An entry in the Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
MANY people hold the view that, if it wasn’t for the judiciary and non-government agencies like the churches, Papua New Guinea would have long become a failed state due to systemic corruption at all levels of government.
Recently, Education Minister Nick Kuman shocked the nation by revealing that K50 million under the government’s free school fee policy was stolen by fraudsters because education officers were not doing their jobs of accounting for money received by schools.
Kuman said the education officials didn’t ensure that enrolment figures complied with the actual student populations in schools. In one province, which he did not name, the 2015 enrolment was inflated by 18,000 students – in order to get more funds.
National Planning Minister Charles Abel recently said that PNG has wasted K150 billion since independence, much of it through fraudulent schemes.
There was the National Provident Fund (now Nasfund) fraud for which Jimmy Maladina was been finally found guilty after 17 years for misappropriating K2.65 million when he was chairman of the fund in 1999.
There have been many other cases, and many more presumably still undiscovered. They happen because the government appoints departmental heads and CEOs of statutory agencies without much scrutiny. A number of these top bureaucrats either ignore corruption or are heavily involved in criminal activities themselves.
This would come to a grinding halt if a new system of appointing top bureaucrats was adopted for PNG. A nominee for a top post would be screened and confirmed through a parliamentary confirmation committee comprising government and opposition.
If a nominee was involved in illegal activities like sexual abuse in the workplace, victims would be empowered to stand up and testify.
This system was used by the United States in the confirmation of US Supreme Court nominee Judge Clarence Thomas in 1991. The proceedings were telecast live and extensively covered by the media.
Thomas emphatically denied charges of sexual harassment and repeatedly invoked racial themes in his own defence and, in a move to gain sympathy among blacks, he accused the all-white Senate of conducting a ‘high-tech lynching.’
When I saw this, I couldn’t believe that a woman would stand up in this way. Being from PNG, where women tend to be suppressed and subservient to menfolk and where the wantok system rules supreme, I found the confirmation hearings amazing.
In the end Judge Clarence Thomas was confirmed by a 52–48 vote, the narrowest margin for approval in more than a century.
Maybe, PNG could adopt such a system so members from both government and opposition are appointed to a parliamentary confirmation committee which can drill candidates for top positions - judges, ombudsman, police commissioner, agency CEOs, departmental heads and others to check their character and merits and screen them thoroughly.
It’s a system that would weed out corrupt people who have been recycled in government systems over and over again in the last forty years.