SUSUVE LAUMAEA writes about the media gag in Papua New Guinea
WHEN vital institutions of democracy and freedom become inaccessible, the people who are supposed to be served by those institutions sink into either a life of denial or develop a culture of rebellion. PNG leaders must not promote denial and rebellion by what they say and do.
Lately there have been emerging signs of both despair and revolt as more and more conscious Papua New Guineans become restive over the mediocre legislative performance of our National Parliament, government’s haphazard public services delivery system or the lack of such, allegedly endemic growth of a corruption culture in all facets public service and government administration and deterioration of most vital services and infrastructure.
The “people’s anger” over the Maladina Constitutional and Organic Law amendments and the “no-go zone” imposed on the media by a certain court presided over by a certain senior PNG judge hearing the court case of a notorious jail escapee and alleged serial “high stakes” robber are candid examples of the State quietly but deliberately chipping away at the foundations of democracy and freedom in PNG.
The people’s anger is a cry against denial – a cry that must be heard and acted upon decisively and assertively.
The flip-side of inaction to the people’s cry is more rebellion by citizens against State, against commerce and industry and against foreign investment. The gag on the media to report a high profile court case was not just an ill-advised set of circumstances.
It was a naughty thing to do.
The lack of constructive parliamentary debate for the Maladina legislative initiative prior to it reaching the “third reading” stage in Parliament, the absence of constructive executive interventions to soften the harshness and oppressive nature of the legislation and making a court inaccessible by the media to report the infamous “Kapris or Kapis court case” are indicative of three of the highest institutions of democracy in PNG actively denying freedom of expression, freedom of information and every citizen’s right to know what goes on within the harrowed halls of the three vital pillars of democracy in this country.
The legislature, the executive and the courts are the first, second and third estates of democracy – not necessarily in that order. The media is the fourth estate.
All four estates must work constructively and gainfully in unison in order for institutions and practices of democracy and freedom for all to flourish in PNG. That has not been the case for a long time.
The media – an important pillar of democracy – has often times been made to be the whipping-post of the shortcomings of the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.
When the media exposes public officeholders in the three vital estates of democracy for corruption, self interest, harshness and oppression, the fourth estate is hunted down, singled out as unworthy and threatened or penalised.
The media’s role is straight-forward.
Its guiding principle is Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
The media’s role is to campaign for and safeguard media pluralism, independence and diversity of views.
PNG’s Constitution has a provision explicitly dedicated to Freedom of Expression as a fundamental human right and as a cornerstone of our constitutionally guaranteed Bill of Rights – found in the Preamble of the National Constitution.
That’s been in place for 35 years.
Used correctly, the media is supposed to champion the cause of freedom of expression, including freedom of information as a fundamental human right that is also central to the protection of other rights.
Freedom of expression allows people to demand the right to good health, to clean environment, to memory and to justice.
It makes electoral democracy meaningful and builds public trust in administration.
It strengthens mechanisms to hold governments accountable for their promises, obligations and actions.
It provides checks on state accountability and thus prevents corruption which thrives on secrecy and closed environments.
Suppression of Freedom of Expression is tantamount to suppression of all other freedoms and human rights.
The combined Maladina and Kapris-Kapis court case “fiasco” are situations that Papua New Guinean believers of democracy, freedom of expression and human rights do not need.
The proponents of initiatives that seek to deny the people of their basic and fundamental human rights have no place in the decision making abodes of our nation. They should be run out of those institutions and run out of town too!
This columnist shall not be delving too far into the merits and the demerits of the Maladina legislative initiative.
That’s neither self-censorship nor self-denial of freedom of expression.
It’s because this scribe is acutely conscious of the ethical fact that the Maladina legislative initiative has now become a court matter wherein the Ombudsman Commission – on behalf of itself and on behalf of the people of PNG – has made a court reference which challenges and seeks interpretation on the harshness and oppressiveness of the intended constitutional and organic law amendment, that albeit, seeks to limit the scope of the performance of the Ombudsman Commission in the performance of that institution’s pursuit to right the wrongs of corruption and Leadership Code breaches.
The initially expressed intent and spirit of the Maladina legislative amendments was to strengthen the “power and teeth” of the Ombudsman Commission to deal with a “very swollen” corruption culture within and outside the government system and clamp-down on leadership infringements.
But the letter of law of Esa’ala MP Moses Maladina’s amendment legislation did not reflect the “power and teeth” equation.
Why seek to restrict the powers of the Ombudsman and the independence of that organisation?
What is the hidden agenda?
Why spin a credible story of beefing up a champion organisation – albeit the people’s watchdog -- involved in the full time job of fighting and being vigilant against corruption of people’s power and authority and against corrupt leaders, public officials and businessmen and women of all shades of colour of the rainbow when the hidden motive, intent and spirit were not quite the same as that public uttered?
There is an old saying which goes something like this: “You can fool some people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”
The message in this old gem for Maladina the politician and his kind, government ministers, public officials in the public service proper and state enterprises, PNG and foreign businesspeople with corrupt and deceptive attitudes and tendencies is simple: “You can fool some Papua New Guineans some of the time but you cannot fool all the Papua New Guineans all the time.”
Isn’t Maladina’s legislative initiative political and legislative corruption and deception at worst?
Corruption has become a dirty word – and rightly so too.
It has to be attacked vigorously by the forces of anti-corruption.
Corruption marginalises the people into classes of haves and have-nots and it universally impoverishes nations.
As corruption is allowed to permeate into the entire fabric of our nation, more and more people will become poor, hungry, malnourished, sick and diseased, illiterate and peripheral spectators to a minority class of powerful political and economic do-gooders.
With due respect to those “very few” citizens that earned their happiness, health and wealth honestly and by sheer hard toil, there is much to be said and suspected of later day so-called PNG millionaires.
It can’t be about “being smart and thinking out of the box” nor can it be about sheer hard work or running and persevering with an opportunity that eventually pays off handsome financial rewards.
Though speculative, there has to be an element of corrupt inducement somewhere that enables relatively obscure people are know to have been chronically poor and then suddenly the person becomes “flashy and flush” with cash, acquires a latest expensive tinted-glass four-wheeler and surrounds oneself with previously-hard-to-get model look-alikes.
It cannot be windfalls from the inheritance left behind by a rich aunt.
It cannot be accrued landowner benefits because clans share them unless one has corruptly taken the lot and “escaped” to
Corruption includes PNG public officials receiving from foreigners bribe money and other forms of valuable gifts such as luxury watches, a car, clothing, vouchers for supermarket shopping, paid trips for leader, public official and their families to exotic foreign destinations.
There are many other forms of corruption and bribery but it involves two people – a giver and a taker.
The taker is usually someone after lucrative government contracts, for example, or a lobbyist seeking to have a particular law enacted that would ultimately lead to reaping infinite monetary and other benefits in the future.
As Papua New Guineans, we must begin to seriously and constructively rise as one and begin to fight this disease called corruption.
The power of all of us united together as one to wage war on corruption in high places or against forces that corrupt the political and economic sectors of our country shall be awesome.
Do not let corruption stand in the way of our national happiness, health and wealth.
- The author is a veteran award-winning PNG journalist. He welcomes comments and feedback from readers. Call him, or send an SMS text to Susuve Laumaea on (675) 720 13870 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org