'Australian advisors and frittered aid monies.' Papua New Guineans have frittered away credibility
How shocked are we that ‘Australian advisors have frittered away aid monies’ in
Anyone who has worked in the aid industry in PNG for the past 25 years will be familiar with the arc of this storyline. General public takes umbrage, beneficiaries call for a review, more money is thrown at the problem and everyone gets a new car. The only difference today is that the beneficiaries have learned to write their own script and now there’s virtually no one in public office who can legitimately cast the first stone. If the consultants look self-serving, just read the case studies in the Paraka report, it’s astonishing.
But I wish to discuss the ethic, the gestalt or sociopolitical paradigm that keeps this practice of gross graft and self-interest alive. I am not talking about tribalism, or even witless greed, but the general ethic of neoliberal ‘service’ in the developing world that was born of a late colonial economic order and the kind of class system two-tiered wages and expatriate society always breeds. In private enterprise, in the Foreign Service, in BINGO development, as in some of the more outré religious missions, the idea is to flaunt a distinction between the outsider and the indigene that justifies the farmer’s very existence in the country. That’s a given. But it is an unexamined given in the 21st century when neoliberal economic theory, old Clausewitzean political models, and the finely tuned class order of late imperialism are all so outdated, so exhausted of moral authority, as to be laughable.
No one, however, has bothered to tell this to the developing world. And PNG is always the last to get the memo. Here the LNG Project has delivered a whole new wave of wealthy expatriate wives keen to swap Mills and Boon, or Vanity Fair for that matter, share a masseuse and a mani-pedi and work the phone trees whenever smoked salmon or a private showing of handmade jewelry is in POM.
Twentysomething years ago I was conducting PhD fieldwork in Port Moresby and driving around in the country’s cheapest car, a Toyota Corona bought for what I thought then was an astoundingly high price of K1000. It had bicycle tyres and doors that wouldn’t open. The material was as close as a car could get to biscuit box tin as was legal I imagine (and yet friends and I forded swamps and beaches and pitpit grass to weekend in Hula with that little car, I remember). A friend had said blithely, when I drove it up, ‘Gee I’ve never seen one of those off blocks before.’
Anyway, I was sitting in a garage waiting for a bill that would hammer me no doubt, next to an Australian woman wearing the then-ubiquitous hip radio connecting her to Securimax or some other militant security company of the time. She was whinging away about being stuck in
But I did listen, thinking all the while of how hard a road it had been for me to get a grant to come work on my PhD here in PNG, and how the grant itself, pegged to the US State Department’s Cost of Living Index, was as much as one might receive for study in Tokyo or Paris at that time. It was lavish by any anthropologist’s standards, really more than I’d ever seen before. But after housing, transport and general necessities (including one of the first laptops ever made), my budget was very basic. I lived with the friend hadn’t seen my car off blocks. I traveled very sparsely, and almost never ate out. Indeed I was a professional mooch, like most grad students, taking dates for free meals, adjusting my research to my budget virtually every day. Most of my time was spent driving the little yellow biscuit box to and from Enseesee valley where I worked with and researched Albert Toro at Tukana Media, always praying against punctures on the old
Here was a woman not much older than myself in the full flower of her middle class frustrations: kids in school, fifth element in the shop, tennis on Tuesday and as far from the malls in Adelaide as one could imaginatively get (roughly the same distance as, say, Nairobi or Delhi or Khartoum---much much farther than those spots with cheap domestic help and free trade for luxury goods, like Hong Kong or Jakarta or Bangkok).
I am reminded of the young Australian woman, the professional aid worker, who ran Goroka’s Save the Children years ago and who, after the Aitape tsunami, when we invited her to sign up to take in orphans temporarily, stopped complaining about her housing package and the problems of bringing pedigree dogs into the country long enough to refuse, saying. “Children?! Can’t stand them!”
So the realm of expatriana is itself strictly ranked, and you cannot get much worse a posting, it appears, than PNG. Even as smoked salmon is now available at the Airways Deli and botox can be had from private clinics in POM, this is still as back as beyond as can be for the haute middle class. Hence the frittering away of Australian aid: club memberships, big flats, two car-two house girl-two annual leave families parked all over the booming LNG metropolis of Port Moresby.
