By PAUL OATES
Papua New Guinea’s relevance to Australia
In 1938, the British Prime Minister Joseph Chamberlain, returned home from a conference in
"The South Pacific region covers one-third of the surface of the planet, and as far as
After 33 years of Independence, on Thursday 21st August, 2008 the PNG Post Courier Newspaper ran an article titled: “PNG is poorer: Report”
“Australian aid has failed the Pacific, including
How can this be? Why has this happened and more importantly, why hasn’t someone tried to find out why or if so, done something about it?
Comments last year by the US President about Australia being his ‘Deputy Sherriff’ in the region were at best unhelpful and would have gone down like the classic ‘lead Zeppelin’ with the governments of our nearest neighbours. If Australia is seen as a ‘bully boy’ and not a helpful and trusted friend, any overseas aid will be viewed by recipients with distain and begrudgingly accepted as a ‘pay off’ to be ‘siphoned off’ and used for personal purposes.
Our cultural background and that of our neighbours is basically different. The trouble is that the traditional Melanesian culture has been proven to be incompatible with modern, government practice.
Recent references in our local media to the nations of the
Previously, Australia maintained a special training establishment, The Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA), specifically set up to prepare those Australians selected to work in Papua New Guinea.
As an indication of how the Australian media treats the South Pacific, a news report on tonight’s (1st September 2008) television news highlighted a 6.1 strength earthquake in China but failed to mention a 6.3 strength earthquake in PNG just north of Lae.
While East Timor (Timor Leste) has been prominent in the news over the last few years and the Bougainville Peace keepers and the RAMSI Force in the
What role does PNG play in our Region?
Of the estimated 8 million people in the Pacific Rim (excluding
Many smaller Pacific nations look to PNG for South Pacific leadership and to the people of PNG for regional leadership. A similar situation often exists within the Arab world concerning the influence of most populous country,
PNG Government Infrastructure – A symptom of a problem
In 2008, 33 years after
Why is this so?
In PNG’s Post Courier newspaper on Wednesday 18th April 2007 under the heading “K3 billion misused each year” a report reads: “More than K3 billion from the national budget was stolen and misappropriated each year, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was told yesterday. Former PAC member and Eastern Highlands Governor Malcolm Kela Smith, when making the allegations, said "Waigani is the mother of all corruption," adding 25-30 per cent of the budget was misappropriated by the public servants and politicians in Waigani and did not serve the small people. Mr Smith said the custodian of the public money was the public service and how politicians got hold of the money was through collaboration and conspiracy. The Governor said there was enough money in the system to give free education, proper health services, medication and better infrastructure. He said there was also enough money to arm the offices of the Attorney-General, Auditor- General, Ombudsman Commission and other institutions to monitor departments and make them accountable. Mr Smith told the closing of the PAC at Parliament the country was rich yet proof of this richness was not seen and felt in the remote parts of the country. This was supported by deputy chairman and
In September 2007 in another article, the Deputy Opposition leader Bart Philemon was quoted as saying that the PNG public service annual wage bill was to rise to K1.8 billion, and that the government will spend up to K500 million to pay for eight more ministries. Philemon went on to say PNG could not afford the huge wage bill for public servants when there was nothing tangible on the ground. "There is no progress, yet we continue to pay K1.3 billion annually on wages and other emoluments. "It is just crazy," Mr Philemon said while responding to remarks by the Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare that he would push for the size of cabinet to increase from 27 to 35.”
Poor Rural Health in PNG - Another symptom of deficient government infrastructure
Compare that 1975 situation to the current situation with PNG rural health where there is now virtually none available. Even the main hospitals periodically run out of pharmaceuticals. A recent report in the PNG news highlighted
An avalanche of AIDS is currently sweeping through PNG. A news article on August 27th, 2007 titled “AIDS victims 'buried alive' in PNG” and written for Agence France-Presse by correspondents in
"One of them was my cousin, who was buried alive,'' she said. "I said, 'Why are they doing that?' And they said, 'If we let them live, stay in the same house, eat together and use or share utensils, we will contract the disease and we too might die'.''
Villagers had told her it was common for people to bury AIDS victims alive. Ms Marabe appealed to the Government and aid agencies to ensure the HIV/AIDS awareness program in cities and towns was extended to the rural areas, where ignorance about the disease was widespread. Women accused of being witches have been tortured and murdered by mobs holding them responsible for the apparently inexplicable deaths of young people stricken by the epidemic, officials and researchers say.
