TUMBY BAY - One of the tactics that the politicians of Papua New Guinea rely upon is the fallibility and short life span of public memory.
The way it works is fairly simple. When an uncomfortable truth is revealed about their behaviour, PNG politicians resort to bluster and threats and, if that doesn’t work, stalling in the courts until everyone gets bored and forgets about it.
The stalling in the courts is relied upon as a regular source of income by a whole cadre of lawyers with questionable ethics. That income is usually supplied from the public coffers.
Prime minister Peter O’Neill is a master of this sort of tactical deception. It’s not his invention, there are many precedents for its efficacy, but he has refined it to a fine art.
There are a couple of ways by which it can come unstuck.
The first is the pursuit of the issue by statutory bodies set up to monitor such things. Task Force Sweep was one of those.
Peter O’Neill soon realised how dangerous Task Force Sweep was to his nefarious dealings and quickly cut off its funding. In a similar way he has resisted the setting up of an Independent Commission Against Corruption.
That he defunded Task Force Sweep and refuses to advance an anti-corruption commission is like a flashing neon sign telling everyone that this prime minister and his government have a lot to hide.
The second way the tactic can come unstuck is through a conscious effort by the media to pursue anything it perceives as questionable in the way the government behaves.
It is one of the main reasons why any nation claiming to be democratic needs a strong, inquisitive and fearless media.
We have many fine examples of brave and dedicated journalists in Australia who are able to bring the government to account. The most recent example was the journalism leading to a banking royal commission.
In the USA, President Trump’s campaign against the media tells us that he has something to hide and, the more he pursues the media in an effort to suppress its reporting, the more his credibility is taking a hammering.
In Papua New Guinea the mainstream media has been tamed by the government and the vested interests of business. Intelligent and courageous investigative journalism has ceased to exist.
This is exactly how Peter O’Neill and his cronies want it.
The only place where there is a minor irritant that defies his control is social media. He is mostly happy to let that go, however, because he knows that, at best, social media reaches only about 15% of the population.
There is little public pressure that can grow from real and critical issues like the inexcusable squandering of public money on the APEC circus while people suffer in poverty without medicines and while schools close down and teachers are unpaid.
Nobody is going to set up ‘Maserati-watch’ to see where those unnecessary and expensive automobiles end up.
No doubt plans are being made to ship them to the driveways of the substantial residences the politicians own in places like Cairns, but who is going to follow up that if the media is compromised and ineffective?
And no doubt there will be many grandiose scams emerging from APEC after the professional talkfesters of the world have departed for the next party.
Peter O’Neill has already hinted at major announcements to be made. More roads to nowhere and more mountains of debt no doubt.
Who will monitor these new outrages?
No one with a loud enough voice, of course. Then they will tumble into the far reaches of public memory like everything else.
This switch in the way funding is allocated to the provinces is a classic case of O'Neill realising he cannot control the process and must therefore centralise it.
It’s a kind of Waigani/Provinces seesaw that's being going on for years and that people have long forgotten about.