Wanted: Australian veterans of the NG war
Recollections of the Aitape-Wewak campaign

When reciprocity becomes a national disgrace

BY PAUL OATES

DURING THE APEC forum in Chile, Sir Michael Somare tried to hose down concerns of Western countries who perceive high-level gift-giving in Melanesia as bribery.

The PNG prime minister said: "Sometimes people take us wrongly. I explained that sometimes the Westerners think that this is buying the right. It is not buying the right. It's appreciation of each other."

Using the example of pig-giving, the ultimate gift in many PNG cultures, he explained: "That's not me buying you or you buying me. That's just our custom”.

Then he told the press conference he was dismayed by PNG public servants' expecting a "six-pack" to do jobs that they ere paid to do by the government.

Let’s talk about reciprocity. Ross Wilkinson observed in these columns yesterday that there is another side to reciprocity. “Receiving a gift was not really receiving a gift,” he wrote, “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.”

And he pointed out “the offence of thinking that it really was a gift and giving nothing in return.”

One might suggest that Australian taxpayers have paid out billions of dollars to assist PNG since independence, not demanded anything in return and not got much.

The PNG government has directly and indirectly received this money with no established agreement about accountability and responsibility for the expenditure of these funds.

If the PNG government happily accepts this annual largesse, why would it not expect to give back something of equivalent value.

That way Sir Michael could evenhandedly apply his stated Melanesian principle of 'appreciating each other'.

When, with Australian assistance, a program was introduced in PNG to actively assist an ailing police force, Morobe governor Luther Wenge claimed he ‘saved’ PNG by torpedoing the program. Some saviour. Some appreciation of each other.

Papua New Guineans are very familiar with reciprocity. But if PNG politicians give gifts involving taxpayer funds to people who reciprocate by giving gifts back, the taxpayers are nowhere in the equation.

Recent claims by the PNG Opposition that foreign millions helped Somare retain political power are very worrying. What could the ‘gift-givers’ want in return?

And, of course, down the years there has been much more. Unlodged tax returns, the Taiwan millions, pillaged trust funds, secret Singapore bank accounts, district services funds gone missing, boomerang aid (sorry, that’s Australian self-reciprocity).

Until the PNG Ombudsman and Police investigate all inappropriate donations, gifts and benefits politicians and public servants have derived while in public office, no start can be made to creating a graft and corruption free PNG.

It’s well past time that Sir Michael stopped dressing up graft as traditional reciprocity and gave his country a break.

Sapos mi laik givim samting,
Husat imas save tingting?
Em samting bilong mi,
Ino samting b'long PNG,
Emino bagarapim yumi?

Ol pipol isave lukluk,
Watpo yu krai olsem kokaruk,
Mi sandap olsem Gren Sif,
Mi singaut, mi bilip,
Emi gutpela pasin bilong yumi.

Trabel istap long ol raskol tasol,
Kain save istap long ol pipol,
Lain bilong mi ino mekim,
Kain olsem mi no sekim,
Dispela tok ilaik daunim yumi?

PNG ikamap gutpela hap nau ia,
Nogat wari na belhevi istap a?
Yu mas bihainim dispela singaut,
Maski tingting igo wokabaut,
Yu tok tasol; 'PNG i nambawan kantri.'

Kain olsem yu noken wari long moni,
Benk bilong mi igat dispela save,
Bihainim tok bilong mi,
Bai yumi girapim PNG,
Nau tasol, tiket bilong balus istap we?

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