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Marape’s big call: I want expats in key jobs

James Marape
James Marape - "“For the first 10 or 15 years we want overseas commissioners and not Papua New Guineans"


NOOSA - There had been indications from Papua New Guinea’s prime minister last year of this stunning change of heart, but now the idea has expanded and shared with Australia.

In a recent meeting with Australian High Commissioner Jon Philp,  James Marape disclosed that he favoured a foreign official heading the much-awaited Independent Commission Against Corruption.

But he went much further in adding that he supported all the commissioners being expatriates, and he believed that foreigners should also occupy other top government positions.

Marape said such appointments would put an end to nepotism and corruption in PNG, reported Stella Martin for the National Broadcasting Corporation.

''Our ICAC position of the commissioner will be advertised soon,” he said. “For the first 10 or 15 years we want overseas commissioners and not Papua New Guineans.

''So they come in and they rise above wantok system and all the relationship we have in this country to run this organisation.''

Martin reported Marape as saying that corruption and the excesses of the wantok system experienced in senior public service ranks are of great and growing concern.

There is no doubt that recruiting experienced expatriates to occupy positions in critical roles – particularly in the Police prosecutorial area and ICAC - would begin to come to grips with the corruption that now permeates the entire corpus of the PNG public service.

But the difficulty of achieving this must not be underestimated. More than a flick of the pen is required.

First, and perhaps most strongly, Marape will be the target of huge pushback from incumbents, from those aspiring to be incumbents and from those who benefit from the corruption of incumbents, many of whom might be his ministers of state.

And, as any person who has been placed in a senior role in a country not his own, even Western countries, being an outsider means not only being excluded from malpractice it also can mean being excluded from trust.

In Australia, I recall a number of cases.

There was a NSW police commissioner, Peter Ryan QPM, recruited from England, who resigned two years early after a controversial term. He lasted just under six years in all but a book on his unhappy experiences said, "The hierarchical pom did not have time to get a grounding in Aussie egalitarianism."

A police deputy commissioner in Victoria, Sir Ken Jones QPM, said he was targeted and dismissed after just two years for his vocal criticism of the police command he was trying to clean up. “We were completely and utterly humiliated,’’ he said.

And I was a general manager in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation when managing director Geoffrey Whitehead, recruited from New Zealand, resigned under great pressure after just three years mainly because of internal upheavals. As I've written elsewhere, "Geoffrey had never been comfortable running the ABC, which played its politics capital B Brutal."


Chris Overland
Chris Overland

Chris Overland comments:

ADELAIDE - This is a very belated recognition by James Marape of the cultural problem that was much talked about in the run- up to independence.

Basically, while many Papua New Guineans had no great fondness for the colonial administration, they did trust it to operate in a mostly fair and even handed way.

As kiaps [field service officers], we were aware of the wantok system but as outsiders we were not part of it.

The big problem for Marape will be finding the people of high calibre that he desperately needs in these various roles.

My information is that aid agencies are finding it very difficult to recruit people to work in PNG, and in much of South-East Asia as well.

Apart from being concerned about Covid, people with the required expertise evidently are increasingly unwilling to accept the many problems that now beset PNG, crime, violence, a barely functioning public service especially in health and education, and poor road, transport and communication networks.

Not even the comparatively large salaries on offer seem to be enough to induce high calibre people to take up the roles on offer.

After all, these people usually have many employment options in Australia, especially as the ready supply of immigrant professionals has dried up.

In addition, perhaps our generation may have been a bit more intrepid.

My guess is that Mr Marape is going to have to work hard to recruit the people he wants and needs.

For Papua New Guinea’s sake, I hope that he can do it.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

This is a typical highlander businessman approach.

Many businesses owned by highlanders are run by Europeans and it seems to work in keeping wantoks at bay. Not so sure about it as a panacea for corruption though.

Some of the Pacific Island nations also bring in expatriate judges to ensure there is no undue influence in the courts.

William Dunlop

Big man blong Gammon' nau all same Mauswara. Em tasol.

Harry Topham

Hang on there. Despite the best attempts, any new boss who tries to apply the big broom treatment to any of PNG’s government institutions soon finds their efforts to root out systemic corruption white-anted by experts who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

One only need look no further that the removal of Dr Schram, the previous vice chancellor of the University of Technology, a dismissal which was later found to have been wrongful.

His crime honesty and a belief that he could re-establish the university’s status as a place of learning free of corruption and nepotism.

Of more concern was the complete lack of support from those whose charter was to oversight that university, namely politicians.

Noble thoughts are only achievable with full unconditional support from those holding the reins of power. Surely I am not wrong?

Lindsay F Bond

Not only said by the prime minister as a way to "put an end to nepotism and corruption in PNG", here too is one who hopes to pilot a way through because, as is believed, "PNG was so corrupt and it should be stopped".


Paul Oates

I've just received some feedback direct from the grass roots:

'Mauswara nating!'

Philip Kai Morre

James Marape is seriously wanting to recruit expatriates because of corruption, the wantok system and nepotism in the public service top positions.

It is also true that members of his government are appointing their own wantoks to top positions. They should practice what they preach.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I agree with you Paul.

No doubt the PRC will be happy to provide suitable expatriates.

Failing that it will be second raters keen to make a buck.

And who says expatriates are incorruptible?

The Australian government might think of putting some of its own people up for the jobs and thus gain some of the influence they've lost over recent years.

And, as a couple of university vice chancellors can attest, there are plenty of people in the PNG public service who are very good at tearing down problematic top executives.

Lindsay F Bond

On yer*, Paul, and many might join you in saying "wonderful experiences his nation and its people gave". Call may come?

Prime Minister Marape (JM) however has to discover in the PNG population a willingness to adhere, to a cohesion that is broader than, and as robust as that which has been labeled as 'wantok'.
Check JM's tries so far: sport (football, a code), religion (a denominationalism), administration (a foreign worker).

Will any legacy of Australian administration such as 'egalitarianism' hold sway? Could it be that prevalence of wantok, might emerge as a variant of egalitarianism, with wider respect of and for all PNG citizens and the constitutional principle of equity?

* sometimes said approvingly as "good on you"

Paul Oates

Malpractice and corruption will not be fixed by recruiting expatriate advisors, reviewers or organisation heads.

Blind Freddy could simply look at Keith’s blog over the last few decades and determine what the continuing and constant problems are and have been.

The classic example is the Judge Barnett's report on the timber industry. The result was the Judge nearly losing his life.

The real issue is not identifying the problems. The practical issue is being able to do something about them and achieve results.

The actual weakness is in the structure of government and the public service from the top down since that is how the current organisation has now been allowed to be set up.

Until the organisation is fixed, any identified problems will remain just that. Identified problems, with no possible means to be able to rectify them.

If Mr Marape is really serious about doing something practical, please send him my contact details. I’ll be quite happy to start the process off on a voluntary basis with practical suggestions as a payback for the wonderful experiences his nation and its people gave me.

Em tasol ya!

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