Environment Act: govt has not learned lesson
Maladina: a matter of integrity & credibility

Top journalist chronicles the decline of PNG


ROWAN CALLICK, one of Australia's leading journalists who writes for The Australian, has continued his recent close scrutiny of PNG affairs with a major article in yesterday’s newspaper.

He has also revealed that this year’s annual ministerial forum between Australia and PNG has been cancelled the “due to limitations on ministerial travel in election year”.

Callick says that the PNG Auditor-General has discovered $2 million was paid to 87 people "for unknown services" out of relief funds given to Oro Province following cyclone Guba in 2007.

A further $800,000 was paid to businesses and other organisations for goods and services that were “unverifiable”. The people involved included disaster officials, senior government officers and bank officers.

“PNG has been undergoing a transition through which an extraordinary proportion of public funds have been purloined by members of the elite, while 40 percent of Papua New Guineans live on less than $US1 a day,” writes Callick.

“This gap is being accelerated by the prospect of instant wealth around the corner from ExxonMobil's $16.5 billion liquefied natural gas project, still four years from operation.

“The stress on the LNG deal has helped build a climate in which corruption appears to be viewed by some beneficiaries merely as booking private spending against future national earnings that are expected to be bottomless.

“At the same time, government services have been declining, putting increased pressure on aid, especially from Australia, which the Rudd government is increasing in the next financial year, to $457 million.”

Prime Minister Somare has said LNG projects will "increase our revenue to an unprecedented level and transform PNG".

But Callick goes on to chronicle the string of disasters that has beset PNG society in recent times: cholera, desperate hospital conditions, declining life expectancy, increasing infant mortality and a rapidly deteriorating transport system.

“Most services and new projects are provided by churches, non-government organisations and aid donors, but not by the government,” says Callick.

“In March, Somare tabled in parliament the 818-page report of a commission of inquiry into corruption at the top levels of the bureaucracy.

“But an injunction was granted banning the report's publication and implementation as soon as it was tabled. And extraordinarily, the government has not sought so far to have the injunction lifted.

“The government, however, has moved rapidly to pass legislation sheltering resource projects from all litigation over the destruction of the environment, labour abuse or landowner exploitation.”

Now none of this will be a surprise to regular readers of PNG Attitude. What is significant, though, is that consideration of the excesses and deficiencies of PNG’ rulers is beginning to gain traction in Australia.

Meanwhile, publicly at least, the Australian government remains mute on this disgraceful situation. And, as for AusAID, the least said the better.

Callick quotes Port Moresby Governor Powes Parkop as saying the new resource legislation delivers "almost absolute power to the government" on such matters.

“A clamour had arisen demanding the suspension of National Planning Minister Paul Tiensten over claims of corruption,” writes Callick. “Tiensten returned to his constituency. But Somare then sent the government's Falcon jet to bring Tiensten back in triumph to Port Moresby.

“The Supreme Court chalked up a win over the government recently, however, in insisting on the suspension of Treasurer Patrick Pruaitch following his indictment by the Ombudsman Commission for corruption.

“Legislation to water down the powers of the Ombudsman Commission, which polices corruption, has been backed by the government. But it was postponed to later in the year following mass demonstrations.

“[Opposition leader] Morauta warns: ‘If the Ombudsman Commission goes, there is no country’. Somare says there is no intention to remove the commission, describing the demonstrators as ol long long (mad).

“Paul Barker, executive director of the Institute of National Affairs, PNG's independent think tank, says: ‘The few reformers within the government seem to have inadequate political and bureaucratic backing to push through the massive changes needed for government to contribute rather than be a dead weight to a productive and inclusive economy and society.’”

Message to readers and contributors: let’s maintain the pressure.

Source: ‘Grand larceny robs PNG of millions’ by Rowan Callick, Asia-Pacific Editor, The Australian, 12 June 2010


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Colin Huggins

Rowan Callick's report says: “At the same time, government services have been declining, putting increased pressure on aid, especially from Australia, which the Rudd government is increasing in the next financial year, to $457 million.”

Yesterday I was in a taxi - and we all know that taxi drivers hear a lot and that they talk.

This particular driver was born in 1950. His gripe concerned the overseas money sent by the Australian government to Africa and what it achieves.

According to him, and I agree, it achieves nothing. Then I told him I lived in PNG during the period 1963-69. He was most interested. He was totally unaware of the aid that Australian governments have given to PNG over the years.

I told him about this blog - God help the viewers if he ever looks us up.

When I got home I read about the $457 million that will be given. I am sure that if I had seen this before I got into his cab and mentioned it to him - we would have been driven straight into a wall - kaput!

Now, where does this $457M go? I would like some answers as I am sure the village people of PNG would!

I am disgusted to think that the taxpayers of Australia are giving this amount of money with no seen positive results, or is it being correctly used?

Phil Fitzpatrick

Paragraph 11 about who provides outer urban and rural services seems to endorse John Fowke's view that aid should be directed to the churches and missions.

My recent experience is confined to Western, Gulf and Southern Highlands Provinces where most services come via ECPNG and the mining and petroleum companies.

Western Province has pretty much squandered the royalties from Ok Tedi and the trust funds from the oil fields in the Southern Highlands have been stolen.

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