A recent United Nations report said PNG was facing an AIDS catastrophe, accounting for 90 per cent of HIV infections in the
Speaking recently at the 44th medical symposium at Vudal University, University Chancellor Sir Rabbie Namaliu referred to figures of hospital beds per head in a recent report released by the Centre for Independent Studies in Australia on health, education,
employment and social indicators and trends in the Pacific Islands communities.
"In 1980, we had a reasonably respectable 5.5 beds per 100,000 people - better than
Sir Rabbie then asked how one could say PNG was doing its best with regard to basic health needs and health rights of its people when its hospital bed figure was less than half of what it was five years after independence.
"Sadly, we have become far too complacent when it comes to the very worrying levels of infant mortality, the return of serious diseases and illnesses that were once in decline, plus the rising incidence of HIV/AIDS," Sir Rabbie said.
More examples of poor PNG infrastructure and corruption
Rotary Medicines wasted
In a PNG Post Courier article from 11th September , 2007 titled “ Drugs go bad at port” it explained that: “a Lae based company that distributes medicine is upset that a lot of drugs are delayed on wharves and have to be destroyed. The distributor, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals, said medical drugs for various hospitals, aid posts and clinics in the country donated by Rotary service clubs overseas, expired while awaiting clearance by PNG Ports Corporation. When they are finally released, they become obsolete and are dumped or destroyed. He said that the delays were an ongoing thing and urged authorities to ensure such donations were quickly released and delivered to the needy. In many cases, he said, the containers took almost six months to be cleared, although relevant documentations had been provided. At present, he said, four containers were still at the Lae port with goods donated from overseas and had been sitting there since March. The source says his company, which does the delivery work for free, is feeling the pinch in terms of expenses. "Rotarians and other donors put in a lot of commitment to help the needy in our country, but their efforts seem to go to waste by such delays. And our children and the sick people in the rural areas continue to suffer," he said. He said the Rotary clubs had written to the Internal Revenue Commission and PNG Ports Corporation to deal with the issue.
In a segment in the PNG Post Courier of 1st September 2008, headed “Not the way” there was an interesting revelation! A National Government's minister it was claimed, handed over K250,000 earmarked for a provincial institution's operations. The event is covered by media organisations when the cheque is presented to the provincial politician. When the leader returns to the province, he hands over the cheque with instructions to the hospital CEO "deposit it into your account, draw down K70,000 and the rest, raise it back to my name - - -''. The hospital ends up handing over the whole cheque. We hope the PNG Government knows about this!
Food aid 'wasted'
In another local PNG news report, after the recent Oro floods, more than 200 tonnes of rice bound for the Trukai warehouse in Popondetta, as well as relief supplies from AusAID for the
No amount of overseas aid money can help the majority of PNG citizens who live in rural areas and who now do not enjoy even the most basic of government services. In order to provide essential services throughout the country, a healthy, responsible and accountable government infrastructure is required. If the Australian government used to pay for this infrastructure before
PNG Oligarchy – ‘The money machine to nowhere’ or ‘After spending 30 Billion Kina, why PNG is still poor?’
PNG culture traditionally involved a ‘bigman’ who developed and maintained his position by ‘giving’ material goods away to his people. The reciprocity or ‘on’ gained by such action then amounted to a ‘richness’ in social capital. That most of the traditional wealth was in perishable commodities like root crops and pigs ensured it could not be kept for any length of time by anyone. With the advent of a money based society, the funds to buy material goods easily replaced locally grown foodstuffs. What a money culture didn’t replace was the traditional way a ‘bigman’ maintained his authority and power. At
Dr Michael Unage was reported in PNG’s The National on Wednesday September 19, 2007 as saying that oligarchy is evident in PNG. “The Law on Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates is for the most part a protection of social justice and people's power represented in State institutions. However, the Organic Law (of PNG), is flawed giving politicians tactical advantage. An emerging trend in
In the PNG Post Courier Newspaper of 6th of September 2007, the PNG Auditor General is reported to have identified K700 million of government funds that had apparently been stolen from government coffers without any trace. An official review of government finances has been frustrated by lack of funding and then being cancelled and reconstituted by the PNG Prime Minister after all the Committee’s records reportedly disappeared when the Committee was recently locked out of their offices on orders from the PM.
