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PNG – Culture, reciprocity & corruption


ON EMMANUEL Narakobi's Masalai blog, there has been an interesting debate that began as a discussion about the world's most corrupt countries.

The subject of corruption is topical and the exchange turned to a consideration of corruption in today's PNG.

The question of exactly what constitutes corruption can be in the eye of the beholder.

Illegal activities should be easy to spot and prosecute. However unethical activity can be a grey area.

A recent decision by an Australian government minister, which benefited a number of Australian TV moguls, was announced soon after the minister had been skiing with one of them.

The opposition leader called it “a bribe”. It certainly occupied the grey area.

Many countries have a recognised culture of reciprocity. In Australia, the culture tends towards giving without necessarily expecting something in return. Yet this is not the case in many other cultures.

Prior to working in PNG around the middle of last century, part of our training required learning about reciprocity and how one might actually give offence to someone by giving them something they had no way of repaying on an equivalent level.

This was a new concept for us, just as the expectation of paying and receiving a 'tip' used to be totally foreign to an Australian.

In PNG, there has been a growing practice of 'tipping' or, as it is referred to locally, the 'six pack' culture - referring to getting a government official to do something by rewarding him with a six pack of beer.

Prime Minister Somare is on record as saying he believes the PNG public service is corrupt yet he seems unable or unwilling to do anything about it.

PNG's ethical standards are set out in the Constitution and legislation. This was influenced by an Australian and PNG perspective prior to independence and has been accepted by successive PNG governments.

The traditional PNG practice of reciprocity doesn't feature in the PNG Constitution. This aspect allows some people to believe that no stated mention means it isn't illegal.

So what benchmark is acceptable in today's PNG? Surely those elected to Parliament are expected to serve and look after the PNG people ahead of themselves?

At the apparent behest of the Prime Minister, the PNG Speaker, who is supposed to be impartial, last year effectively closed down Parliament to prevent a vote of no confidence in the government.

If the PNG government is not prepared to permit Parliament to operate as it was designed to do, then PNG democracy is at an end. It is suggested by a PNG blogger on the Masalai site that PNG dictatorship has now effectively commenced.


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Ross Wilkinson

And, of course, Paul, what we also learned was the other side of reciprocity. Receiving a gift was not really receiving a gift, it was merely the opening of "negotiations". What could one give in return that was equal to or better than the intent of the gift received.

An, of course, the offence of thinking that it really was a gift and giving nothing in return.

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