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The slow death of integrity in Papua New Guinean politics

A Remarkable JourneyPHIL FITZPATRICK

A Remarkable Journey by Dame Carol Kidu, Longman, 2002, 161pp, ISBN-10: 0733932274, hard to get but available from Amazon Books Canada, $CAN11.01

TUMBY BAY - Notwithstanding the impotent hiatus in Australia's own federal parliament, I’ve been pondering the dysfunctional state of politics in Papua New Guinea.

In seeking explanations of how and why it has reached such abysmal levels I decided to re-read Carol Kidu’s 2002 book, A Remarkable Journey in the hope of gaining some insights and maybe seeing what the future might hold.

The reason I chose Carol’s book was because of her remarkable husband, Buri Kidu. If you want to know about integrity in Papua New Guinea he is the logical starting point.

If you read the publisher’s gushing blurb on the back of the book you could be led to believe it is about “an Australian teenager (in the days of the White Australia Policy) who dared to fall in love with a Papua New Guinean and join his struggle”.

It’s about that and their deep love affair but it is also very much about Buri Kidu and what he believed and how she supported him and tried to carry on his legacy after his untimely death.

Buri rose to the high office of Chief Justice at a very young age but his insistence on maintaining an independent judiciary eventually saw him cross swords with the politicians.

The tipping point came after the 1992 election when the Prime Minister, Paias Wingti, was experimenting with various legal manoeuvres reminiscent of the skulduggery later employed by Peter O’Neill.

One of Wingti’s more memorable escapades was resigning as prime minister and then having himself re-appointed immediately to avoid a vote of no confidence. This outraged Buri and his ideas of integrity.

A number of other issues brought him into conflict with the ruling party and when his ten-year term as Chief Justice came up for renewal the National Executive Council refused to re-appoint him.

They also overlooked the Deputy Chief Justice, Mari Kapi, who was the logical choice to replace him and appointed someone of their own choosing.

This almost led to the mass resignation of the judiciary, as had happened during the Nahau Rooney affair when, as a minister in the Somare government, she had criticised a finding by the Supreme Court and had been convicted of contempt.

Buri & Carol Kidu - wedding dayHowever, Buri strongly advised against this sort of action and there was no revolt.

After his death Carol tried to carry on his legacy and was elected to parliament in 1997, along with another female candidate, the legendary Josephine Abaijah.

She had a rocky time in parliament, at one stage being the sole member of the opposition.

In 2011 she had been outspoken in her criticism of the controversial Judicial Conduct Act, rushed through in 2012 by the O'Neill government and Speaker Jeffrey Nape, which empowered the government to suspend judges.

This was something that would have enraged her late husband and it was perhaps that more than anything else that made her realise that the carpetbaggers had won and she decided to retire from parliament before the 2012 elections.

There are a number of significant events in Papua New Guinean politics that you can point to as the beginnings of the rot that has now taken over.

In terms of integrity I think that the treatment and the subsequent death of Sir Buri Kidu could be seen as the beginning of the decline of that virtue among Papua New Guinea’s politicians.

He didn’t die a rich man, as Dame Carol makes clear, but he was sadly missed. He had been in two minds about accepting a knighthood and had been inclined to give more away than he kept. That in itself is perhaps a measure of the man.

Curiously, even though Dame Carol was open to the possibilities of sorcery and magic, Sir Buri was opposed to its influence, just as he was opposed to some of the other customs of his Motuan people.

It’s hard to imagine that there might still be men and women out there who share his exemplary principles.

I think there must be, maybe even in the current opposition, but how much influence they will have is hard to imagine.

For the people of Papua New Guinea we can only hope.

As for our own lot ….


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Mathias Kin

Integrity is too little and the mass of baddies in the haus tambaran too many. The whole works in PNG stinks of corruption, lacking any integrity.

Police, defence, courts, universities, electoral commission, provincial administrations, treasuries, central bank, the whole works.

Indeed this country is one of the most corrupt nations of the world.

Daniel Kumbon

The late chief justice Sir Buri Kidu was indeed a true man of integrity.

I came across two other judges who sounded grim warnings I recorded in my book 'I Can See My Country Clearly Now'

The late Mari Kapi said: 'Many leaders have got into conflict with the law, the respect for authority is at its lowest ebb. This is the age of what some people elsewhere have described as a golden age of greed, the philosophy of me, and age of individualism. I will get what I want regardless of what the law says.'

In 2007 during legal year celebrations in Wabag, resident judge the late Justice Moses Jalina said: 'People are thinking everything is going to be OK. 'But in 10-20 years time, PNG will not be the same. Police are just watching crimes being committed.'

It will be interesting to see what happens to the country in the next 10 years.

Bernard Corden

Integrity has no need of rules - Albert Camus

Pawa Kenny Ambiasi

Truly, integrity is lacking in the leadership at all levels which govern our nation.

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