Capitalising on the Indigenous connection
Government still failing on customary land

Will PNG get serious about corruption?

James Marape
James Marape speaking at the launch of the 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index. He said he would set up a national ICAC in 2020

NEWS DESK
| Transparency International PNG

PORT MORESBY - With the resignation of former prime minister Peter O’Neill last May after a seven-year tenure, many citizens hailed the resulting appointment of the Marape-Steven government as an opportunity to start afresh.

A staggering K26 billion mountain of debt and an inefficient and incredibly costly public service has forced the new government to implement a number of unpopular, yet arguably more fiscally responsible, initiatives.

This includes a 50% reduction in O’Neill-era popular subsidies for primary education, with potential savings directed towards university education.

While there has been much debate about new measures to address national debt, little has been done about the waste created by corruption at virtually every level of society in Papua New Guinea.

A report by the Ombudsman Commission of PNG released in 2018 recorded 115 allegations of corruption levelled against different members of parliament since independence in 1975.

These allegations ranged from the allocation of funds to private accounts and to unidentifiable, unregistered and non-existent groups.

In addition, allegations included the allocation of funds without proper procedures; to company leaders with undisclosed interests; and the allocation of funds which were not acquitted.

The resulting impact of these cases (and many more unreported cases) has seen a multi-billion dollar drain on successive budgets since the country gained its independence from Australia in 1975.

With a score of 28 out of 100 on the latest Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), PNG finds itself among a majority of countries that show little to no improvement in tackling corruption.

As with many countries that score below the global CPI average of 43, PNG experiences a link between the perceived prevalence of corruption in a country and a lack of political integrity.

CPI trends also show that the introduction and implementation of effective frameworks to enforce anti-corruption measures, including campaign finance regulations, affect overall CPI scores in many countries.

Examples from PNG’s Asia-Pacific neighbours, like Indonesia, show the effectiveness of such enforcement mechanisms.

Indonesia’s premier anti-corruption agency, Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK), has helped prevent revenue waste through corruption. Last month, the KPK was reported to have saved Indonesia the equivalent of K15 billion in potential losses over the past four years.

The prevalence of corruption in PNG is readily apparent, with a host of corruption allegations levelled against multiple members of parliament in the past two decades, as well as “petty” corruption experienced throughout the public service.

Figures cited previously by the former head of the Operation Task Force Sweep, Sam Koim, suggested that the cost of corruption to government revenue was estimated to be above K4.8 billion in 2015.

In 2016, former Prime Minister Mekere Morauta also cited Police Fraud Squad estimates of more than $1.5 billion a year lost to corruption.

The new Marape-Steven government has made concerted efforts to push for the introduction of an Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC), including publishing a proposed law in the national gazette in October 2019 and vowing to pass such legislation by the end of 2020.

Despite these promises, sceptics are quick to point out the prospect of an ICAC existed since 2007, when the Somare government unanimously voted in favour of amending the constitution to allow for its establishment.

There are many benefits to establishing and empowering an independent anti-corruption enforcement agency in PNG, including:

Uprooting corrupt individuals and networks within the public sector has the potential to not only increase productivity, but also ensure equal access to public services for all citizens.

Minimizing leaks in government spending will allow for the most effective implementation of the national budget, limiting potential waste and maximizing positive impacts on citizens

Cultivating a stable environment for investment by tackling corruption promotes both foreign and domestic financing.

As parliament gears up for 2020, all eyes will be on Prime Minister Marape and his government to make good on their promises.

Comments

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Philip Fitzpatrick

Speaking on the ABC program Q+A last night, Serena Lillywhite, CEO of Transparency International in Australia, said trust in the Australian government had dropped measurably in recent years.

Her organisation rates the perception of corruption in the public sector in 180 countries, with a score of 100 being clean and zero being the most corrupt.

She says Australia’s score on the Corruption Perception Index has dropped eight points in eight years.

She said Australia now scored 77, having dropped eight points in eight years.

"One of the reasons why countries are perceived to be corrupt is when you have a situation where governments are increasingly listening to and influenced by the voices of well-connected individuals and special interest groups," Ms Lillywhite said.

"Our government is really characterised at the moment, I think, by … listening to these well-connected individuals, powerful special interest groups, who are really trying to influence the way policy is made, the way decisions are made for their own interests and for businesses' interests.

"So you see these very cosy relationships being established. A culture of mateship that can warp the way decisions are made and … people moving straight out the front door of parliament and on to the company payroll."

Bernard Corden

"If you have ten thousand regulations on the statute you destroy all respect for law" - Winston Churchill

Lindsay F Bond

And not behind closed doors, but in clear light of play..
Is it that Australian society sees rort merely a bit short?

Peter (Kokoda) FitzSimons puts in a toss, by doubling a question on "Get it?".
See: https://www.smh.com.au/sport/nrl/how-the-hell-does-a-pokie-empire-get-24m-free-spin-from-government-20200212-p5408x.html
No sight the word 'corruption', yet where Pete doubles too on the word "according", its about who'll "get it".

At that ball game, was just gratuitous advice tossed from PM Morrison to PM Marape?

Francis Nii

PNG governments are renown for amending laws and passing new bills for their own convenience and survival. Any important legislation that deems detrimental to the ruling regime or its leaders are shunned or consigned to the shelf and becomes political propaganda tool during election campaigns.