In my advanced age, as these accoutrements of arrival look less and less silly to me, I am still struck by the psyches that require them---as prerequisites to survival. I do recall an Australian friend in Mt Hagen years ago, whose twenty year old daughter was coming to visit and he fretted over her transferring terminals at
It is inequity that people cannot be bothered by. This is why even today, as I move through crowds of expats who have known me for years I am still having to defend my existence in this country (despite having 7 kids and a company to run), as neither missionary nor mercenary, and on the straight side of misfit. I do not make piles of money. I am not profiteering to compensate for discomforts. So I am a misfit. Of a weekend I can travel to a perfect beach with loved ones and fry fish and snorkel beneath beautiful palms in a scene from everything my own father worked hard to acquire in retirement.
In Cairns recently, I picked up a Tatler-- the gossip mag for the UK’s filthy rich, sort of the Commonwealth’s original Vanity Fair—and always of interest to me. As an American, I’m no royalist, but like most Australians, I’m just enough poor Irish trash to sneer at landed gentry even as I fantasize about them. (I coulda bin a Lady!).
This issue was interesting for three stories.
First, a story about Princess Alexandra Tolstoy of combined Russian and British blood, marrying the Russian oligarch Sergei Pugachev, the man who has everything. He has a fortune in several banks, a private jet, and properties everywhere. Tolstoy, a former television presenter and daughter of Count Nikolai Tolstoy, the historian, is a self-styled adventurer who exchanged mucking out stables for shopping, babies and doing up her boyfriend’s yacht. The photo shoot occurs in their French chateau which the writer describes as “exactly the place you would expect a rich Russian to keep his beloved—except 100 years ago.” Apparently her parents are happier now that she’s left her first husband, a Russian horse groomer who never made much money. “he’s very passionate,” Alexandra says. “ I have a very strong and dominating personality. My parents are really happy I have found someone stronger than me.” I bet they are.
Safe from the proletariat hoards
Tolstoy is now the star of a TV advertising campaign in
In an interview with the Sunday Times Online [ January 10 2010], Alexandra explains that Pugachev’s work “is very stressful” but “luckily I’m very distanced from his professional life”. Later on she sighs, saying “Money is a problem that’s gone. But we have loads of other problems. We have some very high security. So my life is restricted in other ways.”
The there is a story about Simon Mann’s wife, Amanda Mann, astonishingly titled ‘Cry Freedom.’ This refers to her husband’s recent and unexpected release from jail in
Lie back and think of England
But Amanda is long-suffering. “It was all going swimmingly for Amanda Mann,” the article tells us. “She had a buccaneering brewing heir of a husband, three children, another on the way, and an estate by the sea. Then, six years ago, an anonymous caller informed her that Simon Mann’s coup in
In October 1996, Mann, Buckingham and Spicer met for lunch in an Italian restaurant just off King's Road in
In 1997 Spicer and Buckingham had begun a new contract to support the
Eccentrics and their peerage
Finally, a third story interests me in this issue. It is remembrance of the eccentric stylist and fashion muse Isabella Blow, whose suicide in 2009 foreshadowed that of her dear friend the designer Alexander McQueen earlier this year. They were inseparable creative partners and lived very large, in the most haute of British traditions.
Eccentricity as sign of rank is part of the great modern project: individualism, auteurism, suffering geniuses all. But of course Isabella came from a long line of peerage with expansive avocations. Her grandfather was the renowned Sir Jock Delves Broughton, accused of the
Acquitted, Sir Jock nevertheless committed suicide soon thereafter. By then the striking Lady Diana had left him for a millionaire cattle rancher, but eight years later married the fourth baron Delamere, a relationship that lasted until his death in 1979.
