TUMBY BAY - For Australians, and other people with a close interest and involvement in Papua New Guinea, there is a curious dilemma that revolves around trust.
This is the result of the rampant corruption and lawlessness that seems to permeate everything that happens in our near neighbour and good friend.
The naïve binary assumption that people in rural areas are honest and law-abiding and people in cities and other urban areas are not is both useless and wrong.
Expatriates working in urban or rural locations are often unsure of who they can trust and who they cannot.
This is not something peculiar to PNG, of course. Corruption and dishonesty of all kinds are part of the social and economic fabric of any country.
It’s just that in PNG, they are particularly rife, they are easy to see and they are complicated by cultural complexity.
While working there in recent years, I have found that my old, usually reliable spiv-detector, developed over many years as a kiap, wasn’t working that well anymore.
The spivs had become a lot cleverer and were turning their clever criminal minds to the most surprising things.
Fortunately there are always people, good people, willing to quietly point them out. Even spivs themselves are happy to warn you about their fellow spivs.
I must concede I’ve met quite a few spivs whose ingenious antics are hard not to grudgingly admire. Spivs who take down other spivs are particularly entertaining.
I’ve also played games with spivs who were fully and jovially aware that I knew what they were up to.
One particular gentleman I managed to out manoeuvre while in Kikori graciously bought me a beer when I found him out.
He was trying to get me to endorse dodgy invoices relating to a vehicle and driver I had hired from him. He would have made a good chess player but I didn’t have a set with me to try him out.
But if you want to really see a cross section of spivs at work, the Papua New Guinean parliament is a great place to start.
If you lined up all 111 members, quite a few would immediately stand out as spivs. Others of clear eye and pure heart would stand out for their honesty and trustworthiness.
Between those two poles there would be many – maybe 90 - who it would be hard to tell which way they leaned.
It would be a bit like the current Australian parliament but wearing cheaper suits.
The Economist magazine in the UK recently reported a study based in Eastern Europe that found ‘the more overweight the government, the more corrupt the country’.
The study’s author, Pavlo Blavatskyy of Montpellier Business School in France, found that the median body mass index (BMI) of a country’s cabinet is highly correlated with its level of corruption.
Would that be applicable to Papua New Guinea?
Maybe not. In many Melanesian societies extra weight is considered a sign of success. But it makes you wonder.
In 1998 in Australia we had a good leader of the Labor Party, Kim Beazley, who was decidedly portly. He lost an election that all the pundits said was unlosable.
The fellow who beat him pulled some underhanded tactics out of his swag and changed Australia for the worse.
Beazley won the popular vote but not enough seats to win government.
I still think that if he’d been slimmer he might just have got over the line.
Anyhow, he later became Australia’s ambassador in the USA and is now governor of Western Australia, so he came up all right in the end.
In the eyes of the public, plump and cuddly is apparently okay in ambassadors and governors but not in prime ministers.
Maybe Anthony Albanese has a chance in the upcoming election after all. He’s lost a lot of weight recently.
And maybe if Bryan Kramer throws his hat in the ring next year he’d have a chance too.
I wonder if that would turn around the trust problem and make Australians feel better about Papua New Guinea.