominent accountant was once assigned by the national government to lead an audit team to examine the provincial books. He was assaulted by Ipatas’ men, and having his life under constant threat, the books were never properly audited. Ipatas has run the Enga provincial government just as he runs Panda Builders. The impending referral of Mr Ipatas which led to his eventual suspension saw many of the TAA-plated vehicles (about 16 plus vehicles mostly land cruisers) of the Enga Provincial Government being replaced with new plate numbers and the scrapping off of the provincial green colour stripes. Such practices are common within the Enga administration under the current leadership. An independent enquiry into the qualifications of people holding various public positions in the Enga Provincial Government would reveal the true nature and extend of mal-administration practised by the Ipatas-led government.
Ipatas, like any other members of parliament, employs his own tactics to remain in power. The Ipatas strategy is a combination of money, charm, guns, and the manipulation of polling and the counting processes. The cover-up process is also involved with lots of money and it goes as far as the court rooms as well as playing simple physiological games with the Enga people. Ipatas strategically invests Enga people’s money where it speaks the loudest. Free education, an easy but effective policy in capturing peoples’ attention worked well. Without any substantial brainstorming, Ipatas began ‘writing cheques on the ground’ and the most important part of the scheme has been the announcements and the presentations.
Ipatas has made sure every cheque presented to the smallest of all institutions was publicised on the news. He has made good use of the so-called free education policy as an effective political tool for maintaining his popularity and expanding his scope of influence. Making unwarranted commitments using Enga people’s money beyond his jurisdiction as reported on the National (8 May 07) where he signed a cheque of K10,000 for a simple graduation ceremony, a one-off expenditure that served no obvious part in his so-called free education policy. While he hails a number of ill-educated followers (Engans) who are the product of his scandalously-intended system itself, Ipatas applies the same principle of operation at home, ‘writing checks on the ground’ to every gathering that he is invited. In terms of infrastructural developments, again, strategic investment, or rather best termed as ‘politically motivated investment’ is the name of his game. For the last 10 years, the only portion of road in Enga that had some kind of maintenance done was the sealing of the Wabag to Wapenamanda Road, which got filled with potholes and cracks within 3 months of completion.
The Wabag to Wapenamanda Road is an important link and location of which all the 5 districts have access to this part of the highway. Since Engans love to pride in themselves, the project earned Ipatas a good name for as long as it lasted. Contrasting that with the disgraceful state of the Wabag Town is in itself a question of jurisdiction in politics between the governor and the Wabag open MP. A plan to develop the Wabag Town Market was aired a while ago but never materialised as it is still on the drawing boards due to the ‘complex nature’ and the ‘high level of expertise’ required to implement the project. The next options where money speaks the loudest for Ipatas have been the sponsoring of Enga Mioks as well as the hosting of the Ipatas Cup. Although it may seem on the outset that these pursuits are well-intentioned to develop rugby league talents in the province, the true intentions of Ipatas are to maintain his fame and popularity among the young whilst attracting Enga’s footy-crazy crowd behind his back.
Where ever Ipatas visits a major Enga Mioks or Ipatas Cup match, the gate is open to any would-be fan on the street at the expense of Enga people’s development funds. While feuds and tribal wars range all over Enga with deteriorating road conditions and failing much needed public services such as health, food security, lack of support for self-sustaining small scale income generating ventures, lack of market for fresh produce, Ipatas rides high on a ‘kenge andake’ (big name) policy that leaves us all feeling lofty for achieving nothing substantial in particular (feeling proud on ‘sopokali tumbarae’ stomachs). From the naming of the Enga people’s Administration Building to ‘Ipatas Building’ to the invention of ‘Ipatas Cup’ and the pursuit of ‘Ipatas eduction’ with ‘Ipatas cheques,’ Enga and PNG as a whole were presented with ‘hard evidence’ when Ipatas made a final show of his ‘achievements’ with the recent EMTV documentary, perfectly concluding his popularity campaign.
