A brother in need
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A new system to promote good governance & fight corruption


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.


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Daniel Ipan Kumbon

Thanks for the comments Chris and Arthur.

Politicians will come and go. But the real challenge rests with Departmental Heads, and CEOs of Statutory bodies. PNG has yet to see an honest top brass resigning from his job because he does not want to be involved in corrupt practises with a politician.

Arthur Williams

Thanks for an interesting article Daniel. Got me thinking and away from watching Wimbledon tennis; at least after my heroine USA's Serena Williams got through to the final again.

One of the amazing things of the USA presidential races is the incredible cost of campaigning. I have seen figures alleging Obama's 2012 cost over US$ 400 million while his opponent spent about half that.

Not a race for the impoverished and surely most if not all of his backers are expecting 'quid pro quo' or something for their funding him.

I believe PNG does need some new ideas on sorting out the corrupt practices that every PM since 1975 have promised to come down harsh on. But always seems to get worse not better.

I was sorry to read that President Momis has seen fit to appoint Fidelis Semoso as Minister of Economic Development.

After investigation by the Ombudsman he was later found guilty by a Leadership Tribunal on several charges but was able to stand for public office because he successfully appealed the sentence of dismissal.

Nearly called President Momis 'Father' because I was told by an archbishop that the incumbent Pope when Momis became just a Mister was dead against allowing any Father to renounce his vows. I learnt this after the murder of ex-priest and by then Lavongai Parish manager who was a married man with kids.

I was told in fact that the victim, who was slaughtered on the steps of the convent, 'Is still a Priest because of the Pope's intransigence about defrocking.'

Also recall seeing a blatantly guilty leader found not guilty because 'Lying to a Tribunal' was not an offence at that moment in the law on tribunals. He was escorted from the court by cheering elated cronies who apparently could see nothing wrong with having a liar as their MP.

Will the recent Dateline Lawyers investigation prompt reforms;

will Tjandra aka Joe Chan ever be sent to face the music in Indonesia;

will the SABL recommended for cancellation be cancelled before they have harvested all the trees; will the Falcon jet ever be sold;

what happened to the Sandline equipment in the OZ warehouse?

Who benefitted from the K300,000 paid by the state for Karoola Plantation in Buka

The list is far far to long for a small nation hell bent on selling off its resources in the quickest time possible before any working regulatory system can stop the elites from their pillages too.

Chris Overland

As a veteran of multiple selection processes for senior executive roles in government, both as an applicant and as a Selection Panel member, I feel qualified to comment on Daniel's article.

The first thing to note is that an incoming President of the USA has an immense power of patronage that dwarfs that of virtually all other individual political figures except perhaps the President of Russia.

My understanding is that a new US President is able to appoint upwards of 8,000 officials in the Federal Government.

The top 80 to 100 or so senior appointees range from Cabinet members like the Secretary of State, Ambassadors, Members of the Federal Reserve Board and, as mentioned by Daniel, Justices of the Supreme Court.

These very senior appointments can be and are closely scrutinised by the Senate which, from time to time, will decline to endorse the President's choice. Such rejections are almost always based upon either ideological or "character" grounds.

Beneath this level of government are a host of less important but by no means insignificant positions within the bureaucracy and judicial systems. My understanding is that these lesser appointments are rarely contested.

This situation is quite unlike that in countries with a "Westminster" type of government, where direct Government or Ministerial appointments are more limited.

Nevertheless, in countries like Britain and Australia, no-one is likely to be given a Departmental CEO role without the prior explicit agreement of the Prime Minister or, at a State level, the relevant Premier.

Below that level, as I know from first hand experience, the relevant Minister will, at a minimum, be consulted about other senior appointments.

If the prospective appointee is deemed "unsound" in some way, as I once was, then the appointment will be vetoed.

On the other hand, again as I know from first hand experience, a change of government can result in the speedy appointment of a hitherto "unsound" person.

This is, I suppose, not dissimilar to the process followed in the USA, just on a smaller scale.

There is no evidence that this appointment process, or that in the USA, is inherently superior to the more traditional process whereby a Departmental Head was able to make whatever appointment he or she felt was appropriate without prior consultation with the Minister, much less Parliament.

Apart from Parliamentary officers, I do not know of any positions in the bureaucracy that are filled by Parliament itself, although quite a number of bureaucrats may be required to report to the Parliament, e.g. Auditor Generals and certain other holders of statutory appointments.

To my mind, any given Parliament is especially poorly qualified to assess the competence and suitability of people seeking appointment to high bureaucratic or judicial office.

My personal observation is that elected politicians are often very shrewd judges of public political sentiment but, all too frequently, very poor judges of individual character or competence.

Basically, they tend to view everything through the distorting prism of personality, politics and ideology, which often is not a good guide to how well a person may fulfil a major bureaucratic role.

Better by far, therefore, for PNG to create a powerful Public Service Board or Commission, free of any direct political influence, and let it make key senior appointments.

Like Judges, Public Service Commissioners should be people recognised widely within PNG as people of well established honesty and integrity (think Sam Koim here) and definitely not political flacks.

The PNG Parliament, as currently structured, could never be trusted to make such appointments as it has neither the competence nor will to do so in an honest, ethical and transparent way.

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