The very week of Blow’s own suicide by poison, the
And in 2001 the current
Five days after his death, Tonio’s body, along with a few treasured possessions including his crash helmet, his surf board and a favourite painting, went up in a funeral pyre at his cremation. In a scene that would not have been out of place in Out of Africa, Natasha, who had not been invited, flew over the funeral party in a light aircraft to say her own emotional farewell.
A few years later, Delamere’s great grandson, Thomas Cholmondeley, was convicted of the 2006 murder of a Kenyan wildlife warden that he thought was a poacher. Not long afterwards the Masai living within the 100,000-acre Delamere family ranch, attempted to reclaim their traditional land, claiming it was deceitfully taken from them by Lord Delamere in 1904.
‘Buccaneers’ writing history
Meanwhile, those with slightly less sterling pedigrees are busy writing their own histories. Spicer has a new autobiography out, and you have to imagine Simon Mann has a terrific book deal.
Read the Amazon blurb for Spicer’s book, An Unorthodox Soldier:
In this fast-moving account of his life, Tim Spicer describes the events in Papua New Guinea when he was captured at gun-point and held in captivity—and came away with his life, his men, and the company's honor intact. Here too is the full truth about the notorious "Arms for Africa" affair which tied the Foreign Office in a knot over whether Sandline had broken a UN embargo on supplying arms to the legitimate government-in-exile of
Remaking mercenary in the new century
After the 1997 Papua-New Guinea scandal and the 1998
By now we’re all familiar with the idea of corporate warfare, and the privatisation of defense. But it’s also interesting to see how, after a series of politically horrendous events, the toy soldier now seems more anachronistic than he likes, and recasts his romantic enterprise as ‘security.’ Because even where guerrilla warfare is thwarted by improved diplomacy, there will always be need for security. Every foreign diplomatic, every expatriate wife, every oil field and mine site needs security.
The indigene is a criminal element
Spicer resigned from Sandline International at the end of 1999, but was back in the business within six months. A week before the British-based Executive Outcomes dissolved on May 16, 2000, Spicer created Crisis and Risk Management Ltd. In April 2001, he changed its name to Strategic Consulting International (SCI) Ltd. He also launched a Sandline follow-on company, Sandline Consultancy Ltd, believing that Sandline was a "good name" with "brand recognition." But the company never did business.
The same year, he launched a third new venture, Trident Maritime. Trident describes itself as "an international maritime safety and security company," and as a subsidiary of SCI.
Trident Maritime, which specialized in maritime risk assessment, claimed on its Web site to have offices and a "command center" in
Special Forces Club
In 2001, Trident won a contract with the Sri Lankan government to conduct a full security review of its airport and seaports, and implement its recommendations. The majority of the 15 names on his personnel list were retired British Special Forces and intelligence officers. Not so very Maritime really.
Spicer has also been recasting himself and his work as the champions of transparency. He told the Financial Times in 2001 that SCI was to be a different sort of business. "One that is totally transparent, registered in the
But during the Papua New Guinea judicial inquiry into the Bougainville affair, Judge Warwick Andrew commented that Spicer's claim that Sandline Holdings, set up for the Papua New Guinea operation, was entirely separate from Executive Outcomes "cannot be true, but the exact nature of their relationship seems clouded behind a web of interlocking companies whose ownership is difficult to trace." Further, Andrew made no distinction between the South African and British incarnations of Executive Outcomes. The commission found a
(https://projects.publicintegrity.org/bow/report.aspx?aid=149 accessed 26.5.2010)
But we’d like to talk more about the fiction that shapes this mercenary/defense business. Obsequious writers describe Spicer and Mann and their ilk as ‘buccaneers’, but others are not so romantic. Just as little girls mostly grow up to abandon their princess fantasies, little boys put away their cowboy hats in time.
Even some of the most pungent and controversial writing about this generation of young soldiers (like Evan Wright’s Generation Kill) is compelling because it is raw, ugly, unromantic and lifts the veil of ‘patriotism’ and ‘conscience’ that had romanticized most soldier stories to date.
Alexandra Fuller is a white Zimbabwean writer, for example, who has brilliantly described some of the ethical nuances of today’s
As an anthropologist I find the romance of either colonialism or the noble savage offensive, and know from experience that excellent alternate narratives are being written every day.
