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The insidious cancer that is corruption

Corruption is an insidious cancer in the social, economic and political fabric of the nation. It will have to be stamped out if Papua New Guinea is ever to reach its true potential

Tolai man uses tabu (shell money) to buy a soft drink in a Chinese store (Claudio Sieber)


ADELAIDE – Let us suppose that the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary (RPNGC) was not both corrupted and inefficient.

If this was so, then the PNG’s Chinese traders, described by Hamish McDonald in the current issue of The Monthly (link here $ or read an extract here), might have sufficient confidence in the system so they would not feel compelled to adopt some of the extrajudicial measures referred to in the article.

This is not to excuse or justify what the traders do, but once people believe the system is broken or loaded against them then unlawful activities begin to proliferate.

The level of corruption in PNG is such that public confidence in state institutions and services has been significantly degraded.

This reflects the dismal failure of a succession of PNG governments to effectively clamp down on corruption and malfeasance that is obvious to all.

The reason for this appears to be that many, perhaps most, members of parliament see their election as winning a lottery.

A lottery in which they have five years – the term of parliament - to enrich themselves and their cronies before they have to re-contest their seats at a general election.

Thus the task of suppressing corruption becomes increasingly more difficult and the likelihood of defeating corruption vanishingly remote.

Unless and until the mentality evident amongst MPs is changed or suppressed, then I expect that law-breaking by Chinese traders will persist if not grow worse.

Corruption is an insidious cancer in the social, economic and political fabric of the nation. It will have to be stamped out if PNG is ever to reach its true potential.

A useful first step would be to establish the long-promised independent, powerful and well-funded Independent Commission Against Corruption.

If this was supported by a significantly beefed up Auditor General's office and a special police branch devoted solely to rooting out and destroying corruption in the RPNGC, then PNG would have a fighting chance to minimising the current condition of rife corruption.

Australia has had to go down a similar path owing to the untrustworthiness of far too many of its political class and their hangers on.

The soon to be established Australian federal integrity commission to be created by legislation this year will hopefully have a very broad remit and considerable powers.

This will be required to ensure that the public can have confidence in the honesty and integrity of the processes of government, starting at the very top of the decision making pyramid where ministers and their key advisers reside.


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Philip Kai Morre

Corruption will stop if we have right leaders with the good frame of mind and morally qualified. We need moralists in parliament and as departmental heads and honest bureaucrats.

Structural and systematic corruption undermines our democratic system and is violating human rights and values.

Corruption is creating the gap between rich and poor and is suffering the majority of the people who are poor in the midst of rich natural resources.

Can the rich share their resources with the poor because part of the resources rightly belongs to the people.

Greed and corruption is creating a condition that poor people will revolt against those who are rich.

I have been watching youths in town garbing shopping bags, taking things free from the market, pick pocketing and etc.

This is a sign that revolution is around the corner and we need to address this socio-economic problems before it get worse.

Chips Mackellar

I agree with Paul in that the majority of people who have never experienced a viable alternative to a corrupt system of government do not know that there is an alternative.

And not only that but they have learned how to live in the corrupt system by the simple principle that the more you pay, the faster it gets done.

When you understand how this system works you can live happily with it, and you are not likely to want to change it. So like it or not, that is why PNG will be stuck with it.

Paul Oates

Those of us who have been in PNG and operated under a system that did work would have to agree with you Stephen.

However, the majority of people have never experienced a viable alternative, so how do they know there is one?

Could we lapuns go back into the villages and tell the people how it worked? We'd be laughed at or ignored.

Could those with practical experience advise the public service and government how it can work?

Do you think we haven't tried? You'd only have to review many years of trying to provide effective answers on this very blog to see we have.

The problems you highlight have been allowed to become entrenched by those in power on either side of the Torres Strait. Self interest, ineptitude and greed.

The worse it gets, the harder it will be to fix. Just look at many places in Africa today.

