THERE HAS BEEN A SOLID HISTORY of the media in Papua New Guinea reporting on corruption.
Certainly those who framed the PNG Constitution were acutely aware of what a problem corruption would become in this rapidly changing society.
Way back in 1984, a major study into PNG’s law and order problems, the Clifford Report, had this to say:
So much more is known about private lives here and so much more rumoured or suspected that the extent of corruption is difficult to hide….
If the official cases are no more than the crumbs from a table laden with corruption, the knowledge circulating amongst the public of the true size of this repast is exaggerated to lavish banquet proportions by their imagination.
Back in 1982 – 30 years ago – the then Chief Ombudsman did a major report into how the PNG government bought 15,000 so-called “Executive Diaries” from a Singaporean businessman even though the Supply and Tenders Board had rejected the purchase three times “on the grounds that procedures specifically designed to prevent corrupt practices and unbudgeted for expenditure had not been complied with.”
In that report, the Chief Ombudsman included a chapter analysing how corruption starts and spreads in developing countries. “Studies of corruption in other countries,” he said, “have shown that, much like a disease, it develops through four progressive stages.”
In Stage One, corruption begins and is isolated at the top – the political leadership. In Stage Two, it filters down to the senior public servants where it is condoned and tolerated, of necessity, by the political leadership.
By Stage Three, corruption has become pandemic throughout all layers of the bureaucracy and it becomes the norm for the public to have to pay something on the side for even the most routine performance of a public servant’s duty (e.g. the renewal of a passport, granting of a licence, etc).
In such societies justice is bought and sold and public office becomes the gateway to personal fortune.
The then Chief Ombudsman said Stage Four of corruption in these developing countries was when the military stepped in and staged a coup.
Here in PNG we have not reached Stage Four yet despite what some of my rather ignorant colleagues in the Australian media have occasionally reported.
Journalists should not always expect credit for the job they do trying to report on corruption. One of the reasons I mentioned the diaries scandal is that I sent off report after report on it to the ABC.
My great friend, the late Robert Keith-Reid, who had started the regional monthly magazine, Islands Business, rang me from Suva saying how much he would like to get some coverage on it. He said he was looking for a Papua New Guinean stringer but in the meantime would I be able to write something for him.
So the night before I went off on leave I did a series of stories for Robert’s publication on the diaries scandal and also sent him an excellent Bob Brown cartoon on corruption that had appeared in an earlier Ombudsman’s Report.
I did a separate breakout story on those four stages of corruption and another one on the debate in Parliament – which, incidentally, was not so much about what a terrible thing corruption was but rather along the lines of, “Who does the Chief Ombudsman think he is investigating leaders?”
Robert gave my contributions a handsome spread. It became the cover story for Islands Business – his cover being the PNG flag with a big stamp across it “Corruption”.
Back in those days, the ABC did not approve of its foreign correspondents doing work for any other media organisation. So I told Robert that he could not use my name and I came up with the pseudonym – Gerard Doceray.
A few months later, Robert rang me up from Suva laughing. He said, “Sean, I’ve just had a call from the ABC in Australia. They’ve got hold of that Islands Business issue on corruption in PNG and they wanted a contact number for Gerard Doceray.” He burst out laughing again.
“What did you tell them,” I asked. “Well,” he said, “I told them it was a pseudonym but the guy was in a sensitive position and I could not disclose the real name. Then I said, ‘Why don’t you get in touch with your own correspondent, Sean Dorney?’”
Robert was really laughing now as he went on.
“And you know what they said? They said, ‘Oh, Sean’s all right for some things, but this Gerard Doceray seems to know what’s going on up there.’”
Sean Dorney made these remarks as part of a longer speech to the annual Excellence in Anti-Corruption Reporting Media Awards 2012 on Monday 10 December