This is exactly the moment for Mann and Spicer to demystify the work of mercenaries: to talk about the lust for blood, the blind fun of paying with guns, of having no political compass and being willing to work either side of the fence to pay off your mortgage back home.
But what we get is more obfuscation. More
In 2005 The Guardian’s George Monbiot wrote the other kind of piece on Spicer, spelling out the literary delusions I’m referring to: the kind of post-colonial hangover so much of Capetown, London, and (I’m sorry) Sydney is still suffering.
He called it ‘Pedigree dogs of war’
‘Some people who engage in foreign conflicts are called terrorists,’ Monbiot begins. “Others are about to be government-licensed.’
What is the legal difference between hiring a helicopter for use in a coup against a west African government and sending supplies to the Chechen rebels? If there isn't one, why isn't Mark Thatcher in Belmarsh? Conversely, why aren't the "foreign terrorist suspects" in Belmarsh prison free and, like Thatcher, at large in
The question is an important one, for mercenaries are becoming respectable again. On Thursday Tim Spicer,
Spicer is the mercenary who, in two years, caused two international incidents. The first was in 1997 in
Spicer says his companies "operate strictly within the law". And it is true that, while he has faced criminal proceedings in
In principle, mercenaries are regulated by the 1870 Foreign Enlistment Act. It's an offence to assist the armed forces "of a foreign state at war with any foreign state at peace with Her Majesty". But no one has ever been prosecuted for it, and the act is widely regarded as useless. The government has avoided the need to test it by deciding that some people are terrorists, and therefore contravene a different set of laws, while others are businessmen, and therefore contravene no laws. Their classification depends on their nationality (British subjects, for example, cannot be detained without charge or trial in Belmarsh); the identity of the government they intend to fight or support; and their ideology (if they believe in what they are doing they are terrorists, if they do not they are businessmen).
The distinction has nothing to do with the morality of their cause. The people of Bougainville, brutally treated by the government of Papua New Guinea, had a powerful moral case for self-determination, and the government a weak moral case for using armed force to seize their land for a giant copper mine, yet this does not appear to have affected our government's decision to treat Spicer's operation as business. The moral case for a Kurdish insurrection against the government of
…If the government banned British subjects and residents from engaging in any foreign conflict, no one would be able to assist the armed opposition to the Burmese junta, or enlist to fight in another Spanish civil war. If it permitted us to engage in any foreign conflict, the
2004 Occupation authorities in Iraq have awarded a $293 million contract effectively creating the world's largest private army to a company headed by Lieutenant Colonel Tim Spicer, a former officer with the Scots Guard, an elite regiment of the British military, who has been investigated for illegally smuggling arms and planning military offensives to support mining, oil, and gas operations around the world. On May 25, the Army Transportation command awarded Spicer's company, Aegis Defense Services, the contract to coordinate all the security for Iraqi reconstruction projects….
Under the "cost-plus" contract, the military will cover all of the company's expenses, plus a pre-determined percentage of whatever they spend, which critics say is a license to over-bill. The company has also been asked to provide 75 close protection teams -- comprised of eight men each -- for the high-level staff of companies that are running the oil and gas fields, electricity, and water services in Iraq…In Iraq, there are currently several dozen groups that provide private security to both the military and the private sector, with more than 20,000 employees altogether.
The companies include Erinys, a South African business, that has more than 15,000 local employees charged with guarding the oil pipelines; Control Risks Group, a British company that provides security to Bechtel and Halliburton; and North Carolina-based Blackwater Consulting, which provides everything from back-up helicopters to bodyguards for Paul Bremer, the American ambassador in charge of the occupation… But this newest military contract in
Wanted: A Few Good Men for Very Good Salaries
Rumors of lucrative new jobs with Spicer have been circulating for a couple of months. In late March, Britain's Lieutenant Colonel Alan Browne, who is in charge of finding jobs for members of the Royal Signals regiment in Blandford Camp, Dorset, posted ads offering Aegis positions in Iraq for qualified radio technicians at the salary of $110,000 a year, three times higher than most other jobs offered at the regimental resettlement office. The contract also provides a generous 100 days vacation per year….