In November 2007, the PNG Opposition Leader, Sir Mekere Morauta, himself a former prime minister of PNG, is quoted as saying "corruption in PNG is systemic and systematic".
In May 2008 in ‘The National’, a PNG newspaper, Dr Michael Bourke at the
Identifying possible causes, Dr Bourke targeted low cash income, inaccessibility to health facilities, limited access to markets and poor access to secondary and tertiary education.
Dr Bourke noted the flood of PNG people that streams into PNG cities in a desperate search for better availability of services - health and education opportunities feature high on the list of what these travellers seek. Tragically, statistics show that very few students then complete secondary or tertiary education.
Dr Burke, a research fellow from the
The National newspaper then went on to say, “it was apparent that few of these well-authenticated facts and figures came as no surprise to many in the audience and doubtless to thinking Papua New Guineans throughout the nation. Similar figures have been alluded to for years. Yet in those same years, our country has enjoyed a huge minerals boom and unprecedented income from a wide variety of other inputs. Massive amounts of tax and other government financial requirements have been paid by resource investors and equally substantial sums have been distributed among landowners throughout PNG. Against that background, the figures and deductions of Dr Bourke can only be a stark reminder to the government that despite glowing comments on the current PNG economy, the bulk of our people lives in severe poverty. It is far from naïve to demand to know where that vast income has gone. One certainty is that we as a people and a nation have precious little to show for all the alleged "development" that has taken place on our shores since independence. It is time that PNG governments acknowledged the on-going unacceptable levels of governance that we have come to accept in PNG in tandem with the potential of our best resource - our own people.”
While a recent announcement by the PNG government to provide funds to help ensure rural schools have access to text books indicates an awareness and some action now underway, one cannot but wonder why it has taken so long to recognise this basic requirement? In a press release, the PNG government has publically recognised that in rural areas, there is a maximum of 1 text book for every 20 students. Considering the lack of rural infrastructure, will any newly available funds be spent on buying textbooks and will the books arrive at rural schools? Past history would indicate this may not happen.
As the PNG public service expanded in the 1980’s and 1990’s to accommodate ever more school leavers, the need for greater and greater government funds to pay wages and salaries and political ‘donations’ became increasingly important. The cost of these ‘donations’ eventually overshadowed any real expenditure on providing actual government services. Public Service sinecures that were funded in this manner helped eat up any real increase in government revenue. In addition, as the only real way to obtain wealth and retain power was to either be elected to government or to be appointed to the Public Service. More and more government funds were then needed to buy political power and subsequent election victories.
In the last few decades, an expanding PNG Public Service meant less and less available funds for providing essential services in order to pay for more and more public servants. These public servants then started to believe they did not have to produce any real results as there were no funds to pay for the provision of services. For example, with no money to maintain vehicles or buy petrol, police couldn’t perform their duties and had to stay at the office with not much to do. Boredom created new revenue sources such as unofficial ‘road blocks’ that are used to issue ‘spot fines’ and these fines are not receipted. A ‘10%’ economy developed for performing any government service and the ‘six pack’ mentality evolved. If there was nothing to do and no real accountability, government offices are often closed during business hours and government equipment (uniforms and firearms), often ‘goes missing’ to provide extra funds for families as the real level of wages continues to fall and the value of the kina is re valued. If you know a ‘wantok’ you could either obtain services or buy a service otherwise no results are achieved.
People wait for months and sometimes years to obtain a passport from the PNG Foreign Affairs office in the capital
PNG Standard of living and wages
Where poor wages and reduced earning capacity both contribute to real pressure on working families to try to ‘make ends meet’, corruption can very quickly spread.
Quoting from the Post Courier of 20th September, 2007, under the heading “60,000 live on loan cash” the report says: More than 60,000 public servants are living on "borrowed money", Chief Secretary Isaac Lupari said. Mr Lupari said these public servants are paying K7.5 million in loan repayments to various finance companies every fortnight from the Government payroll. They owe these companies K56 million.
The staggering figure has prompted Mr Lupari to direct that by November this year, Government department pay offices will no longer process loan repayments through the government payroll system. Mr Lupari said public servants could still borrow money "as it is their right but they won't have their borrowings repaid through the government payroll''. He told parliamentarians at the orientation program of the eighth Parliament that 80 per cent of the 76,000 public servants survived on borrowed money. Some were in fact "seriously in debt''. He said many of them had borrowed money from three to five different finance companies which charged interest rates ranging from 25 to 50 per cent.
