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13 April 2015


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Anthropologists are the kings and queens of obfuscation Keith.

Never put one in charge of anything.

Grant - I accept that corruption (and anything else for that matter) needs to be defined as it occurs in a particular context in line with local perceptions.

That said, I can't see how perceptions in PNG would vary much from perceptions in Australia. If we were talking about Asia instead of PNG the concepts and perceptions might be radically different.

And of course there is an Asian connection between PNG and Asia. Asian forms of corruption came into the country in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the influx of Malaysian loggers. Ted Diro was a major pioneer of PNG corruption.

What bothers me, and I suspect it frustrates many Papua New Guineans, is the void between the debate and any action to combat it. Papua New Guineans are currently suffering from consultancy fatigue, much of it emanating from Australia and DFAT.

In that sense you might find yourself preaching to deaf ears.

Phil - thanks for your comment. Debate about the nature of corruption and how it is perceived has real impacts around the world and in PNG.

This is because defining corruption matters for fighting it. Interationally, donors and NGOs - including the World Bank and transparency International - have actually changed the definition that they use because of the implications this has for policy and programs.

In PNG, there are many narratives - from letters to the editor to discussions in the village - that challenge the 'normative' view of corruption.

There are also many who note the misalignment between 'western' and local concerns about corruption - I'm happy to send you a number of articles and book chapters from a wide variety of people inside and outside of PNG (not just academics) who make this point (there's a great chapter from Joe Kanekane on this topic, which is a good read).

Understanding these perspectives, and how they fit with laws and anti-corruption approaches is critical if corruption is to be meaningfully addressed.

Sam Koim, who has had a fair bit of experience fighting corruption, has in the past stressed the importance of matching cultural understandings of corruption to the law, particularly when designing new anti-corruption institutions - like an ICAC.

He, along with many others, fear that unless government institutions reflect the views of citizens they will be ultimately meaningless.

To find out what people think about corruption it is important to ask them, and to ask them in ways that does not presuppose that they think about corruption in the same way you do.

(William Dunlop, the preconceived ideas you talk of are more likely to be found in research that assumes that - as Phil suggests - that we all know what corruption is; I'm happy to send you some of this research if you are interested)

Of course 'agonising over definitions' is not going to stop corruption. But that's not what my research is about. It is rather about showing who are more likely to support anti-corruption efforts (and messages), and who are not yet convinced.

So no, we don't all know what corruption is. In fact, as some people in PNG and Australia will tell you what one person calls corruption is often justified by those involved in it - rightly or wrongly.

Nor is corruption a simple concept - particularly in PNG which, as I hope you agree, is a very different place to the urbane, cosmopolitan, Western locales where norms about what corruption is are often set.

It's interesting how these things evolve and what the actual motives are William.

On PNG Attitude today there's a very erudite article about Manus and Australia's asylum seeker problems. The ensuing debate has degenerated into semantics about what 'concentration camp' means, even though Chris has made it clear where this concept fits into his argument - it's not about the definition but the way the concept is used as a political lever.

Everyone knows what 'concentration camp' means just as everyone knows what 'corruption' means. Grubbing subtleties from paper, as Thomas Hardy would have it, is seldom useful. The only people who play this game are politicians and tax lawyers.

And anthropologists perhaps - KJ

Phil - Perhaps just labouring under a misapprehension of preconceived ideas

Phil - Social scientists always try to qualify or quantify the problem looking for answers through a scientific approach normally using graphs or algorithms to try and prove their point of view when in fact the truth lies in the unreliable and indefinable nature of the human psyche.

I once read a very long research paper whereby the author tried to put monetary values on the worth of social capital and came away more confused than before I had read it.

I have always wondered if one took this approach how much, in monetary terms, the legion of unpaid volunteers here in Australia contribute to propping up the government coffers in providing free social services, normally the responsibility of government agencies, to our population.

Phil - Another wallah from the ANU so called thinktank.
Em tasol.

One wonders why anyone would spend time writing this sort of stuff.

Taking simple concepts and making them seem complex seems to be a particular form of academic corruption.

We all know what corruption is, greed unrestrained.

Agonising over its definition isn't going to stop it.

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