Urgent need to expand services for PNG's hidden HIV epidemic
Dr Schram overseas on bail claims prosecution was 'political'; says he will not return to PNG ‘until major changes occur’

The impossibility of draining Port Moresby’s corrupt swamp

Phil Fitzpatrick at mic
Phil Fitzpatrick


TUMBY BAY - In light of revelations about money laundering in Australia and multi-million kina overseas investments by politicians, one can’t help wondering how they do it and how so many of them seem to get away with it.

Also of interest are the uncaring mentalities they must possess to drive them to deprive the people of such large amounts of money.

I’m no expert on corruption and I don’t fully appreciate the technical details of such blatant dishonesty but it appears to me that larceny on such a grand scale must involve complicity across a wide range of individuals and agencies.

This must include fellow politicians, public servants and lawyers, both within Papua New Guinea and in Australia.

Any politician contemplating such crimes and devising the crooked schemes required to carry them out must have to involve other individuals and agencies.

Curiously, on the rare occasions when one of them gets caught, you don’t hear much about the network that obviously supports them.

Presumably, while the odd unlucky and hapless politician might end up doing jail time, his cohorts and cronies survive to perpetuate their dishonest networks to benefit the next political punter.

Aside from financial opportunity, we know that the major motivators for people entering politics are ego, power and ideology. These are particularly apparent in politics in developed countries like Australia.

Ego, for instance, is a major motivator for politicians like Malcolm Turnbull and Donald Trump.

Power comes a close second in both these cases but ideology seems to lag well behind. No one really knows what either of these characters actually stands for.

Ideology also seems to be lacking among most of Papua New Guinea’s current crop of politicians. If you asked any of them to articulate what they stand for many of them wouldn’t be able to do it.

Of course, the general public and any interested observers know exactly what they stand for. They stand for themselves.

Apart from immediate electoral bribes, candidates contemplating running for parliament in Papua New Guinea rarely seem to consider what they can do for their people. Instead, they contemplate what they can do for themselves.

All they think about is the big salary and the opportunities to rort ministerial or provincial funds so they can buy a big house and flash car and the status they will bring. And maybe they think about purchasing a property in Queensland that is well out of reach and the sticky fingers of their wantoks.

In short, they see a corrupt system and contemplate the joys of winning a seat so they can thrust their snouts into a deep trough of bank transfers.

I can understand how difficult it is to do anything about it in Papua New Guinea, where almost everything in public life has been corrupted, but I cannot understand how the Australian agencies involved, right up to governmental level, can stand by and let it happen.

That they know what is going on is beyond doubt. If Blind Freddy can see it they must also be able to see it. They can’t possibly be so dumb, can they?

That they do nothing about it, and I don’t buy the ‘Papua New Guinea sovereignty’ crap they trot out, the only conclusion is that they are somehow complicit too.

Australia doesn’t want to rein in Peter O’Neill and his cronies, even though they know he is taking Papua New Guinea down a bad road.

Why don’t they?


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I’ve always had a theory that the industrial scale corruption now prevalent in Papua New Guinea was originally imported by Malaysian logging companies. One of the first politicians they corrupted was the then Forestry Minister.

A lot of these logging companies were owned by Malaysian Chinese and this is still the case. Anecdotal evidence related to the recent influx of Chinese companies into Papua New Guinea also reports a high level of corruption.

What we call bribery and graft is regarded as a normal way of doing business in China and many other Asian countries. Greasing the wheels of commerce is an accepted way of life.

It is only when such practises escalate beyond what is considered acceptable that people react.

A good example of such outrageous and unacceptable behaviour is the current case of the recently defeated Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak.

Mr Najib is facing allegations he looted the state-funded One-Malaysia Development Bank and used the stolen funds to buy everything from real estate to artworks. His wife apparently has a handbag collection that diminishes even Imelda Marcos’ shoe collection.

The Malaysian prime minister in waiting, Anwar Ibrahim, who was kept in jail by Najib on trumped up charges recently spoke to the Australian media. He pointed out a fact that readers of PNG Attitude will be very aware of in relation to Australia’s attitude to Peter O’Neill and his corrupt government.

