An entry in The Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
IN THE LAST COUPLE of months, there have been deep sentiments for the change of government by political lobbyists and critics, especially in the social media.
The underlying raison d’etre is discontent about some of the decisions made by the government. Among a number of decisions alleged to have involved corruption of some sort are the amendments to the Vote of No Confidence Act, the government takeover of the PNG Sustainable Development Program and Ok Tedi Mine, the asylum seekers deal with Australia and, more recently, the awarding of a medical kit supply contract to Borneo Pacific Pharmaceuticals.
Bloggers and users of social media are the prominent advocates of this discourse. Some even joined hands with the PNG Opposition in strategising to topple the government. A case in point was the call for a nationwide strike on the eve of the budget session last November that went amiss.
Advocating for change in leadership is a typical Papua New Guinean way of reacting to unpopular policies and allegations of corruption by successive governments and there is nothing wrong with that.
Dr Martin Luther King Jr once said in his civil rights campaign: “The moment you become silent about the things that matter, you are dead”. Citizens have the moral obligation to raise concerns about government decisions they feel are not in the best interest of their country.
However, the critical question is this: is changing government a solution to corruption? In other words, will the change of government have any tangible impact on corruption?
Corruption has been the main platform for changes of government on the floor of parliament through votes of no confidence in the past.
The ousting of Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare by Paias Wingti in March 1980, Wingti by Sir Rabbie Namaliu in 1988, Wingti by Sir Julius Chan in August 1994 and the dismantling of Somare’s National Alliance regime by O’Neill and Namah in 2011 were all motivated either directly or indirectly by anticorruption notions.
But has corruption changed? No. Corruption still exists and has become systemic and complicated. It has become a national plague. Why?
The answers lie in our political culture from the way elections are conducted, the way governments are formed and the modus operandi of governance. These peak political activities are mostly flawed.
The election system is the breeding ground of corruption. Trading cash and cargo for votes has become deeply rooted. A candidate who is serious about winning an election has to spend a lot of money and provide a lot of cargo to bribe as many voters as possible to muster the winning numbers.
Nere-tere – eat and give is a well known election catchphrase in Simbu.
Consequently, when the new member gets elected to parliament, the first thing on his mind is to recoup what he has spent. That’s when all kinds of vices creep in.
Often these people lack leadership qualities. They are prone to vice, negligence, mismanagement and dishonesty because they enter parliament by wicked ways.
The golden handshake is a rite of welcoming MPs to one’s side during the formation of government. Venality is a well-grounded tradition during this horse trading.
Leadership ethics in PNG must be amongst the poorest in the world. There is no moral conscience in most of our leaders.
Politicians can be accused of serious corruption and they will still cling to office. They will appear in public if nothing is wrong with them. They don’t feel ashamed. They don’t have a guilty conscience.
They will even go to court seeking vindication for their wrong doing. It is unethical and shameful but this is PNG.
In most societies we don’t see this kind of leadership. The moment a politician is accused of a scandal in the public media, he or she steps down immediately and paves the way for independent investigation. Or he or she resigns from holding public office if personal reputation is brought into disrepute.
In Papua New Guinea not one politician has resigned from ministerial portfolio or public office on the basis of moral principle.
Moreover, the culture of nepotism in the allocation of project funds and disbursement of District improvement monies make good leaders become yoyos. They compromise their ethics to align with the government of the day.
Tobias Kulang, the member for Kundiawa-Gembogl, is a professed Christian and a strong advocate against corruption. He had been vocal against the O’Neill government on many fronts and yet he crossed the floor and joined government ranks citing the interests of his electorate as his reason and he was right. If he remained in Opposition his District would miss out on projects and DSIP funds.
Although he was a good leader, the flawed and crafty system of governance dictated his crossing of sides at the cost of his reputation.
Of course there are some good leaders but the system of governance is so flawed that it is like a cobweb that is firmly entrenched and will continue to snare and smear them no matter who becomes the prime minister.
Reformation of the entire political culture from electioneering to the formation of government and subsequent active governance will need changes in attitudes to corruption.
The biometric electioneering system, tightening of the loopholes in the political party integrity law and establishment of Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) are positive reforms. The full enforcement of these mechanisms and other like reforms will bring about tangible changes to corruption, not changing government.