An entry in The Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
THE first time I heard about corruption and its different attributes was in an Elements of Public Administration class at the University of Papua New Guinea. Our lecturer back then was Danny Aloi from the public policy strand in the School of Business Administration.
He kept us on our toes with his lectures. He just stood at the front of the main lecture theatre and blurted out a bunch of words about corruption. As freshmen, we were fond of copying stuff from the blackboard.
Some of us tried our best to catch his main ideas while others drifted away mentally. This was best demonstrated by shoving the end of a biro into their ear to scrap out wax. Others folded small pieces of paper into pointy triangles to poke between their flesh and fingernail to shovel out dirt.
And so we learned about misappropriation, mismanagement, bribery, nepotism and other vices that give meaning to the concept of corruption. Aloi told us these practices make the public service machinery less effective and efficient. He also said a lot of other stuff we did not bother writing down.
Later on, I began to make sense of what I got from those lectures. Corruption was indeed a huge problem in PNG and globally. It was imperative that a way must be found to stop corruption if we were to achieve effective development.
This inspired me to search deeper by trying to understand human nature. Aristotle had said “man is by nature a political animal”. It is in our nature to have the desire to gain authority or power whether by moral or immoral means.
A person is deemed corrupt when they pursue an approach that is unethical and immoral. For example, not properly acquitting money disbursed for a particular project constitutes misappropriation and mismanagement.
Sometimes I fantasise living in a world where everyone is cloned to think in a certain way. In this perfect society, my very own utopia, all individuals are programed to eat a particular food and to be moral, ethical and just.
But the fact that all human beings think and act differently based on their understanding, education, age, gender, socio-economic condition and cultural context makes corruption an unavoidable part of every human civilisation.
The seven deadly sins - lust, greed, murder, sloth, gluttony, envy and pride - characterise our nature as human beings. We lust for power and we envy people with more money. Lust for power and envy of wealth leads us to engage in corrupt activities to fast track our way to the top thus fulfilling Machiavelli’s famous adage that “the ends justify the means”.
The political will displayed by the O’Neill-Dion government is commendable. On 19 February, a majority of parliamentarians, about 92 in all, voted for the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) Bill. It showed that Papua New Guineans wanted to see change. We wanted to see an end to systemic and systematic corruption.
I commend the National Anti-Corruption Technical Working Committee for collating such well-structured and precisely written documents. Here are my reflections having read the ICAC documents.
I like how the committee benchmarked the proposed ICAC with international best practice. Thanks to globalisation the world is become one big global melting pot. What is practiced in NSW or Singapore to address corruption can be used in other countries.
Internationalisation is a growing trend. Educational institutions, especially, those in the higher education sector, are encouraged by the government and development partners to adopt international best practice by partnering with universities in developed countries in order to improve quality and build capacity.
The PNG context
We can study the array of international best practice but the challenge is to modify our approach so it suits PNG. Our operational environment is different from NSW, Hong Kong, Singapore or Botswana.
To so modify the experience of others, in depth analysis and research on corruption in PNG is needed. Such research and the observations that flow from it will provide a framework for setting up an organisation that suits the PNG context. This will make the organisation sustainable in an unpredictable nation like ours.
I believe the National Research Institute is the only institution in the country that has experience in corruption research in comparison to UPNG, DWU, INA and other private or public think tanks and universities. The government can utilise these institutions by funding research projects centred on theorising corruption in PNG. The government can create corruption research centres within selected universities.
I agree with the idea of phone tapping because to prove that Person A conspired with Person B to defraud the state providing such evidence will hold up in court. However, invasion of privacy might be an issue so the committee should look at the case of the FBI and Homeland Security in their fight against terrorism. This will help the committee to determine necessary amendments to other organic laws to complement the ICAC organic law.
Educating the next generation of Papua New Guineans about the threat of corruption and its destructive effects is a possible long term solution. Such knowledge should be shared at the tertiary level in order to educate students before they enter the workforce. Thus, Christian ethics and corruption studies should be a compulsory course in all tertiary institutions in PNG.
At primary and secondary school levels, curriculum designers should look at including information about corruption in a bid to instil in students the notion that it is bad.
Partnerships with educational institutions
Divine Word University’s Department of PNG Studies and International Relations is a multidisciplinary department within the Faculty of Arts and Social Science. We teach history, politics, international relations, community development, anthropology, research and gender studies all centred on PNG experience.
In a partnership, the department could include courses on corruption, development and ethical governance in its curriculum. One cannot talk about development or good governance without mentioning corruption and its impact. A partnership would create an avenue where corruption researchers can inform students and the academic community of their research.
The institutions tasked with the research function should be in charge of conducting anti-corruption awareness and training in the public sector since their research will keep them up to date with what is happening around the world and in PNG.
A huge chunk of our population dwells in rural areas. Awareness should not only target the urban population, but prepare materials in languages that are comprehensible. That means if the majority in a particular geographical area speak Motu this should be the language of awareness instruction.
Apart from the traditional approach, social media is an important technological tool that ICAC can use to divulge information to the masses. More and more Papua New Guineans are on Facebook and Twitter.
The notorious rise of the Facebook group Sharp Talk is a classic example of social media in action. Also blogs like PNG Exposed, ACT NOW! and PNG Blogs are publishing insider information about many of the high profile corruption activities happening around the country. Such information slowly spreads further through verbal communication.
Having an effective internal information technology team will play a paramount role in line with the technological revolution that is rapidly changing the way we communication in PNG. Not only can technology be used to commit crime but it can be used to fight and prevent corruption.
Protecting whistle blowers
Social media users have been hiding behind pseudonyms in order to speak out against corruption on outlets like Sharp Talk. To protect the identity of whistleblowers an electronic medium of communication utilising internet technology can be used by ICAC to collect information from the public.
An email address, Facebook page or Twitter account where whistleblowers can send direct personal messages are possible channels of communication. The only fear is that if those involved in corruption hire hackers to trace the whistleblowers internet protocol (IP) addresses or mobile phone numbers.
However, proxies can be used to hide IP addresses and scrambling devices for mobile phones to make it difficult for hackers to determine their location.
To conclude, corruption is a cancer that is eating away the fabric of our society.
To fight corruption we need to take a holistic approach. ICAC will lead the crusade against corruption in PNG, but it will need prevention education as a powerful weapon in its arsenal.