I am a Papua New Guinean Writer
Democracy in peril

Corruption – if we do not take a stand we condemn ourselves


BEFORE I start my rant, let me begin by thanking God for the many blessings he has poured out to me and for the gift of life.

I have been an internal affairs officer most of my working life and I have met people and had experiences that have thoroughly moved me, moulded me and brought me to where I am now.

I have had a gun put to my head and the trigger pulled. I felt God in that silence. What must have been seconds seemed to me like minutes frozen.

And why did I have this gun put to my head? Well, because I decided to fight corruption. The gun jammed twice and that was all I needed to make my way out of danger and into the crowd to safety.

I’ve used the experience of having worked in the internal affairs division of both the Internal Revenue Commission and the Papua New Guinea Customs Service to share a number of stories and experiences with colleagues, friends and family.

I have noted over time working in an anti-corruption area that, sadly, as the trend is in this country things aren’t getting any better but appear to be getting worse and that a scary and sad thing is going on in Papua New Guinea.

In the fullness of time we Papua New Guineans must embrace what is happening in Papua New Guinea. Hopefully for PNG there will be calm after this storm.

Corruption is defined by Transparency International as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs.”

Corruption is eating into every facet of our society. It has grown its roots, and its roots have sunk deep into the soil taking a very strong grip and it is sucking all the nutrients and water out of our very soul.

If these roots continue to grow, eventually it will leave our fertile lands barren and we will be left to wander the desert for an eternity.

A bleak outlook on life but a reality we may obviously face if PNG, as a country does not take drastic action to do a complete u-turn on the current path and trajectory we are heading down.

Corruption is something that we talk about, it is something we complain about. It is something whose negative impacts we recognise. It is something that even the corrupt acknowledge is a bad and evil thing.

But the irony and the tragedy are in one fold, for in those who engage in corruption, oh how they love it. The tragedy in that same fold is that those of us who do not engage in it directly accommodate it, our levels of tolerance for corruption in Papua New Guinea are amazing.

Over time I have noted that corruption has beaten most if not all Papua New Guineans into submission. Yet I have hope that corruption can be beaten, for corruption comes with its flaws.

I remember once having a conversation with a friend of mine who came to me with the argument that we, the “good people” ,were missing out because we were not willing to bend or break the law and help ourselves get that unfair advantage to move ahead.

I thought about what he had just said and I replied that the only way I would indulge in corruption and give into it is if corruption benefitted all the people of this country. That is every single person. That if I could steal a billion kina, I should be able to share it among every single citizen equally and justly.

But because corruption sadly wouldn’t allow me to do that, as corruption is about greed and is evil, I guess I choose to stand on this other side of the fence and do my best to stand against it. All I can give is my best.

I have heard that a long time ago a great Greek philosopher said, “That it is in the nature of men to harm the small thieves and to elect the great ones to public office”.

We do that in Papua New Guinea. And that is why Papua New Guinea remains one of the richest islands on earth with nothing to show for it.

Certain leaders boast about the highest GDP growth rates in the world, that we have this, that we have that. I only ask, where? (Although the GDP being boasted about by government may be an error and even more just a lie.)

When a hungry person steals a scone or biscuit from a shop to eat and is caught, they are beaten up by the shop attendants and security. If the police are called in, they get another beating before they are tossed into a cell to recover and fend for themselves. No medical attention is sought.

But when a so-called leader is caught stealing millions of kina, he is written a letter inviting him to come to the police station. He is offered coffee or a soft drink. He is continuously called leader or boss throughout the conversation.

Officers gladly shake his hand as if it is Jesus himself who came down to grace them with his presence. And that is our “big man” mentality that screws us over and over again.

I was reading some interesting quotes this morning and it got me thinking that this country really needs to start thinking about who we place in that house at Waigani to represent and speak for us.

Some of these quotes may have been spoken with PNG in mind. Of course this isn’t the case, but the thought at least made me smile.

Here’s one from Portugal – “Politicians and diapers should be changed frequently and all for the same reason” (José Maria de Eça de Queiroz).

Papua New Guinea has too many recycled leaders that really are only in parliament for their own vestured reasons. Sadly it is a common thing will hear amongst the common people that if you want to go from rags to riches all you have to do is get elected to parliament.

In my opinion, leaders who have been convicted of any criminal cases or declared bankrupt at any stage in their lifetime should not be allowed to run for office. Yet in PNG, we continue to vote these people in.

We have politicians who get kicked out by the courts for illegal acts during the elections, acts such as bribery, yet people vote them back in again.

And the police continue to fail to arrest and charge them for their acts of bribery. These so-called leaders are, to be kind, jokes. There is a quote about these jokes. Henry Cate VII said, “The problem with political jokes is they get elected.”

Corruption has slowly but surely wielded its serpent head into the institutions entrusted to keep watch over the people’s wealth and prosperity: the institutions entrusted to guide and protect our Constitution, to keep our leaders honest and accountable.

I read constantly people asking what the Ombudsman is doing, what it hasn’t been doing and what it should be doing. Yet when the government started to tweak and change little things here and there with the Ombudsman, there was hardly any public outcry from the educated elite. Well, there was a cry, but it wasn’t loud enough.