I dare say, the proposed ICAC bill is a threat to the current leadership and the power brokers hence Marape might not be keen enough to pass ICAC Bill during his tenure as PM as promised.

Through civil society pressure, Marape might budge for ICAC and the Whistle Blower Bills to be passed but at his own peril depending on the integrity and impartiality of the new Commissioner.

Bernard Corden

Dear Lindsay,

RIP Broover Dooker:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Ducker

Lindsay F Bond

Bernard, for so many it seems a 'sway' of life.
No longer just two-up in the yard outback...
See: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-02-13/wilkie-says-clubs-non-compliant-with-money-laundering-laws/11958254

Bernard Corden

Dear Phil,

I have stated on several many the current Queensland state government is reminiscent of Tammany Hall politics.

The current industrial relations minister who has close connections with 120 Sussex Street in Sydney is the niece of a convicted gangster.

Just try getting a job in the casino with that on your resume. and then there is Jihad Jackie's house adjacent to the cross rail tunnel near the 'Gabba.

Moreover, the former premier now heads the banking industry association and knows where all the bodies are buried.

It as far worse than the JBP/Russ Hinze era with the infamous white shoe brigade.

Ian Ritchie

Astute commentary Philip.

A recent example of corruption (one of many) that I am aware of in PNG is a friend attempting to get his birth certificate with a view to gaining a passport.

Was quoted in excess of three weeks until K200 was waved, then it became a same day service.

Is that corruption? In Australia, one is quoted three weeks for a passport unless you pay an additional $218 for a "passport rapid" service. In PNG, the same service is offered, but at an additional K200.

The only apparent difference is one service is government sanctioned and widely advertised and the other service is public servant offered and not widely advertised (and appears to be more efficient).

Graham King

The part of the equation missing from all the dialogue so far is the role of the Auditor-General in ensuring thorough timely audits of all government departments and authorities. We should note what has happened recently in the Australian parliament after the Audit report into Sports Funding. The Auditors report clearly stated that the Minister broke the rules. The PNG Auditor General is completely ineffectual I would suggest and without a strong government audit office ICAC would be a waste of time and money.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Like many Australian readers of PNG Attitude I have a long standing and ongoing association with Papua New Guinea going back to the 1960s.

During that time I watched the first inklings of corruption appearing. In 1972 I paid my first bribe to a Papua New Guinean public servant. It was $20 to jump the queue to get an urgent printing job done.

By the 2000s I was regularly paying ‘incentives’ to people in government departments simply to get access to information required for social mapping studies.

This was petty stuff compared to the scale of corruption being carried out by politicians but it was still corruption.

Papua New Guinea consistently appears in the 20 bottom countries ranked as having the highest perceived levels of corruption in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

Australia, on the other hand, always appears in the top 10 least corrupt nations.

My long standing association with PNG has taught me what corruption looks like and what it smells like.

Corruption in Papua New Guinea is open and blatant. There is nothing subtle about it.

Although they use a range of metaphors like ‘commissions’ and ‘ancillary costs’ public servants openly demand payments before they will do anything that they are supposed to do for free or for a set government fee.

Although I’m not naïve enough to think that corruption doesn’t occur in Australia I’m also aware at how well it is covered up.

It is only when a developer or a politician gets caught paying or receiving kickbacks or engineering approvals for dodgy projects that the level of corruption becomes apparent.

At the moment, however, I’m seeing and smelling what looks distinctly like Papua New Guinean style corruption in Australia.

Two of the significant contributors to corruption in Papua New Guinea are the influence of large corporations and vested interests and weak electoral laws that allow bribery and pork barrelling to flourish.

Our government in Australia under Scott Morrison seems to be increasingly coming under the spell of vested interests, be it the coal lobby, the banks or the aged care provider lobby.

This has always been the case in Australia, as it is in other developed countries. Money buys influence and all of our political parties, big and small, receive donations from vested interests trying to influence policy matters.

Just lately, however, this influence is producing stasis in government on many fronts, not the least climate change. It has reached a truly dangerous stage.

That is not good but another form of corruption, also acknowledged to have occurred in the past, has also suddenly become much more blatant.

For me the sports rort affair and the misdirection of other funding to shore up marginal seats in the last election confirms my perception that we have a corrupt government at work.

The Australian government is corrupt and it’s getting worse.

I must admit that I’m not surprised. In these modern times that can deliver a liar and conman into the US presidency anything is possible.

It’s just that I thought it would never happen in Australia.

As a critic of corruption in Papua New Guinea I now feel like a hypocrite.

william Dunlop

David. Alas, unfortunately, it's still Gimme Gimme Gimme, Ali Baba's numerous thieves it would seem, continue to prosper. Some to the extent of having Mansions in Points Point Sydney. One containing O'Neill's wife and children and he regularly. Somare's mansion in Wewak remains unfinished I'm told. Perhaps the doner's funding ceased when he Somare was no longer productive. What's new 'pussycat'?.

David Kitchnoge

Get on with it.

Pass the ICAC Act and have it gazetted. Then set up and operationalise the commission as soon as possible. Get the Whistle Blowers Act passed and gazetted as well. Get the Sovereign Wealth Fund Act passed, gazetted and the fund set up an operationalised too.

We can't just talk about it and keep sitting on our arse. Where are our tough politicans who were going to take back PNG?

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