The future of Enga’s democracy and political freedom hangs in balance as Mr Ipatas and to some extend, Jeffery Balakau who were the first two candidates to openly stage a ‘guns and money regime’ in the race for power. While Mr Balakau seemed to have cooled off the race, a so-called political ‘marriage’ was forged between Ipatas and John Pundari (The National, 27 Dec.06) which was stated as being ‘fishy’ due to contravening circumstantial evidences and past radical differences arising between the two leaders (The National, 20 Apr.07). Pundari has now lowered himself to race the Kompiam/Ambum open once more and as fundraising chairman, he would naturally be contesting under the umbrella of People’s Party. The unity sent one single message to the people of Enga – Enga’s political integrity at stake. The values of big name and stature in Engan society which the governor himself so persistently campaigns by “yuu kainanya seke ping”, through the support of free education and rugby league sponsorship, became an object of ridicule when the two declared the most unexpected of all unions. While it was reported that Ipatas and Pundari are a ‘single team’ for the Prime Ministership race with a rather embarrassing Latin phrase in People’s Party motto as revealed by Dr Unage on The National, 11 Apr.07, political logic tells me there is something ‘fundamentally wrong’ with the Ipatas-Pundari union.
As Pundari remains the fundraising chairman for People’s Party, Ipatas seemed to have swayed his inclination towards Dickson Maki, the current sitting MP for Kompiam/Ambum who has wasted a good 5-year period achieving literally nothing for the electorate. Among other dubious potential candidates the People’s Party is endorsing throughout PNG, Mr Maki has purposely disappeared from the Kompiam/Ambum Electorate since he was voted into parliament 5 years ago. Now with the help of PP, he is back again seeking the people’s mandate to disappear for another 5 years. While it is not clear under what circumstances Mr Ipatas is endorsing Mr Maki and leaving PP treasurer Mr Pundari out in the cold, Both Pundari and Ipatas have deliberately and persistently lied under oath to the people with promises during campaign rallies, worse still using the name of God. Mr John Pundari made the following statement during one of his rallies against Mr Peter Ipatas in the 2002 National Elections; ‘If God does not bless Pundari's hands to improve the standard of our living in Enga and the sun does not shine or if nothing happens then you can vote me out in the 2007 national election’ ((Gibbs P. 2002), ‘Democracy and Enga Political Culture’).
After 10 years of switching through various ministerial portfolios and having achieved nothing for the Kombiam/Ambum Electorate, Mr Pundari used the name of God in vain to speak blasphemy against His name; a last resort sought to induce voters. Pundari’s move to contest for the regional was motivated by the fact that he had lost support in the Kompiam/Ambum Electorate. Gibbs further states that ‘Pundari likes to promote his clean church-goer image. Nevertheless, he saw fit to give out cheques to village youth groups and church groups during the campaign.’ And the ultimate, most obvious question is ‘Where does one draw the line between bribery and generosity?’ The author further comments on Ipatas, revealing that he is ‘…well known for giving handouts for projects and is known as the governor who "writes cheques on the ground" (yuu kaina seke pingi). In other words, he doesn't even have to carry a cheque book, but will simply tell a group of people to come and pick up their cheque in Wabag the following week.’
While Pundari claiming Ipatas as a polygamist and lacking Christian values (by having too many wives), Pundari himself was the hypocrite bribing and abusing democracy in the name of God. After a furious race of power, it was secretly rumoured that Pundari won the 2002 Enga Regional Seat which Ipatas somehow performed some extra-ordinary miracle in the counting room to have himself declared as the winner. Pundari filed a court case which never went through the courts (it is understood that Ipatas used the best of himself to have Pundari withdraw the file) but he did come to Ipatas’ rescue when he was recently fined for misappropriation. The now publicised Ipatas-Pundari union began under questionable circumstances that only Pundari, Ipatas and their close allies know about the truth. However, if the union between the two former fiery political rivals of Enga is true and genuine as they themselves have claimed and as supported by various commentators in the papers, only time will reveal the true intentions of pair. Rumour has it that Pundari is now ‘reviving’ and running under his own party – the PNG Revival Party, which is one of the two political parties he himself formed. So the pressing question now is where is the so-called ‘Ipatas-Pundari union, which was declared publicly in the eyes of all Engans and PNG as a whole?