The Ombudsman Commission is kept in check by our leaders by starving it of funds. The Ombudsman’s effectiveness to go out and conduct investigations are usually hampered by shortage of funds. This can also mean the Ombudsman is limited in attracting the best people with the skills to keep an eye on our politicians.

With the trend of corruption going the way it is we may see many young well educated Papua New Guineans running away to look for a better life abroad. This has happened in many other countries. We could probably label them ‘corruption refugees’. After 40 years of independence we are a country going sideways and are way off track.

It is sad to see that we celebrate thieves and vilify good men and women. Those in power will stop at nothing to protect themselves. Even at the cost of putting men and women who have served most of their lives protecting our laws and who have good ethics and morals.

In this process those in power also destroy the reputations of decent hard working, God-fearing people. The politician is not afraid to use even the name of God to cover his sins. A politician sleeping in parliament was caught on camera taking a well-deserved corruption nap. His response to the media hype was that he was praying.

This same politician then goes and distributes bibles in his electorate stamping every front page showing that it was donated by him. But he is not alone, other politicians also have their faces splashed all over vehicles or projects allocated to their electorates stating more or less that it was donated by them. Yet sadly, it was the hard-working taxpayer that paid for that bus or project. It never came out of the politician salary.

We live in a country where our leaders have no faith in the health sector. When they are sick, or their family members are sick, they travel to seek treatment in Australia, Singapore, Philippines or another country.

We live in a country where our leaders have no faith in our own education sector. The government boasts about its free education policy but has no faith in the education sector. They bring to us what they call free education but they never dare take their children to those schools. They send their children overseas to countries like Australia or New Zealand, in some cases also sending their wives with them, buying houses and cars for them. How they can afford that on their salaries is yet another accounting and budgeting miracle.

We live in a country that boasts that agriculture is the true backbone of our societies but we do not invest much in this industry or in the use of latest technology to produce crops. We do not assist our local farmers, and if we do it is usually just before election fever starts.

Papua New Guineans are dying younger than they were before. Our politicians are too busy worrying about lining their own pockets and are forgetting the real reasons they were voted for. They are there to provide the best they can for their people in health, education, law and order, transport, security, basic sanitation and water.

I live in a village community just on the fringes of the capital city and I have been there for five or six years. We have never had running water. Yet the people I live next to are owners of major parts of the city. They have asked for water as long as they can remember. The response has been that they can’t pipe water to the area because it is customary land.

Yet in the government’s improvement of the road system of the city, they had no qualms about sending in the surveyors to plan a four lane road basically right through the village. But wait, it’s customary land.

And to deliver water to illegal settlements? Ah well, that’s another matter altogether, that one, the member will get his votes from the illegal settlers so you better get those pipes there quick smart. And I can only submit that corruption is the source of all these problems. I can only put it down to greed.

Our leaders still engage in primitive accumulation, many leaders will never rest until they have homes in different countries of the world which they never live in, until they have cars they never drive, until they have beds they have never sleep on because they have no sleep anyway.  Even in Port Moresby they have many houses with many different “women of the house”.

We live in sad times. We have so many homeless children walking around begging. We have so many settlements. Crime rates are so high. Most crimes are not reported.

Most leaders, instead of going back to their provinces and driving development and change in their communities, are holed up in Port Moresby with frequent travel to Australia or Asia for stress relief. Presumably stress from worrying about the next great scam on how they can get the biggest cut in any deal. In the name of service delivery, of course.

Today if you take on any leader in government because you believe they have acted inappropriately, the official line is it is politically motivated and therefore not appropriate and it is you that is actually corrupt.

You can ask all the hard questions you want to but you will never get a straight answer and your answer will be answered with a question. The government is passing laws that are protecting them as individuals and not protecting the citizens.

The recent passing of the compulsory registration of sim cards is not going to serve the bulk of the population but make it harder for people to freely express themselves or leak information on corruption that would otherwise get buried.

Corruption is real in PNG. We all know it’s here. Yet we the majority remain silent.

Those involved in corruption know it’s here, but will claim it is not here. Those involved in it will pass it off as being normal business. And when the very few who do speak up and take the fight head on, they get ridiculed and have their lives looked over with a fine comb.

And when the corrupt get cornered they come out swinging. They start arguing that there are more important things to look at like rape, murder or adultery. Some even ask why the corruption fighters are hell bent on getting them.

They tell those standing against corruption that it was not their wives they stole so they should not care. Sadly corruption in its many forms causes so many other social issues in this country. Yet we remain silent. We live in sad times.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

Good point about how dictatorships evolve Paul. They start off as freely elected and democratic politicians who then subvert the system once they get inside - sounds familiar I think.

The other thing of interest about the corrupt politicians and public servants is that they also prey on each other. Not only do they receive bribes but they pay them too.

Paul Oates

It is a sad fact of life that the middle class moderates who have the education and opportunity to do something about the encroachment of illegal activities seem blissfully unaware they too will eventually be caught in the web of those who are bent on preserving the power and influence they are busily and illegally acquiring.

At that point, it will be too late to stop the inevitable takeover. One only has to look at how every other dictatorship begins.

As a someone prophetically observed of Hitler's take over of Germany prior to World War 2, a dictatorship is like a snake, Metaphorically you must attack and destroy the head otherwise you will end up being bitten.

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