Monday, March 08, 2010

Papua New Guinea - Where are you now?

From PAUL OATES

On Emmanuel Narakobi's 'Masalai' blog site, there has been an interesting debate that started out about the world's most corrupt countries.
The subject of corruption seems to be a topical one and for some reason, the  discussion turned to corruption in today's Papua New Guinea.
The question of what is corruption seems to be in the eye of the beholder.
In order to define a corrupt practice, there needs to be a commonly accepted benchmark or yardstick. Illegal activities are, or should be very easy to spot and prosecute. Unethical activity however is or can be a very grey area. A recognised and agreed Code of Ethics is therefore required.
Now on the subject of recognised ethics, it seems there could be many interpretations of ethical behaviour. A recent decision, by an Australian government minister, that was announced on the same day as he was skiing with someone who stood to benefit from that decision by a reported $250 million could be merely coincidental. Certainly the minister thought and said so irrespective of what the Australian media seemed to suggest. But if there is reportedly 'no such thing as a free lunch', at what point does a reciprocal favour become unethical and therefore in an official view, 'corrupt'?
Many countries throughout the world have a recognised culture of reciprocity. In an Australian context, reciprocity is sometimes difficult to
appreciate. Australians are traditionally taught to give without expecting anything in return. Yet this does not always apply in many other cultures. Prior to working in PNG, part of our training required learning about the theory of reciprocity and how one might actually give offence to someone by giving them something they had no way of repaying on an equivalent level. This was a new concept for many just as the expectation of paying and receiving a 'tip' is, or used to be, totally foreign to an Australian. Yet in the United States, this practice is expected as a necessary way of ensuring good service and helping the employee augment a limited salary.
Australia has an essential part of most Federal and State governments, an internal audit function. This audit function is also augmented by an external audit authority and in many cases, there is also an equivalent of an Ethics Commission or Investigation Authority to which possible breaches by government officials of the law and ethical behaviour, can be referred.
In PNG, the official body tasked with investigating and reporting on possible breaches of the law and recognised standards is the Ombudsman Commission. PNG's Chief Ombudsman came to the forefront recently when an attempt was made on his life. This attempt amazingly seemed to coincide with some very high level investigations into PNG's political leaders. Reports just tabled in the PNG Parliament by the Ombudsman clearly indicate that some unlawful activities have been made by some high level PNG government
people. There is an indication that some illegal decisions were made that need proper investigation. The report into the Moti affair clearly requires a police investigation yet at the point where the investigation was about to be presented to Parliament, PNG's Prime Minister peremptorily closed the Commission of Inquiry down. The PNG PM seemed unaware of any apparent conflict of interest with this decision. Now it seems there are indications that the PM himself gave the illegal direction to fly Moti out of PNG. Yet a
spokesperson for the PM now reportedly claims that as Mr Moti's case in Australia collapsed due to a technicality, there doesn't seem to be any reason to continue with any investigation. In a post on the Masalai bog, a person claims everyone involved in the Moti flight knew it was illegal but left it up to the 'higher ups' to sort out. As the Americans are want say:"Go figure!'
Now in PNG, there has been slowly increasing culture of unofficial 'tipping' or as it is locally referred to as a 'six pack' culture. This terminology refers to the practice that in order to get a government official to actually do something, a six pack of beer or equivalent, is required. PM Somare is on record as saying that he believes the PNG public service is corrupt yet apparently, he is either unable or unwilling to do anything about it. Recent claims have now surfaced that even the PNG PM is accused of accepting monetary incentives worth many millions from a foreign country in order ensure he maintained political power in the 2007 general election. It is claimed that by reportedly 'buying' members of parliament to vote with his government with this money, Somare was able to keep in power. There is
now a worrying claim by a qualified mining engineer on a 'mine watch' web site recently raised concerns that a giant mine in PNG owned and run by the same foreign country that reportedly gave the millions to the PNG PM has been grossly undervalued to PNG's disadvantage. The foreign owners of the mine have now reportedly blacklisted the 'minewatch' site to all employees.
PNG's ethical standards are set out in the Constitution and subsequent legislation. This legislation was influenced by an Australian and PNG perspective prior to PNG Independence that was and has been accepted by successive PNG governments. The traditional PNG culture of reciprocity doesn't feature specifically in the PNG Constitution. This aspect has allowed some to believe that no stated mention means it isn't illegal under Melanesian culture.
So what benchmark for corruption is acceptable in today's PNG? Surely those elected to the PNG Parliament are elected to serve and look after the PNG people rather than themselves? At the apparent behest of PM Somare, the PNG Speaker of Parliament, who is supposed to be impartial, last year effectively closed down Parliament to prevent a vote of no confidence in the
government. When the Parliament opened again this month, the PNG Opposition moved a vote of no confidence in the Speaker. The Speaker then reportedly had no idea what to do and deferred to the Clerk of the House who also had no clear idea of what to do. The Speaker then ruled that a vote couldn't be taken.
So if those in the PNG government from the PM through the Speaker of Parliament down to all the members are not prepared to permit the PNG Parliament to operate as it was designed to do, then PNG democracy is at an end. It is suggested by a PNG blogger on the Masalai site, that PNG dictatorship has now effectively commenced.

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