Mr Lupari said as a result of high loan repayments, "the net pay some of them take home each fortnight on average is K50 or none''. Mr Lupari said one officer, he knew, had been taking homed K15.51 home for the last five fortnights.
Another senior departmental head said later that one of his officers was taking home K4 a fortnight with the rest going into loan repayments. The Chief Secretary said with this level of income, public servants will resort to "other means to survive''. "In fact they are forced into doing illegal activities to support their families. "Or sometimes families are abandoned by their fathers because they can't afford to take care of them," Mr Lupari said. He said 90 per cent of these public servants' time was spent outside of the work place, many chasing new loans or looking for food to provide for the families.
If they are at work, their minds are not focused on their job, he said.
PNG Food production and population growth
PNG’s food supplies could also be under threat. On Thursday 23rd August , 2007 under the heading “Kaukau under virus threat”, Queensland Primary Industries Department scientists were reported to be working to save the sweet potato industry in Papua New Guinea and rest of the South Pacific. The vegetable is the staple food of many islanders, whose crops are declining because of viruses that cut yields. The
During a recent world wide shortage of rice, comments in the PNG press highlighted claims that
In the Post Courier Section “Viewpoints” on Monday 2nd July, 2007 under a heading:
Population issue critical for PNG, an article said: When the new Government takes office in August it will naturally be looking at its own priorities for the next five years. One issue we suggest is critical to the future prosperity or survival of
In late 2007, the Minister for Health Sir Peter Barter pointed out that the nation's population was 6.1 million people and growing at a high annual rate. Most families now have more than six children. This is an alarming figure. As Sir Peter pointed out, the population is growing at a much faster rate than the actual development of the country. This is causing severe strain on basic services such as education and health. The Government needs to take a serious interest in addressing the population issue. A sustained national awareness program should be mounted to make people better aware of the negative impact of high birth rates on families and the society as a whole.
Parents should be educated about having fewer children so that their children can be better looked after as they grow up. We live in a society where the cost of goods and services have sharply increased over the last few years creating an enormous strain on the individual families' ability to meet the cost of school fees, health care and so on.
People need to be educated and be told over and over again that they should seriously consider having smaller families rather than big families. Already many parents are facing a huge problem trying to pay for the school fees of their children. This means many children who are supposed to be in the classroom are now spending their time out of classroom.
This problem is going to get worse in the coming years and election promises of "free education" will not save the parents. Parents need to be educated continuously about the issue of population growth. Unless they start taking heed of the warning, they will become the biggest losers. Instead of having their children in school and going on to better things in future, theirs will end up being on the unemployment list. The Government should put population at the heart of every policy decision it makes and continue to preach about smaller families. All parents and future parents must be told about the negative effects of having bigger families and the costs associated with it. This is not just a dream. It is a reality. People with large families are having a hard time educating and looking after their children.
Law and Order – The problem starts at the top
A number of PNG Leaders are now publically being accused of corruption in local newspapers. The Prime Minister (Michael Somare) has been accused of lying about the Moti Report fiasco and had to close down the Royal Commission in order to prevent himself being charged and taken to court. Mr Somare is now trying to prevent being taken to court over his failure to provide successive Income Tax Returns. A recent report in the Post Courier that is now being investigated by the PNG Ombudsman Commission concerns a report that K40m is held by a member of the government in a Singapore bank account and involves corrupt payments over timber concessions.
If there is no transparent PNG system of justice in place and actively being used to stop corruption or if there appears to be no effort by the county’s leaders to contain corruption, then in essence there is a recognised and tacit approval for corrupt practices to become generally acceptable. Clearly the problem starts at the top.
Where to from here?
In the PNG Post Courier section “Viewpoints” of Friday 14th August, 2008, there appeared a public letter written by Kevin T Kianda from the
“PNG needs help from neighbours
In any democracy the three vital agencies of government are its bureaucracy, the Police and the Defence Force. These are the agencies which maintain law and order and ensure that services reach the people accordingly. Our democracy is 33 years old and it has been working effectively since our forefathers and mothers envisaged it back then. However, we have been seeing and experiencing a shift in this paradigm lately with the incursions of native foreigners and external foreigners with little recognition of the kind of people and government we have in place. The greed for money, fame and power has impacted on the societies of PNG and the few people of this country who are involved in these tugs-of-war have created an environment of "material" ethnocentricity, a recipe for
destruction and anarchy. We have heard of the bureaucracy working for 10% commission and not following proper procedures to fork out large sums of money to build their own empires. This is a massive test of our democracy when the very agency that is given constitutional powers to enforce and promulgate the laws of this land has been seen to be dragging in its fundamental duties. We are in a state where PNG needs assistance from
N.B. If the information in this paper were based on secret and confidential reports it might be understandable that not much was currently being undertaken to rectify PNG problems. All the above information has however, been in the public domain, and sometimes for many years.
