It’s not just a few people doing the wrong thing. It’s most people doing the wrong thing
WAIGANI - The average turnover of Papua New Guinea’s elected politicians is 50%; at each national election about half of the incumbents lose their seats.
This is one of the highest rates in the world and has been the case without exception since the first post-independence election in 1977.
In 2002, considered the worst election ever, more than 70% of MPs lost their seats and elections in six Southern Highlands seats were declared to have failed because of widespread polling irregularities.
The high turnover shows that Papua New Guineans have no problem replacing leaders they don’t like.
But, with a very few exceptions, the 50% of politicians voters choose to replace the 50% who lose their seats have proven to be no better than those voted out..
This begs the question of whether there are any good people left in PNG to choose from?
Why is it that, despite the high turnover, the next elected cohort turns out to be equally incapable of improving governance in the country?
Of the 180 countries in Transparency International’s annual corruption perception index, PNG is always in the bottom group.
The impression given is that PNG politicians are inherently corrupt.
If so, does this also imply that PNG society is inherently corrupt?
It’s hard to argue otherwise.
It seems that PNG leaders, selected by their own people from among their own people, are - with just a few exceptions - corrupt.
And the society itself must be corrupt for so many predominantly corrupt representatives to be elected.
We must face up to the uncomfortable possibility that our country is pervasively corrupt.
That being so, it is important for us to move the conversation beyond the soon to be elected 118 MPs and to start talking about corruption in everyday life.
As the late prime minister Mekere Morauta put it, corruption in PNG is systemic and systematic. This means that it is both pervasive and organised.
It’s not just a few people doing the wrong thing. It’s most people doing the wrong thing.
Maybe corruption starts with the little things.
Coming to work late and leaving early. Spewing betel nut juice along the corridors of the buildings. Using the office printer to print your team’s volleyball draw. Giving a job to your wantok over a more qualified candidate.
Contracting an in-law to mend the workplace fence. Buying more expensive stationary from your tribesman’s company when the shop down the road is cheaper.
These everyday corrupt or dishonest practices may breed the grand corruption that you speak about with concern.
So how is it possible for you to engage in petty corruption and expect to elect a good leader?
All Papua New Guineans have a responsibility to improve our lives.
We must become less corrupt. Only then will we stand a chance of choosing good leaders.
It’s the society, not the leaders, who are corrupt. And the leaders are selected from among the people.