An entry in The Crocodile prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
PAPUA New Guinea’s democracy has been branded as ‘failed by some political commentators
The notion of democracy and the extent to which it is practiced in particular jurisdictions can be measured in a number of ways, including by its transparency and accountability.
"Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth,” as Abraham Lincoln saw it.
Yet in a dominant parochial political-cultural society such as PNG, it is blurry for people to measure the transparency of their political representatives.
This makes it hard for them to see whether their MPs are being accountable to the people’s interests or not.
Of course, it is expected that those few people who occupy the echelons of government, who are elected by the people and empowered under relevant laws should strive to represent the people and their values at the highest level.
MPs consistently tell the people that they represent them. The people see MPs open a new classroom, bridge or road. They see them alongside new maintenance machinery or at a ground-breaking ceremony, where they may be carried on a well-decorated stretcher.
Then there is lengthy rhetoric from the MP and the people nod and cheer as if they are in deep conversation.
But in most cases, only a certain segment of the population in the district is party to such gatherings, it rarely reflects the entire population. The people say of an MP who is seen frequently in their district that he is an ‘action member’.
At the national level, in institutions such as the courts, police, ombudsman, universities, NGOs and all the rest are also meant to assist the people in questioning and reporting on government in matters of transparency and accountability.
To me, these institutions have managed to identify symptoms of what would otherwise lead to a failed democracy, to mend failed aspects and to create a fertile ground for democratic ideals to thrive and bloom.
These institutions represent a political participatory culture and serve to promote democratic values. In doing so, over time we could expect the paradigm of parochialism in PNG to give way to a more participatory culture.
That said, the behaviour of the government in recent times makes me wonder whether it is transparent and accountable to the people.
There was a newspaper report that the Governor of the National Capital District, who is well regarded as a visionary and people’s governor, joined hands with a colleague MP to condemn the Institute of National Affairs for speaking out on a development issue.
It was interesting to note that another MP, Bire Kimisopa, stepped in to correct his fellow MPs.
The controversial loan to the government from the UBS bank led to the sacking of Treasurer Don Polye. We read that Polye’s attempt to ask for more time to ensure proper advice and institute proper procedures was seen as inconsistent with Cabinet’s (NEC’s) wishes.
The PNG National Research Institute expressed its views, saying the decision was not in the best interest of PNG.
Then the Ombudsman Commission’s direction to withhold the first interest payment on the loan was ignored by the government.
This government was fiddling while Unitech burned until the students decided to take matters in their own hands with a prolonged boycott of classes.
Now we are hearing that the government has made a decision to institute a commission of inquiry into a current case involving state payment of millions of kina to Paraka Lawyers.
The people will be interested in how quickly the findings are made available. Transparency and accountability.
The government has received accolades and commendations from the positive results of its anti-corruption team, Task Force Sweep (TFS). TFS has led investigations into many corrupt dealings. Its work has seen the MP for Pomio land in prison.
We are hearing that TFS has directed that there is enough evidence to bring in for police questioning MPs involving in the Paraka Lawyers payout, starting with the prime minister.
This is an interesting development and PNG will wait and see the future of TFS over the next few days.
The Commissioner of Police was imprisoned on the day he was declared as one of three Papua New Guineans knighted by the Queen, along with Deputy Chief Justice Gibbs Salika who laid down the top cop’s verdict.
We are also heard that the police hierarchy was united behind Simon Kauba as acting commissioner. Mr Kauba directed the PM to come to police for questioning, but Cabinet appointed Geoffrey Vaki as commissioner in his place.
We also heard just today that Kerenga Kua was sacked as Attorney-General for trying to provide legal advice to the government on looming amendments to section 45 of the Constitution. His advice to Cabinet was viewed as undermining NEC solidarity.
Meanwhile, the people in the remote Jimi and Obura-Wonenara districts are still talking about the PM’s visits to their place and the people of Gumine and Kerowagi in Simbu forgot about the whereabouts of the road construction machinery that their former MPs bought and are waiting for their current MPs to come home with new machines for road construction.
To me, these people are not aware of current political issues and, if they are aware, they are not discussing them.
To them, MPs visiting them and promises of development are equated with transparency and accountability.
Is that really enough?