In a nutshell, the facts surrounding Pundari are these: he gave a furious chase against Ipatas in 2002, but didn’t win the fight. Ipatas felt a match was up against him so he didn’t want to face the same situation in 2007. He made a false promise of ‘ever-lasting union’ with Pundari, hence, Pundari implicitly declaring himself defeated and surrendered, falling head-on to Ipatas’ trap. Ipatas took him in as treasurer for is PP party and promised him he would contest under PP which would guarantee Pundari’s win in the Kompiam/Ambum Electorate with no questions. When Pundari registered for the open, Ipatas has dumped him from PP endorsement. There is however the possibility that there could be a highly secretive agenda between Ipatas and Pundari that is not even in the minds of ordinary Engans: Ipatas may have allowed Pundari to contest under PNG Revival Party against his own PP man, unsuspecting Maki. Maki has lacked in performance and the people of Kompiam/Ambum know better: he is not definitely going to be returned. Whatever the outcome, either Pundari’s or Maki’s win will be for the good of Ipatas as long as both are in his team, yet rivals in their own race. Ipatas sits back and enjoys the scene he has tactfully created: he has set two dogs fighting for the same bone. Either way, supporters from both Maki and Pundari will be voting for Ipatas, hence, the ultimate beneficiary is our good governor. The deal being known only to Pundari and Ipatas could be that once Pundari wins the Kompiam/Ambum open, Ipatas would then form a coalition with Pundari’s party, while Maki is the rat in the trap, and the whole of the Kompiam/Ambum people are the innocent victims of high level political gimmick. Again, leaders with questionable characters and motives run the show in Enga, taking the people of Enga for granted and abusing the people’s support.
An advancing society is subject to change; hence change is induced and promoted by competition and creativity through the expression of freedom. Where freedom is marginalised, there is no improvement in society. Instead of an upward stance, society tumbles backwards with increasing law and order problems and growing economic difficulties. After assessing and looking back at how far Enga as a province has progressed through the recent years under the leadership of Ipatas, one thing that obviously strikes every educated Engan is the lack of real development and the continuous marginalising of Enga peoples freedom. Aspiring entrepreneurs of Enga have been systematically marginalised by the Ipatas government. A typical example, just recently, Mr. Poko, a faithful supplier of stationary to Kopen and Wabag Secondary Schools has had his contract terminated by our good governor. Unless otherwise you are on the governor’s side, Ipatas has and will employ both legal and illegal means to quench all opposition and competition. His first move once he got into office was to sack all anti-Ipatas public servants; even a simple teacher that didn’t support him in the elections was made jobless.
Enga Provincial tenders are either awarded to his own private company or given only to businesses run by his close allies. The recent outcry by Mr Ipatas ( The National, 26 Apr 07) when the National Government awarded contracts to road projects in Wapenamanda, Kandep and Wabag districts to various construction entities was not an expression of concern but rather he was more concerned with who was entrusted with the money. Obviously the named contractors were not on Mr Ipatas’ list of ‘business partners.’ Anyone that is not a supporter of the Ipatas government literally feels being threatened to approach the Ipatas Building in Wabag. The province is now run by tugs and allies of Ipatas just like in the old days when he used to lead the band of highway robbers. As the saying goes; ‘old habits die hard’, Ipatas has surrounded himself with loyal followers which is no where more evident than at the Ipatas Complex itself - it is fully occupied by Ipatas die-hards; from the administrator down to the cleaner.
Leaders who lack the proper educational qualifications in economics, business and politics cannot simply run the affairs of modern day government society in full capacity. The incorporation of traditional concepts such as tribalism in modern day Westminster system of governance by such minds have corrupted the entire governance structure even before independence. The current Enga government has not established any major economic and policy reforms for the last 10 years. All it has been doing is a creation of a safe operating ground for selfish gains and to extend the rein of control over successive periods through a ‘Fidel Castro-type’ government; systematically downplaying democracy formally, informally and through both legal and illegal means. Although the concept of socialism does work in Castro’s country; a revolution which had noble intensions – a successful uprising against the powerful, oppressing and exploitative US government, Enga’s Castro-type government is set on suppressing any opposition in maintaining its dictatorship.