Mr Anwar told the ABC’s Radio National breakfast program that Australia's foreign policy is perceived in Malaysia as tolerant of corruption and criminal activity.

"All their statements have been extremely supportive of Najib's administration, regardless of whatever is being said," he explained.

"To say that this is an example of the most moderate and viable democracy… I mean such statements are deemed to be silly and completely dishonest." I’m not sure who he was quoting but I suspect it was our foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop.

Another of my theories is that corruption in Papua New Guinea, just like in Asia, has now been normalised to the point where people believe it is an acceptable thing to do.

This is particularly so among Papua New Guinean politicians. Many of them, I am sure, do not realise that what they are doing is illegal.

I’m starting to think that Australian politicians are now accepting as a matter of course that countries like Papua New Guinea are innately corrupt and that there is nothing they can do about it.

In this sense I think that Mr Anwar is correct in his assessment.

If this is so it’s a very sorry state of affairs. There are many things Australia can do. In the first instance it can speak up about corruption.

It can also withdraw funding, apply sanctions, prosecute anyone in Australia profiting from the corruption, seize laundered money and illegally gained property and restrict access to our shores.

All it takes is a little intestinal fortitude. Sadly, courage among our current crop of politicians seems sadly lacking. Their mantra today is ‘don’t rock the boat’.

In Australian politics rocking the boat is a very bad career move. Both prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and foreign minister Julie Bishop are accomplished non-rockers. Before that Labor had a few non-rockers of its own, notably Richard Marles, who was once responsible for Pacific affairs.

Further to this, I think that our current malaise about politics is largely related to this perceived lack of courage.

If Australia was to actually man-up Papua New Guinea and its people could be a big beneficiary.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I mentioned Manus, along with sovereignty, in the original version of this article John and expressed the view that using that as a reason for not doing something was not a viable excuse.

PNG has already made it plain that it wants the detention centre and the inmates gone.

That it is still there suggests to me that Australia is monstering PNG to keep it open. Our responsible minister is, after all, very good at such tactics.

John Green

One reason Australia can't speak about corruption, Phil.


Manuiko Kajuki

The poor peasant of the rural populous does does not have a single clue so away you go. God help PNG tru.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I think our politicians in Australia are like the proverbial deer (or kangaroo) caught in a car's headlights - they just don't know which way to jump and are frozen in place in case they make the wrong decision.

It's a kind of politics of the ultra-timid, the best decision is no decision in many cases.

Papua New Guinea is a bit different. There the politicians are so busy on the personal make they can't see what's going on around them.

The other aspect is that both governments are clearly being manipulated by big domestic and multinational companies.

In Papua New Guinea I suspect that some of them are so mired in corporate corruption that they are shit-scared of withdrawing, even if they wanted to.

In particular, I think Peter O'Neill is in this position. He has effectively outsmarted himself. When his government finally implodes I suspect he will be on an aeroplane heading north.

In Australia it's more like a case of letting down their corporate mates.

I think everything, no matter how good and functional it starts out, be it a company, a government or even a political system, eventually becomes corrupted.

Corrupting things seems to be a human frailty. I think democracy is now corrupted beyond the point of usefulness. Perhaps we really should be looking at alternatives.

Chris Overland

As Phil has indicated, we appear to be living through a period during which democracy, in its various forms, is suffering some form of existential crisis.

For whatever reasons, most voters seem either incapable of or unwilling to vote in their own best interests, preferring instead to doggedly follow the now hopelessly discredited voting patterns of the past.

In an Australian context, a small but growing group of disenchanted voters are breaking this pattern by voting for "disruptive" independents, especially in the Senate.

I interpret this as an attempt to neuter the self interested cabal of ideologues and party flacks that the major parties tend to endorse for Parliament.

In other countries, it is very clear now that the voters are, broadly speaking, consciously moving to the left or the right of the political spectrum as disenchantment with the ruling neo-liberal ideologues grows ever more pronounced.

The political centre is no longer holding and our politicians seem to have no real idea about how to successfully straddle it.

The obvious corruption, venal self interest and incompetence now on display, together with a marked reluctance to admit the need for any form of substantive change to restore confidence in the basic honesty and decent ethical standards of our political systems, have merely accelerated the decline in confidence in politicians generally.

