Bougainville’s freedom depends on killing corruption
02 October 2019
LEONARD FONG ROKA
PANGUNA - As a cocoa farmer and education entrepreneur in Panguna without official responsibilities in the Autonomous Bougainville Government or public service, I have no influence over the decisions my necktie-wearing, long-sleeved and shiny-booted bureaucrats take in their fine Buka offices and elsewhere in the province.
But I can talk as a Bougainvillean who endured the pain during the 10 year civil war after 1988 and who strongly desires to see my Solomon Island of Bougainville progress to nationhood. That is our goal and we have paid for it with our tears and our blood.
Given what we went through, it has been sickening to watch corruption emerge and corrode our Bougainville, our institutions and our people.
Corruption is in Buka town and its villages; in northern Bougainville across to Kereaka; in the Bougainville highlands; the Kongara in central Bougainville, down to the fine beaches of Pokpok Island and into Panguna, Wakunai and Tinputz.
Corruption is also sleazing its way across south Bougainville from Buin to Siwai to Nagovis to Torokina. I am sad that we, my brothers and sisters of Bougainville, are all divers in an ocean of corruption.
The Concise Oxford Dictionary (tenth edition) defines for us corruption as “willing to act dishonestly in return for money or personal gain”.
It’s clear that individuals and organisations have their own sets of rules but are willing to ignore and break those rules should they feel so inclined. It is corruption when we do not uphold the ethical values meant to govern our lives. It is corruption to circumvent the numerous laws and bylaws in the Bougainville Constitution. It is corruption to turn our backs on our religions and our cultures.
We have paid a heavy cost for development on Bougainville over the past 50 years – especially in the ugly armed crisis of 1988-1997 resulting in the a loss of 10-15,000 lives. It’s too big a cost to now fall into a pit of corruption.
Turning to mock ourselves in this way is not right. We do not want to set a precedent for our own greed.
Many foreign eyes have turned to watch Bougainville and its politics in the north Solomons. We Bougainvilleans must not ignore the significant spot we have attained in the polity of the Pacific by submerging our values so irresponsibly in corruption.
Corruption does have its roots, though, as described by RJ May and Mathew Spriggs in the 1990 book, The Bougainville Crisis (page 91), where the Panguna mine’s so-called Group of 12 landowners claiming of monies from BCL was one of the many catalysts to the 1988 crisis.
It is commonly held that the Group of 12 (Michael Pariu, Gregory Kopa, John Arevoka, Wendelinus Bitanuma, Kareoto Tonna, Michael Totombu, Steven Tampura, Mathew Kove, Denis Onana, Nelson Operi, Ienu Dapoi and Peter Nandopa) owned the whole lands in the Panguna mine affected areas.
But all were in fact educated males corrupting the matrilineal Nasioi society by exploiting the people turning others against them, Bougainville Copper Ltd and Papua New Guinea.
The legacy of this still hurts deep in our hearts of government, communities, private firms and individuals.
In an alarming article in The National newspaper of 2 September 2013 (Auditor finds ‘massive corruption’ in Bougainville bureaucracy), journalist Malum Nalu wrote:
Massive corruption among the bureaucracy on Bougainville is the order of the day as it pushes for full autonomy and possible independence, according to deputy auditor-general, Peter Siparau.
He told the ‘Sustainability of Bougainville’ seminar last Friday that public servants on Bougainville were a law unto themselves, who were seemingly answerable to no one, including the governments of Bougainville and PNG.
President John Momis, concurred with Siparau, saying the audacity and arrogance of some public servants there defied imagination.
It is a fact that Bougainvilleans are a law unto themselves and that this has become a safe haven of corruption.
Bougainville has developed a climate conducive to germinating and protecting corruption. Yet this contradicts our identity as long-time fighters against exploitation.
Furthermore, Nalu’s article stated:
Siparau said things were totally out of control from 2006-2010, when millions of kina were stolen through outright fraud and corruption, with "disclaimer audit opinions" issued – meaning the auditor-general was unable to rely on accounts and records of the Autonomous Bougainville Government for the years ended 31 December 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Siparau, a Bougainvillean who has been auditing ABG since 1997, said in 2010 alone, unacquitted amounts totaling K7.391 million were paid for travelling allowances, hire cars, and peace process reconciliation.
Serious audit issues include revenue collection, no registers kept for liquor outlets, no registers kept for motor vehicle registration, no registers kept for driver licenses, and no segregation of duties with the same person collecting and banking monies.
Vehicle hired from private sources totaling K2.275 million were not specified or indicated, payments were not properly approved by appropriate financial delegates, segregation of duties by officers was not done, personnel reimbursements were paid to officers but no approvals sighted, no quotations for purchases, and payments were charged to wrong votes – contravening the appropriation act.
This social illness is endemic in a populace with high expectations. The post-conflict Bougainville is an environment where society expects the state to provide the good they need for rehabilitation and reconstruction.
Bureaucrats also expect money to fall from heaven to empower them to provide to the people.
Both groups – bureaucrats and mendicants - do not consider themselves as they should consider themselves: as co-creators of betterment for Bougainville out of the meagre available resources but with creativity and transparency.
And Peter Siparau did not step away from illuminating the most targeted financial sources in Bougainville: the bags of money that sat under the roofs of NGOs and private and public sector entities.
Bougainville’s opportunists sucked money from organisations like the UN through claims, travel allowances, hire cars and, perhaps worst of all, the peace reconciliation process.
In Bougainville, a pot-bellied bureaucrat finds it hard to prise a K2 note from his fat wallet to cross the Buka Passage. His fellows find it hard to travel in over-crowded public transport but love air conditioned hire cars.
A villager from the edge of Arawa town attending a short community health course with an NGO finds it hard to return home and needs to be accommodated in a guesthouse.
And in all villages, those with peace reconciliation proposals that require funding assistance head to Buka, and the reconciliations rarely occur since the peace advocate returns home with enough goods to start up a retail outlet overnight.
Bougainville’s duty now is to seal off once and for all these potholes of corruption. No less a figure than President John Momis promised New Dawn-FM’s listeners in 2010 that:
Corruption will find zero tolerance in his government. All ministers, elected members, officials and investors take warning! His government will establish an inquiry into the corruption of recent years. Where there is evidence of wrong-doing, he promised that there will be criminal prosecutions. And any future corruption will result in immediate action.
At all levels of Bougainville leadership, leaders must live by their word, they must lead by example and they must stand up against corruption if Bougainville is to be a free, progressive and truly independent state and Bougainvilleans a truly free people.
Sounds like a mulch of toxic acid for a young seedling to take root.
Posted by: Francis Nii | 04 October 2019 at 05:29 PM
That's a strange looking coconut that Leonard is holding. It appears to be in two segments. I don't think I've ever seen that before.
Also note the tinge of grey in his hair.
Corruption .... I mean, what can you do? It's everywhere now. The world's major superpower is led by a corrupt real estate developer for goodness sake!
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 02 October 2019 at 05:47 PM
"One of the necessary accompaniments of capitalism in a democracy is political corruption" - Upton Sinclair
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 02 October 2019 at 12:59 PM