For Mr Peter Ipatas, Enga Provincial coffers and governorship of the province are not enough to satisfy the ever growing desire for more money and power. If he has proven himself to be worthy of a provincial leader and if he has led with transference and accountability, by all means the whole of Enga would be behind his back for the race for prime ministership. Unfortunately the current facts, his history and the tomorrow’s predictions of his questionable leadership style speak doom for the people of Enga and PNG as a whole. Most likely if he were to be the prime minister, the same type of Engan leadership mentality will follow, ignoring important economic, fiscal and foreign policies and engaging on extravagant spending campaigns on ‘free education’ and football games. The reality is that Mr Ipatas is fully versed with the Engan culture but lacks the political acumen and presentation skills of a leader able to negotiate at international fronts.
Neither does Ipatas posses nor acknowledges the vital forces of economics and the flow of currencies, nor the importance of maintaining an upright and educated phase in world politics. This is the prime ministers post, the highest calling in PNG’s political stature and the man who has to take on that job must have a broad perspective, understanding and appreciation of the political and business forces of the global arena in which PNG operates. Ipatas will be like another Pais Wingti, preying on the country’s treasury and another Bill Skate, ignoring the established forces of economics and follow the established footsteps of Sir Somare by ‘privatising’ (Ipatasation) of PNG’s public sector from top downwards, even to the humble post office clerk. Given his performance record for the last 10 years and his previous 17 years as council president, Mr Ipatas is the perfect prescription for disaster for a country that is already at the verge of collapse. What PNG needs is a visionary and strategic leader who has the brains to address the socio-economic down-turns and stabilise the country’s economy by introducing PNG-made solutions.
In conclusion, the scenario that if Ipatas returns to power, Enga would be lagging 15 years behind and the current law and order problems and infrastructural woes would be 5 times worse than it is today. As long as we don’t have people who can design and construct sustainable and tangible economic policies specifically tailored to the conditions of Enga, we will still remain underdeveloped and marginalised. Ten years for Ipatas on the reigns of Enga has been more than sufficient for him to device strategic plans to address the nightmares of our province, especially tribal fights. The best he has done is setting up a gun-buyback program. People are not that foolish. Junks have been handed in for a profit and enough to buy the latest on the market. With the current campaign trails characterised by guns leading and money following, a repeat of the 2002 National Elections is formidable unless otherwise the people of Enga see the reality, and deliberately decide for tomorrow, decisively and consciously. Some millions of kina are being spent in Enga and throughout PNG from Enga’s purses and private hands in running the 2007 elections by the People’s Party. At the expense of further deteriorating conditions, Ipatas will have to recoup that money and with some profit. Like any other MPs, Mr Ipatas is accruing monies from both business houses and private hands to run his expensive campaign.
Five years will not be sufficient if the cost-recovery plan is transparent, hence succumbing to the usual tactics while Enga continues to suffer for the next 5 years when Ipatas gets into power again. It is now that Enga has to take serious consideration. We have to decide and act today for the better of Enga and PNG as a whole. Maybe the rest of PNG know the loud-talking Ipatas but Engans should know better than that. Some most fundamental facts of the past, present and future of the Ipatas government have been outlined by the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Don Polye in one of his recent visits to Enga, revealing critical and tactical matters that must form the focal point of good leadership and governance. Such perceptions are worthy considerations for a noble course. If the Enga people and interested stakeholders of PNG continue to turn a blind eye to the unfolding events and fail to judge our current leaders and act accordingly, Enga will continue to remain underdeveloped and rampant with tribal-conflicts. As the saying goes, history will repeat itself: ‘Peter Ipatas was declared elected despite his son being filmed methodically filling out hundreds of ballots in his father's name inside the polling booth itself’ (The Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Aug.02).
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