1. The Australian government now stands at the crossroads: But which direction will it take?
To go back is not an option. To do nothing or not to change direction would be to condone what is clearly happening. A Left Turn could reduce funding but then face an aggressive and sullen PNG government who will feel let down and cheated. This may also allow an opportunity for other countries, less friendly to
A ‘Right’ turn will require a great deal of careful planning and mutual agreement. The previous Australian government tried to ‘tie’ aid money to projects and when that didn’t work, used direct intervention with the ‘rushed’ Enhanced Cooperation Program (ECP). While the ECP was unanimously accepted by the PNG people, it ran foul of the PNG leaders through a lack of planning and a legally agreed scope of operations. In practice, the PNG political leaders lost ‘face’ and found a way of ignominiously dispatching most of the ECP team that were dramatically improving law and order.
2. Could the reason why very few results have apparently been achieved after over K30 billion of Australian aid funds be the traditional advice to a government like Australia’s from the Foreign Affairs Department (courtesy of the BBC’s ‘Yes, Prime Minister’ series). This type of advice goes something like this:
Stage 1: There isn’t a problem
Stage 2: There may be a problem but we shouldn’t interfere.
Stage 3: There could be a problem but there’s nothing we can do about it.
Stage 4: There was a problem that we maybe could have done something about however it’s now too late.
3. Unless there is a change to the basic PNG government philosophy of spending government funds on non performing public servants and not maintaining infrastructure, no real improvement will occur to the provision of government services.
4. A county’s system of providing government services must be transparent, honest, accountable and responsible. The architecture and infrastructure of PNG government service delivery must be strengthened and made totally accountable from the top down before any real improvement in the achievement of aid programs can be effected. To assist the PNG government with this initiative must be
Australian Government policy, irrespective of what party is in power, must concentrate on fostering and helping to maintain an accountable and responsible PNG Public Service infrastructure. If this change in emphasis is not effectively pursued, there will clearly be no change in the current impasse of more and more overseas aid money equating to no real improvement in PNG government services.
How can this change in emphasis be effected? Careful planning and legally and mutually agreed agendas and timeframes will help ensure the fiasco of the ECP adventure will not reoccur.
1. Fund, strengthen and reform the PNG government infrastructure throughout the country as a first priority under AusAID. Temporary assistance by dependable, skilled advisers might help this process but this is not essential. PNG already has the necessary resources but currently appears to lack the will and leadership to manage them (See below).
2. Reissue an updated PNG Government Code of Conduct and Ethics that is agreed to by the government, unions and business and that is followed by all from the top down. This agreed Code of Conduct must be signed on behalf of all citizens by the PNG PM and disseminated to all levels. This must be encouraged by
3. Issue a deadline for correct, ethical practice (i.e. anti fraud, anti corruption, etc.) to commence. Set a previous amnesty period for those involved to agree to come clean and testify. The full extent of the previous regime could then be revealed and legislated against for the future.
4. Institute anti corruption tribunals and after the deadline expires, use them to investigate and send any new cases for trial to the independent PNG courts. Advertising a few examples will correct any impression the old ways are still operating and illustrate that the 10% ‘dash’, arbitrary office hours and the ‘six pack’ will no longer to be tolerated.
5. At the same time as issuing an updated Code of Conduct, improve Public Service (PS) wages, salaries and conditions of service but on the premise that all PNG government employees sign performance based pay agreements specifying compliance with the new Code of Conduct. PS can then be dismissed if they do not abide by the Code of Conduct.
What happens if
The results of doing nothing will ensure PNG continues on a downhill slope to further poverty and corruption notwithstanding increasing amounts of external aid funds flowing into the country. If the process of ‘sweeping the dust under the carpet’ continues, then potential to prevent a humanitarian disaster on our doorstep will be lost forever.
“A stitch in time, saves nine.”