AS a student without any connection with the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) or Bougainville Administration, I have no influence over the decisions my necktie-wearing, long sleeved and polished booted bureaucrats do in their fine Buka offices and elsewhere in Bougainville.
But I can talk as a Bougainvillean who endured the pain of the 10-year crisis after 1988 and who has a desire to see my Solomon Island of Bougainville move forward into the nationhood that is our goal and which we paid for with our tears and blood.
Corruption is an ailment affecting Bougainville, public and private Bougainville institutions and the Bougainvillean people.
Corruption is in Buka town and its surrounding villages; corruption is in northern Bougainville right across to Kereaka.
Corruption is in the Kongara area of central Bougainville, in the highlands, it extends to the fine beaches of Pokpok Island, and into Panguna and Wakunai and Tinputz.
Corruption is lazing its way across south Bougainville from Siwai, Buin to Nagovis and Torokina.
I am sad that my brothers and sisters and I are swimming in an ocean of corruption.
The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines for us corruption as “willing to act dishonestly in return for money or personal gain.” It’s corruption when we do not uphold the Bougainville Constitution or the numerous laws and bylaws as well as the ethical values known to us in our religions and cultures.
Having paid a heavy cost with our lives in the ugly armed crisis of 1988-97, by falling into the pit of corruption we mock ourselves with our greed.
Many foreign eyes are watching Bougainville and its politics. As Bougainvilleans we are tending to ignore the significant spot we have attained in the polity of the Pacific. And the worst issue is corruption.
I feel corruption among the so-called Panguna group of 12 landowners in mine-affected areas was one of the many catalysts of the 1988 crisis in Bougainville. Each member of the Group of 12 owned all the land in the affected areas and all were educated males corrupting a matrilineal Nasioi society by exploiting the people and turning youth against them, Bougainville Copper and PNG.
This legacy is still hurting deep in our hearts in government, communities, business and individuals.
In an alarming article in The National newspaper of 2 September 2013 (Auditor finds ‘massive corruption’ in Bougainville bureaucracy) Malum Nalu reported:
Massive corruption among the bureaucracy on Bougainville is the order of the day as it pushes for full autonomy and possible independence, according to deputy auditor-general, Peter Siparau.
He told the Sustainability of Bougainville seminar last Friday that public servants on Bougainville were a law unto themselves, who were seemingly answerable to no one, including the governments of Bougainville and PNG.
President John Momis, concurred with Siparau, saying the audacity and arrogance of some public servants there defied imagination.
It is true that Bougainvilleans are ‘a law unto themselves’ and this is a safe haven for corruption. Bougainville has a climate conducive to germinating and protecting corruption. Yet this contradicts our identity as long time fighters against exploitation, which is no different from corruption.
Furthermore, the same article stated:
Siparau said things were totally out of control from 2006-2010, when millions of kina were stolen through outright fraud and corruption, with "disclaimer audit opinions" issued – meaning the auditor-general was unable to rely on accounts and records of the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) for the years ended Dec 31, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010.
Siparau, a Bougainvillean who has been auditing ABG since 1997, said in 2010 alone, unacquitted amounts totaling K7.391 million were paid for travelling allowances, hire cars, and peace process reconciliation.
Serious audit issues include revenue collection, no registers kept for liquor outlets, no registers kept for motor vehicle registration, no registers kept for driver licenses, and no segregation of duties with the same person collecting and banking monies.
Vehicle hired from private sources totaling K2.275 million were not specified or indicated, payments were not properly approved by appropriate financial delegates, segregation of duties by officers was not done, personnel reimbursements were paid to officers but no approvals sighted, no quotations for purchases, and payments were charged to wrong votes – contravening the appropriation act.
This social illness is the outcome of a populace with high expectations. The post conflict Bougainville is an environment where society expects the state to provide the good they need for rehabilitation and reconstruction and the bureaucrats expect money to fall from heaven to empower them to provide for the people.
Deputy Auditor-General Siparau did not shy away from the most targeted financial stockpiles. Bougainville’s opportunists have sucked money from organisations like the UN and NGOs through travel allowances, hire cars and, appallingly, the peace process reconciliation.
In Bougainville, a pot-bellied bureaucrat finds it hard to pay a K2 note to cross the Buka Passage from his fat wallet.
Bureaucrats also find it hard to travel in over-crowded public transport and love air-conditioned hire cars.
A villager from the edge of Arawa town attending a short community health course with an NGO finds it hard to return home and needs to be accommodated in a town guesthouse.
A peace advocate returned home from Buka after reconciliation talks with plenty of goods and started a retail outlet overnight.
Bougainville’s present duty is to once and for all seal these potholes of corruption.
In 2010, a reporter wrote that President John Momis, in his inaugural speech, promised Bougainville in these terms:
Corruption will find zero tolerance in his government. All ministers, elected members, officials and investors take warning! His government will establish an inquiry into the corruption of recent years. Where there is evidence of wrong-doing, he promised that there will be criminal prosecutions. And any future corruption will result in immediate action.
At all levels of Bougainville leadership, leaders must live by these words.
They must lead by example and stand up against corruption so Bougainville can be a free, advancing and truly independent state.