During a past APEC forum, Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare attempted to water down the intense frowning of Western countries on "gifts in Melanesia" seen as bribery. Sir Michael revealed his thoughts at a press conference on his return from the APEC meeting in Santiago, Chile, South America. The APEC member countries include those on - and within the - Pacific rim and include the United States, China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and all the Pacific Island countries.
Speaking in the context of structural reforms to achieve good governance, a pursuit of many APEC member-countries, Sir Michael said the issue of corruption was one of the concerns that was raised. Referring to PNG and other Melanesian country's gift-giving, Sir Michael said "sometimes people take us wrongly".
"I explained that sometimes the Westerners think that this is buying the right. It is not buying the right. It's appreciation of each other," he said.
Using the example of pig-giving, the ultimate gift in many PNG cultures, he explained that the giving of a pig is likely to be reciprocated by another later.
"That's not my buying you or you buying me. That's just our custom - and I tried to explain that," Sir Michael.
But he told the press conference he disdained the public servants' attitude of waiting for a "six-pack" in order to do jobs that they would be paid for by their employment in the public service. Could this be Sir Michael saying "Do as I say, not as I do!'?
Now on the subject of reciprocity, should one wish to be discerning, one could suggest that the Australian taxpayers have been paying out millions of dollars to assist PNG since Independence and yet apparently not demanding anything much in return. The possible rorting of AusAID funds and 'Boomerang Aid' aside, PNG government has directly and indirectly received many millions in Australian tax dollars with no established agreement about accountability and responsibility for the expenditure of these funds. The Australian culture of giving without expecting a comensurate exchange could possibly be at fault here. Yet if the PNG government happily accepts these yearly 'lumps of largese' why wouldn't the PNG government expect to give back something of an equivalent value return if Sir Michael evenhandedly applied his stated principle of Melanesian culture of 'appeciating each other'?
When a program of Enhanced Co-operation (ECP) was introduced to actively assist PNG police, Morobe governor Luther Wenge claimed he saved PNG by effectively torpedoeing the program, just as the program was starting to achieve positive results with law and order. While the ECP implementation could have been better handled, it was patently clear that Sir Michael and his government didn't lift a finger to try and find a solution to keep the program alive. One wonders why not, given the huge amounts of untied aid that his government had previously received?
PNG people are perfectly familiar with the theory of reciprocity. The only problem is that if PNG politicians start 'giving' presents involving taxpayer funds to people who then reciprocate by giving presents back, where do the real owners of the presents, (i.e. the PNG people) come into the equation? Swiss bank accounts don't seem to feature in most villages but of course no one would dare suggest any actual impropriety. That would require an open an transparent financial record as proof. Recent claims by the PNG Opposition that foreign millions helped Somare retain political power are or should be extremely worrying. What could these possible payments demand in return?
Speaking on a totally unrelated matter, the report that Sir Michael and some other government politicians have inadvertently forgotten to lodge their tax returns for many years does seem a trifle lax. The PNG people are also still waiting to hear who was involved in the Taiwan millions. These matters should be quickly and thoroughly investigated as soon as possible to clear any misgivings about any wrongdoing that some might hold. Unfortunately, it seems to take forever to investigate any suggested breaches of PNG law by PNG authorities. It would be very disappointing to find that the release of the results of these investigations were delayed, like those of the recently released Moti Report, until any period of no confidence votes came into operation.
Until the PNG Ombudsman Commission and the PNG Police Force investigate and publically advertise their findings on all donations, gifts, interests and any benefit derived while in public office, no start can be made to creating and graft and corruption free PNG. Charges must immediately follow any revelation of misconduct.
The rot always begins at the top. Effective leadership must set the example to be followed.
"Corruption thrives on secrecy... the only way to battle corruption is to bring it out in the open . ". (quoted in a Victorian Newspaper.)
(The following chant is set in iambic pentameter, mostly...)
Sapos mi laik givim samting,
Husat imas save tingting?
Em samting bilong mi,
Ino samting b'long PNG,
Emino bagarapim yumi?
Ol pipol isave lukluk,
Watpo yu krai olsem kokaruk,
Mi sandap olsem Gren Sif,
Mi singaut, mi bilip,
Emi gutpela pasin bilong yumi.
Trabel istap long ol raskol tasol,
Kain save istap long ol pipol,
Lain bilong mi ino mekim,
Kain olsem mi no sekim,
Dispela tok ilaik daunim yumi?
PNG ikamap gutpela hap nau ia,
Nogat wari na belhevi istap a?
Yu mas bihainim dispela singaut,
Maski tingting igo wokabaut,
Yu tok tasol; 'PNG i nambawan kantri.'
Kain olsem yu noken wari long moni,
Benk bilong mi igat dispela save,
Bihainim tok bilong mi,
Bai yumi girapim PNG,
Nau tasol, tiket bilong balus istap we?