In Australia, as in PNG, we have a national government that is both unwilling and unable to recognise that a powerful national crime and corruption commission or similar body is a necessary step in restoring confidence in the basic integrity of our governance arrangements.

Along with this, it is equally obvious that this country's corporate regulator (and presumably that of PNG's equivalent) needs massively increased powers and resources to investigate and prosecute corporate duplicity and malfeasance on the scale revealed by the current royal commission into banking.

Yet our government has chosen to reduce funding to the Australian Securities and Investment Commission!

Like Phil, I am baffled by this behaviour. It is the proverbial political no brainer yet the resistance goes on.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the resisters have something to hide or otherwise fear what such a body might do to curtail their freedom of action to basically rort the public purse for their own political or personal ends.

Things clearly need to change and, somewhat belatedly, the Australian Labor Party has realised this and offered policies intended to change our political culture. PNG does not appear to be so lucky.

In the meantime, the rorting, denial and chicanery goes on unabated.

Daniel Kumbon

Further discussion on good governance, corruption, money laundering etc will come to a complete stop in the future when the Chinese and others take over this whole lizard-shaped island of New Guinea and the tiny Pacific islands to our east. Already one major Asian power controls the eastern half.

Taxi drivers, shop assistants, restaurateurs and others appear to be dominated by these people in street level economic activities in Australian towns and cities.

You hardly find any black skin Australians - ol papa graun - behind the wheel of a taxi or at a till in a bar, casino or convenience store.

It seems to me, the leaders from our two governments are there not to safeguard the welfare and advancement of their people but to stand for themselves.

Paul Oates

Phil, perhaps the reasons are evident in the manner in which those so called leaders achieve their positions of power and hold on to these positions.

If you look at and examine the careers and background of most politicians you will find a clue as to how they arrived at where they are. The same is also true about most political leaders in history. As Lord Gort pontificated: ‘Most great men are usually bad men’.

Notwithstanding the sexism of that period, I can’t see too much difference if we now include female leaders.

To trace how someone aspires to political leadership it is necessary to have a boundless ego. The instances of good, ethical people being persuaded to become leaders are very slim. This is primarily due to these people usually being happy to fit in and sit in the background.

What we are talking about therefore is a combination of human nature, personality and opportunity. Dictators like Napoleon and Hitler didn’t start off as national leaders but got there and stayed there for some time because they were ruthless. The flip side of that kind of leadership is the wishy washy style we see in most of our politicians. They don’t dare make any waves since that might kill off their ambitions and career.

Perhaps the question of having a constitutional monarchy who has some power to put a brake of blatant political ambition isn't such a bad thing?

What has changed in the last hundred years is the increase in the investigation and circulation of mass media and communication systems. This should have a beneficial effect yet as we know, that too can be manipulated.

The second aspect is an increasing volume of legislation that is designed to prevent malfeasance and corruption but can apparently be manipulated if you have the money and pay the right legal eagles. Look at how previously a lawyer defended Kerry Packer who boasted he (Packer) only paid the tax he was required to pay under the law. $25,000 one a single year yet he was able to put 10 million on a London gambling table. Remember who that lawyer was?

Once the rules of the game are established, only those who play by the rules succeed.

Unless there is a movement to cleanse the human frailties of leadership and promote and set up a system that maintains ethical and honest leaders, we can debate these problems until the cows come home but not change one iota.

Michael Dom


POM-POM city
Visionary’s city with
Audacity – compelling criminality
Duplicity weds complicity

Will Self

Only yesterday I was having a chat with an old PNG hand in the haus win of the Pamuk & Banjo.

The topic was the appalling state of the Australian federal parliament. Falsified credentials, taking Chinese money, ineligibility to stand for election at all, adultery with a staffer, MPs who had never had a real job before, misuse of entitlements, utter incompetence, riotous behaviour in the chamber, failure to address daily hardships - or even recognise that they exist, an incapable and ineffective public service....

It then occurred to both of us just how much like Waigani Canberra had become.

As for money laundering in Australia, the ABC radio program Background Briefing exposed the extent of Australian complicity about a year ago - excellent listening.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)