Bribery makes the Pacific’s wheels go round
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Plenty of talk, but corruption is worse than ever

CorruptNEWS DESK
| ACT NOW

PORT MORESBY - Research into prosecutions for corruption in Papua New Guinea reveals that, despite the enormous extent of the misappropriation of public funds, only a tiny number of officials have ever been charged and almost none has been convicted or imprisoned.

This failure is likely one reason PNG shows no signs of overcoming its unenviable reputation as one of the most corrupt nations in the world, and why allegations remain rife of corruption involving political leaders, the powerful and the wealthy.

In 2020, PNG was ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.

In the Asia Pacific region, PNG is the worst ranked country for corruption.

It has been estimated that as much as half the government’s annual budget ends up being stolen and the economic costs of the problem have been calculated to amount to billions of kina every year.

One reason why corruption has been able to flourish is that law enforcement agencies are woefully under-funded and also lack the skilled personnel to investigate sometimes complex financial crimes.

This is compounded by corrupt officials who have been investigated and brought before the courts and who are able to slide out of the prosecutors’ grasp.

Corruption charges 2019
Corruption charges brought in 2019

ACT NOW has conducted a survey of mainstream media reporting in 2019 and 2020 which identified 45 cases in which a politician or senior government official was charged with misappropriation or some other misuse of office.

As of November 2021, none of these cases has yet resulted in a conviction, let alone imprisonment.

In five criminal cases the person charged avoided trial completely, the cases being thrown out for lack of evidence or lack of police action.

In three criminal cases the accused was found not guilty at trial.

The remaining 22 criminal cases are either awaiting a court hearing or have disappeared from the public record.

Corruption charges 2020
Corruption charges brought in 2020

Two Ombudsman Commission cases, involving people it has referred to the Public Prosecutor under the Leadership Code, have failed because of a lack of evidence.

Eleven Ombudsman cases are still awaiting a decision on whether they will be referred to a Leadership Tribunal and two tribunals are currently in session.

Those charged with criminal offences in 2019 and 2020 include seven current or former members of parliament, two of whom are current government ministers.

Charges are also outstanding against 11 current or former departmental secretaries or chief executives and one Bougainville government minister.

The Ombudsman Commission referrals from 2019 and 2020 include three current government ministers, two other current MPs, six Bougainville government MPs and one minister, two departmental heads and one provincial administrator.

OC referrals 2019-20
Ombudsman Commission referrals in 2019-20

The failure to bring to trial those persons charged with corruption offences allows them to defy democracy and the rule of law.

It undermines public trust and erodes the effectiveness of government departments and service delivery.

It also demonstrates that the law and PNG’s public institutions cannot be relied on to protect against corruption or deliver justice.

This is despite numerous expensive investigations and public inquiries into major scandals

Although the government points to the passage of ICAC legislation in 2020 as an important step forward in the fight against corruption, we are still waiting for ICAC to be properly established and funded.

Furthermore, it is clear that no single silver bullet will cure all these ills.

In September, police minister William Onglo responded to concerns about the performance of the police by revealing there have been 522 cases of fraud investigated over the past 20 months involving more than K415 million.

From the 522 investigations, 34 arrests were made and 17 cases referred to the courts.

Minister Onglo said these figures show the police are doing a good job, but ACT NOW respectfully disagrees.

The police should be judged on the convictions they obtain, not the number of cases they investigate.

In addition, 17 cases referred to the courts from 522 investigations (a little over three percent) seems a very low number.

While ministers may praise the government’s corruption efforts, PNG’s continuing decline in the annual corruption perception index shows no sign of progress in fighting corruption.

And the low trial and conviction rates give no indication that criminals are being brought to justice.

It is a mystery what measures are being taken to improve institutional performance and policing but it is clear there is an urgent need for greater transparency, accountability and more effective oversight over what is happening within the criminal justice system and how its performance can be improved.

Until this occurs, PNG will never bring corruption under control and never restore basic government services to a decent level.

CaptureACT NOW has previously published a full set of Policy Proposals for Open and Accountable Government which include a recommendation for the total overhaul of the entire national integrity system.

This revamp must include increased resourcing, greater independence and improved capacity for all existing anti-corruption and governance oversight institutions.

These must include the Ombudsman Commission, Auditor General’s Office, Public Accounts Committee, Fraud and Anti-Fraud and Corruption Directorate, Public Prosecutors Office and the Financial Analysis and Supervision Unit.

You can download here the full research paper from which this article has been drawn

Comments

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Bernard Corden

When a prime minister cheats in front of the entire world, what is he likely to do behind your back?

Paul Oates

You're absolutely right Ingrid. The fine line between political donations and government grants and decisions gets greyer by the year. Being able to delay and obfuscate in legal tie ups what should be a straightforward matter for the courts to handle has become an art form for the mega rich.

I suggest however that what is happening in our nation may be a further evolution of the wealthy being able to warp or delay the justice system through political influence. This is nothing new. The wealthy aristocracy of the past knew only too well what they could get away with.

In the case of PNG however, I suggest the situation is more likely to be described as a devolution. When the Kiaps held sway, the law was simply applied in a clear way by those local administrators, albeit under a totally different, foreign cultural basis than what had worked locally for thousands of years. That was understood at least by the vast majority of rural PNG people to whom the Kiap's law applied. Local customs, that didn't conflict too much with the imposed foreign Criminal Code, was then basically left alone.

PNG people accepted they had to change their cultural ways, at least when the Kiaps and their law arrived and were in charge. When the Kiaps were politically dispensed with however, their justice system was very quickly dismantled.

It's taken some time and much frustration to understand what really happened. It was really just a simple deconstruction process.

Today's politicians are or often become adept at saying one thing but doing another or simply filibustering. Most people now understand that many (but not all), politicians may say one thing but actually do another.

If you apply that simplistic synopsis, the true situation becomes easy to understand. The average person then gives up trying to work with the law when their so called leaders are able to dodge any penalties due to being able to obtain high priced legal aid and assistance.

Please. Someone tell me I'm wrong!

Lindsay F Bond

Justice, PNG, has settled into a dependable state of “just is”?

Bernard Corden

Dear Ingrid - It would not surprise me if 'Eddie he who must be Obeid' became our next prime minister or at least NSW premier.

Ingrid Jackson

What's also worrying is that reading the following words seems to describe what we are seeing going on in Australia, especially at the federal level. So Australia at the moment is no exemplar.

"The failure to bring to trial those persons charged with corruption offences allows them to defy democracy and the rule of law.

"It undermines public trust and erodes the effectiveness of government departments and service delivery.

"It also demonstrates that the law and PNG’s public institutions cannot be relied on to protect against corruption or deliver justice.

"This is despite numerous expensive investigations and public inquiries into major scandals

"Although the government points to the passage of ICAC legislation in 2020 as an important step forward in the fight against corruption, we are still waiting for ICAC to be properly established and funded."

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