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 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.