BY KEITH JACKSON
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
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
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
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
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
“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