But what I want to add to this discussion here is not just the revelation that somehow these fairytales are all the same: about being born to rule, being exceptional, entitled, beyond national or political borders, and always worth squillions of dollars to keep our women in comfort and our markets free.
It is that (sense Franz Fanon) we can now read the same story from the formerly colonized. Today we have elite Papua New Guineans buying second and third homes in Kuala Lampur and Beijing, seeking medical treatment in Singapore, taking prickly offense and being manhandled through airport security, and finding their own way to pad the budgets, force the kickbacks, insert line items and loot the national budget—even as they faint, hanky to brow, over foreign consultants gobbling up the aid money (and calling them ‘boys’).
Leave it to Moses Maladina, father of the Bill that would make looting more respectable, to give us the most florid version of this neocolonial romance in his multigenerational saga of white privilege, mateship, the White Woman’s Protection ordinance, a Jewel in the Crown, and interracial lust as the critical linchpin of social change (sensu the Lord Delamere descendant who married the Masai!).
When we want to know why these people do what we do, we need to read their fiction. Tabu, Legacy of an Affair in
Just a few excerpts. Take it away Moses:
By the time the Macdhui berthed at
Amid the noisy chaos on the wharf that greeted the MacDhui as it docked she thought she recognized a loud and familiar voice. It did not take long for
…”Let me tell you why you are here,” began Sir Hubert. He was pleased to see the younger man’s face crease with concentration. “You’ve heard the talk about the way things are done out here, all this tosh about my regarding anyone with black skin as if they were one of my own children.”
…Sir Hubert continues, “This is God’s country and these are God’s special people.” ,,,”When God made Africans, he put them on the continent of Africa, the Europeans in Europe and likewise the Asians in
Morea drove to East Boroko to buy a newspaper, as he did every morning. It was a beautiful clear day now that the southerlies had removed the clouds, although he was aware that riots were continuing just two kilometres away….
The newspaper was still full of reports of the aftermath of the Timeline scandal. May-Louise O’Conlan had walked away with a prestigious media award for breaking the story. Morea shook his head as he walked into the house. The whole business hadn’t taken him unawares exactly, but it was a source of general bewilderment to him that such things went on. It seemed unlikely, he thought, that
It was a crisp spring morning in
In the kitchen Jacqueline was cooking pancakes. The smell of hot butter was drifting outdoors to the patio where Edward sat trying to concentrate on the morning paper….Since he had left university and gone into the family business he paid little attention to politics and even less to the ethics of his own business practices. Unless political events had affected him personally he had ignored them. On reflection he had done little wrong, but the Timeline deal and its implications had woken him to the inequities of both the global marketplace and international politics. These things had never interested him before, and it struck him that it had taken a personal link with Papua New Guinea to attract his sympathy for the country’s difficulties.
…When he had finally broken down, in his hotel room in Port Moresby, with the sounds of protestors on the street, it has been because he knew he could have saved his grandfather, Sixty years after the hanging Edward wept because as a lawyer himself he could have represented his grandfather n court. He cried for the loss he was powerless to recoup, for the man he never knew, and he cried with relief that his own son would be spared the humiliation that Sitiveni had endured.
On the flight home, cushioned far above the ocean, Edward had begun to make plans. It was clear that Timeline and the Murrays would no longer be business partners, But he had to do a great deal of work to make up for the time he had spent ignoring the truth.
His feelings for Spencer were ambivalent. Gone was his sense of camaraderie, replaced with a desire to understand the man’s motives. Money, he knew, was a prime factor. Edward was not naïve enough to discount that, and indeed Spencer had stated as much himself on more than one occasion. Status, too, was no doubt an incentive. The meetings with officials and the excitement of being involved in covert operations clearly boosted Spender’s ego. Still, Edward found himself keen to know why the older man had been willing to step into that particular fray. Consequently, Edward was concerned with what lay ahead for