STEPHEN HOWES & ASHLEE BETTERIDGE | Devpolicy Blog
It was good to see him and Channel 7′s Today Tonight draw attention to the problem of corruption in PNG and the need for greater Australian government and bank action through their ‘special investigation’ aired last week.
But Prof Sharman made two outrageous claims that need to be challenged.
First, he stated that “most of Australia’s aid program is effectively wasted.” The way he worded his example was illuminating. He said that if Australia gives $10 million for a hospital in aid and “at the same time $10 million is stolen out the back door through a corrupt official then the net benefit of Australian aid is zero”.
He didn’t say that the aid was taken by a corrupt official — the program provided no evidence for corruption in the Australian aid program at all. If the $10 million was PNG budget money being stolen, and the Australian hospital aid was well used, then the net benefit of the Australian aid is still $10 million.
Australian aid helps tackle corruption, including funding the office of the Ombudsman lauded by the program as an anti-corruption fighter. On the other hand, perhaps the largesse of Australian aid does encourage some bad behaviour by PNG politicians.
But the idea that aid has no net benefit because PNG is corrupt? Ridiculous. In fact, for the ordinary PNG person, who is missing out on government services, that aid becomes more important.
Prof Sharman then went on to the subject of refugees, stating that because of the high level of corruption, “there is a real risk that PNG as a country will simply collapse. Australia will be stuck with a massive refugee problem that makes the existing one look pretty trivial. If you’re looking to escape PNG… the closest country is Australia.”
There are certainly many suffering people in PNG, but the economy is in fact doing better than it ever has before. There has never been any sign of Papua New Guineans fleeing to Australia en masse. If they did, they would be sent straight back as they have no basis for claiming refugee status.
Professor Sharman wasn’t the only one to come out badly from the Channel 7 show. The journalist, James Thomas, did himself no favours at all.
He began by saying that “half of PNG’s budget, $1.7 billion, is being stolen every year.” This year the PNG budget is K13 billion. That’s about $5.8 billiion dollars, half of which is $2.9 billion.
Gary Juffa, Governor of Oro province, attacked the misrepresentation on aid in the Channel 7 story in a Radio Australia interview.
As Mr Juffa said, the program brought into question “the credibility of the journalist” who produced it.
PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill called the program “the Australian media’s most ill-researched, mischievous and misinformed piece of journalism coverage on PNG affairs.”
Update: Channel 7 has issued a statement here denying it alleged that $1.7 billion of Australian aid money had been stolen each year in PNG.
While it is true that the channel never made that allegation, it explicitly stated that ‘Australia’s aid is being lost to corruption’ and ‘most of Australia’s aid is effectively wasted’, without providing any evidence to back up these claims.
Interestingly, the Channel 7 statement includes the problematic aid-for-a-hospital statement by Prof Sharman analysed in our post. On a more positive note, the claims of money laundering aired by the report have led to a response from the Australian government, which can be found here.