TUMBY BAY - I’ve long had a theory that the industrial scale corruption now prevalent in Papua New Guinea was originally imported by Malaysian logging companies and that one of the first politicians they corrupted was the then forestry minister.
Many of these logging companies were owned by Malaysian Chinese and this is still the case. Anecdotal evidence related to the recent influx of Chinese companies into PNG also reports a high level of corruption.
What we call bribery and graft, although illegal and in some jurisdictions punishable by death, is regarded as a normal way of doing business in China and many other Asian countries. Greasing the wheels of commerce is a way of life.
It seems to be only when such practises escalate out of control that there is official reaction.
A good example of outrageous and unacceptable behaviour is the current case of recently defeated Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak.
Najib is facing allegations he looted the state-funded One-Malaysia Development Bank and used the stolen billions to buy everything from real estate to artworks. His wife apparently has a handbag collection on an industrial scale.
The Malaysian prime minister in waiting, Anwar Ibrahim, who was kept in jail by Najib on trumped up charges, recently pointed out something that readers of PNG Attitude will be very aware of in relation to Australia’s attitude to Peter O’Neill and his corrupt government.
Anwar told the ABC’s Radio National breakfast program that Australia's foreign policy is perceived in Malaysia as tolerant of corruption and criminal activity.
"All their statements have been extremely supportive of Najib's administration, regardless of whatever is being said," Anwar explained.
"To say that this is an example of the most moderate and viable democracy …. I mean such statements are deemed to be silly and completely dishonest."
I’m not sure who Anwar was referring to but I suspect it was Australia’s foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop.
Another of my theories is that corruption in Papua New Guinea, like in Asia, has now been normalised to the point where people believe it is an acceptable thing to engage in.
This seems particularly so among Papua New Guinean politicians. I’m sure many of them do not realise that what they’re doing is illegal.
I’m starting to think that Australian politicians are now accepting as a matter of course that countries like PNG are endemically corrupt and that there is nothing they can do about it.
In this sense I think Anwar is correct in his assessment that Australia is tolerant of corruption.
If so this perception represents a sorry state of affairs and it behoves Australia to take action. In the first instance it can speak up against corruption.
It can also withdraw funding, apply sanctions, prosecute anyone in Australia profiting from corruption, seize laundered money and illegally gained property and restrict access to our shores.
All it takes is a little intestinal fortitude. Sadly, courage among our current crop of politicians seems lacking. The mantra today is ‘don’t rock the boat’.
In Australian politics rocking the boat is a bad career move. Both prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and foreign minister Julie Bishop are accomplished non-rockers. In office, Labor had a few non-rockers of its own, notably Richard Marles who was once responsible for Pacific affairs.
Furthermore, I think the Australian people’s current malaise about politics is largely related to this perceived lack of courage.
If Australia was to show some mettle and take aggressive action against corruption instead of going along with it, Papua New Guinea and its people would be a big beneficiary.