Monday, September 12, 2011

Tracking for tragedy – poor governance poses risks for Papua New Guinea


Keith Jackson...bad governance a risk for PNG
Earlier this year Laura Bailey, the World Bank’s country manager for Papua New Guinea, nailed it.
At a Port Moresby workshop organised by the Institute of National Affairs she stated forthrightly that corruption and bad governance in PNG are feeding off the mining sector.
Of course it’s not only PNG’s abundance of exploitable resources which is responsible for the country’s governance woes – sheer incompetence makes a noteworthy contribution, as it does at present in Australian national politics.
But the enormous scale of PNG’s future wealth has the capacity to make a big difference: properly managed, it will provide an opportunity to create a prosperous nation; poorly managed, it will greatly enrich a few people and send the bulk of the population to hell in a handcart.
The pivotal point is governance, pithily defined by the World Bank as “the exercise of political authority and the use of institutional resources to manage society's problems and affairs”.
The burning question is how PNG’s national governance will deal with corruption’s deliberate intent to advantage the few at the expense of the many with resources that are the rightful property of the people.
Let’s not mince words, in simple terms poor governance manifested through corruption is complicity in theft.
“Because of corruption, we cannot expect the police to protect us, nor the courts to punish the criminals,” a frustrated Dr Thomas Webster, Director of the National Research Institute, said a few months back.
“If you or any of your family members are sick … you may find that the drugs needed to cure the illness (are) not available because of corruption.  
“This cancer is now threatening the very essence of good governance and how we make decisions at the highest levels.
“The administrative framework for good governance in managing and using resources for the benefit of all Papua New Guineans are not being adhered to.” 
Succinctly and accurately phrased.
The Australian government’s response to this situation – given that it provides PNG with upwards of half a billion dollars a year in development funds – is bland.
The official position is that “the basic responsibility for improving governance and addressing corruption in PNG resides with the government of PNG,” as parliamentary secretary Richard Marles has put it in an article for PNG Attitude.
“That said,” he added, “Australia is strongly committed to supporting our closest neighbour to address these challenges.”
In other words, it’s none of our business but we’ll deal with it under the covers.
 Sure, no nation likes megaphone diplomacy but when it comes to serious moral issues like poor governance and corruption, surely at least a Chimbu yodel would be in order.
In fact, more assertive Australian support might encourage leaders like new Prime Minister Peter O’Neill to take a more forthright stand for good governance and to start rooting out corruption.
While O’Neill has a reputation as being a clever deal maker and a hard-headed businessman, he now needs to step up to the plate and apply that inside knowledge and those undoubted creative skills in the broader interests of the people of Papua New Guinea.
Together with colleagues like former prime minister Sir Mekere Morauta and younger leaders like Belden Namah, Sam Basil and Powes Parkop, all of whom have a keen understanding and a clear commitment to good governance, O’Neill has a golden opportunity to guide PNG in the right direction – where the nation’s wealth will be applied to the benefit of all its people.
To achieve this, he will need to apply every grain of his reputed toughness and, in the words of Paul Barker, Director of the Institute of National Affairs, “(take) governance issues … much more seriously than now”.
Elder statesman Sir Mekere Morauta has long been a stout proponent and, in office, an effective practitioner of good governance.
 Earlier this year, he told a seminar on corruption at Divine Word University: “A culture of corruption is now entrenched, and has permeated nearly all aspects of the public sector and, to some degree, business.
“Corruption and patronage have become institutionalised.
“They have even been legalised.
“Every day we hear about corruption.
“Every day we talk about it.
“Every day we see and hear of leaders and businesses getting away with it.
“We could fill a whole prison with people recommended for prosecution in the various Commissions of Inquiry over the last 20 years, but which of those people has actually been prosecuted, let alone gone to jail?
“A few politicians have been thrown out of office for breaches of the Leadership Code, but that’s basically it.”
Morauta offered a long list of sins against the people of PNG: “Commissions and bribes, whether millions on government road contracts or a hundred kina to sell your stationery to a purchasing officer in a government department” … “politicians, public servants, board members or company executives failing to declare their personal interests in contracts or deals being decided on or in appointments being made” ... “interference in decision-making, in neglect of due process and lack of prosecution for breaches of the law” … “running to the courts to prevent institutions like the Ombudsman Commission from carrying out its constitutional role” …
No nation can operate with stability and fairness – and success - if it does not take urgent steps to stamp out this kind of misbehaviour.
To the perpetrators, corruption might seem victimless (“it’s only money”), rationalised by self-justificatory thinking (“I’m really owed this anyway”) and excused by generalisation (“everyone’s doing it”).
In PNG today not only are there are not enough voices railing against poor governance, there are not enough important voices, the voices are not loud enough and they are not being reinforced by concrete and, where required, draconian action.
As for Australia’s conduct of its development assistance programme, especially the ‘boomerang aid’ that ends up back in Australia and the rapacious fees paid to consultants and contractors, surely there is someone in Canberra who understands that this is contributing to a climate in which at least some PNG politicians and senior bureaucrats feel justified in behaving as avariciously as they do.
The perpetuation of poor governance in PNG, and public tolerance of it by Australia, may appear to be a soft option but it seems set to yield some pretty awful outcomes.
I believe both countries are on notice.

Keith Jackson AM is publisher and editor of the PNG Attitude website and magazine, and chairman of leading Australian public relations company, Jackson Wells Pty Ltd

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