Sorry mate. Until and unless there are political leaders who emerge and lead a team of supporters who want to change things, nothing will be allowed to change by those who in control who are quite happy with the way things are.

Stephen Charteris

Corruption is an insidious cancer. But I believe nothing will change at the top until outcomes are changed at the base.

I think it is fair to say that elected representatives are a reflection of the expectations of the people who vote for them.

If, from an outside perspective, elected representatives are seen to be on the take at every opportunity, you can be fairly sure their supporters are happy with the results.

I am of the view that there is an axiom associated with maladministration. That is, nothing will change at the top until and unless something changes at the bottom.

Traders of any ethnicity located in some remote outpost blithely ignoring the rules are not part of the system as we know it.

They are located in the most unlikely of places because the local 'bikman' has enabled it to be so. How else do you think store goods can make it safely to such locations without being 'diverted' along the way?

And from the perspective of customers in these locations, the store represents progress courtesy of the local member or a prominent supporter.

Let us reflect upon a hypothetical government department. I stress that I have no particular organisation in mind.

Senior staff have been there for 20 or more years and are drawn from every corner of the country.

From an outside perspective all those people appear competent, widely travelled and very knowledgeable about the issues at hand. Looks good.

But from an insider perspective each represents a different interest group with its tentacles in the public sector pie.

From each senior executive extends an entrenched network of government contracts for friends and influencers.

A lucrative flow of funds directed to particular interest groups in different parts of the country. And woe betide the appointment any 'new broom’ who believes things can be changed.

As for the freight train of consultants coming and going, this is just a game for their employers who are also on government contracts.

The question has to be asked, is there a momentum for change and if so where is it?

Well, to find such momentum, we have to get our boots on and go way beyond Port Moresby or sub-national centres.

We keep going until coming to a place, any place, where another mother has just died in childbirth, another child under five has succumbed to a vaccine-preventable disease and where the last schoolteacher packed up and left 15 years ago.

It is there we find a majority of the 60% of the PNG population who are under the age of 25. These people need income and basic services and have given up on anyone helping them except a well-connected relative in town.

The picture is very clear and very bleak.

The achievement of sustainable development goals is mixed. Goals 1-8 have gone almost nowhere. Goal number 2, a key pillar, is the pledge to leave no one behind. It may as well be a dream.

I understand that bilateral partners are primarily focussed on supporting counterpart government structures in the expectation that strengthening systems will lead ultimately to services reaching the base.

What I do not understand is, in the face of 50 years of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, with indicators still going in the wrong direction, why bilateral partners still believe this is going to work.

Do they ever get beyond the boundary of Port Moresby or any provincial capital? Have they spent even one month living in a community?

Have they witnessed what happens when a distraught mother in a difficult labour cannot get the most basic assistance she needs?

Have they ever carried a deceased child to its final resting place because a $10 vaccine was never administered?

Or stood at their graves with their relatives and heard what they have to say about the government and its services?

If they had I would venture they would not put their hand up for another governance-strengthening assignment paid for by the Australian taxpayer.

I believe they might start protesting loudly about the useless game we delude ourselves is making a sustainable difference when demonstrably it is not.

They would stop wringing their hands about corruption being the root cause of the failings of the systems development partners had created.

The momentum for change is alive and well and it starts at the base – not at the top.

The power for change vests with the people at the base who desperately need it and who willingly cling to anything and anyone that brings a modicum of benefit, be it even a tradestore run by the gentleman from Fujian province.

When are we going to get the message that in the absence of an equally concerted push at the base, our models for change won’t work?

PNG needs an equally massive effort at community level to empower and leave no one behind at community level.

Empower people to be the managers of the outcomes they desire at the only level of governance that matters, their community.

We need to develop the overarching mechanisms that make communities at least partially the answer to the delivery of basic services.

Dreaming? No, it has been done but not on the scale required nor with the financial support it deserves.

Until we support this model of development, there will be little or momentum for the outcomes everybody desires.

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