No Women in PNG Parliament NBC News
With the remaining 23 seats yet to be declared, it looks almost certain that Papua New Guinea will not have any women representation in the upcoming Parliament. Two of the three first-time women MP’s, Loujaya Kouza and Delilah Gore have already been voted out, while it is yet to be ascertained, at the time of this report, how their Eastern Highlands governor colleague, Julie Soso, is doing. 165 women were among the 3,332 total candidates who contested the 2017 national election, however, results are showing that almost none of them will come out winners.
But notable performances were that of Trust PNG Party and Central Provincial candidate, Rufina Peter, who had polled in third place with 33,221 votes when governor-elect Robert Agarobe was declared at 40,931 votes yesterday. The other outstanding performance is that of PNG National Party candidate contesting the Raicoast Open Seat in Madang, Kessy Sawang. Ms Sawang has managed to cling on to third spot as of elimination 33 last night, to see the exclusion of sitting MP and Triumph Heritage Empowerment Party candidate, James Gau. Ms Sawang was eliminated on third spot to enable the win of new MP Peter Gemungo Sapia, over local musician and National Alliance candidate, Edwin Baffe.
Resignation of committee prompts fears of tainted process
11 July 2017 http://asopa.typepad.com/asopa_people/2017/07/resignation-of-electoral-committee-prompts-fears-process-tainted.html#more
THE resignation of all three members of Papua New Guinea’s electoral committee has prompted fears from current and former officials that the process has been tainted. After two weeks of voting, PNG’s parliamentary elections are ending, with results set to be announced later this month. On Sunday, the government’s Election Advisory Committee – Ombudsman Richard Pagen, Richard Kassman and Professor John Luluaki – resigned, citing a lack of resources to monitor the election process. The mass departure signalled a “sad day” for the country, according to former prime minister and candidate, Sir Mekere Morauta. “The members of the EAC are all extremely capable men of high integrity,” said Sir Mekere,
“They will not have taken the decision to resign lightly. They have resigned because they have been ignored by the electoral commissioner and prevented from fulfilling their obligations and their role, which they take seriously.
Sir Mekere, who served as the country’s sixth prime minister between 1999 and 2002, said Australia must take some of the blame for the chaos. “Australia has nurtured the O’Neill regime and the election process. It must take some responsibility for the chaos,” he said.
The elections were marred by violence, vote-buying and flaws in the electoral roll, observers said. Strikes in the country’s capital of Port Moresby postponed the vote for three days, while students at a university in the city of Lae complained about a lack of ballot papers.
Counting is underway and the Commonwealth Observer Group, which monitored the polling, gave a generally positive assessment. “Our group is of the view that, despite the considerable challenges with the common roll, there were some positive aspects of the process and the results should reflect the wishes of the people who participated in the 2017 national elections,” COG head Anand Satyanand said in a statement.
Disenfranchised at high price: PNG’s electoral roll woes
July 5, 2017 by Sam Koim
Nine consecutive elections held since independence and yet Papua New Guinea is still struggling to update its common roll on time for elections. As polling gets underway in PNG, complaints of common roll discrepancies are emerging from across the country. In a kneejerk reaction to these complaints, the Electoral Commissioner issued an instruction to revert to an updated version of the 2012 rolls. This is despite earlier assurances that everything was under control. …..
How much have the taxpayers of PNG paid for the common roll discrepancies? For the failed National Identification Card (NID) project undertaken by the National Statistical Office, the government allocated almost AUD 104 million. The EC was also given millions of dollars to update the rolls. This was a duplication of resources but both agencies failed. It is also understood that technical expertise was provided by Australia and New Zealand. With those resources and the availability of technology to do data-matching, this was a terrible failure.
To cover for the failure, the EC is reverting to an older version of the rolls. Arguably, the law does not restrict that. But it would be another issue if the EC is using the 2012 rolls.
In 1997, the principal common roll was not properly updated, hence the then Electoral Commissioner issued Circular Instruction No 26/97 on the eve of polling to revert to the Preliminary Listings of the years prior. 20 years on and the same problem is recurring unabated.
Dreams are shattered, resources are wasted and decisions are on halt –all because someone has failed to do his job. People’s right to vote and stand for public office is robbed by a supposedly independent government institution’s incompetence. Whatever the outcome of the election is, it will come at a high price for the country. PNG will definitely come out of this election and things will surely get back to normal as they always have been. But I wonder how much longer PNG will continue to tolerate and pay for the same mistakes over and over.
The big rort – 300,000 ghost voters & mathematical impossibilities
17 July 2017
STATISTICAL indicators suggest that Papua New Guinea’s O’Neill government used its power of incumbency to ‘cook the books’ in its favour in the current election. Comparing the 2017 electoral roll with electorate population estimates based on the 2011 census, the Electoral Commission has created nearly 300,000 ‘ghost voters’ in People’s National Congress-controlled electorates. This is 5,682 ghost voters for every PNC sitting member – more than 10 times the number of ghost voters for non-PNC sitting members. PNC members are also being declared elected based on mathematical impossibilities.
[For the rest of this article see the url above]
Australia was partly responsible for rigged election: Sir Mek
Post Courier, 10 July 2017
The members of the committee, ombudsman Richard Pagen, Richard Kassman and Professor John Luluaki are all extremely capable men of high integrity. They will not have taken the decision to resign lightly. They have resigned because they have been ignored by the electoral commissioner and prevented from fulfilling their obligations and their role, which they take seriously. All honest and concerned Papua New Guineans value their decision, but lament the causes of it. It is a very sad day for Papua New Guinea, and sends shivers of fright about the future of democracy in our country. The utter chaos of this election is deliberately organised. It is rigged. What rigging and deliberate chaos do we see?
Failure to provide the election advisory committee with any of the information it requested
Failure to complete an electoral roll that in any way shape or form reflects the eligible voting population
Failure to include names of people who had registered, with particular disenfranchisement of particular groups of people, such as students and educated working people
Failure to provide copies of the electoral roll to the public
Failure to provide sufficient ballot papers in areas where there were eligible voters listed on the Roll
Provision of extra ballot papers to People’s National Congress or pro-PNC candidates
Voting numbers in PNC-held seats that far exceed the number of eligible voters
Tens of thousands of ghost names on the roll
Illegal voting on Sunday and after 6pm
Deferral of voting in many areas, causing confusion and reduced voter turn-out, especially from the working population
Deferral and slow process of counting in selected areas
The list goes on. People have been deliberately disenfranchised. There is a growing surge of anger and disbelief.
The behavior of electoral commissioner Patilias Gamato is deplorable. By law he does not have to listen to anyone, apart from the advice of the election advisory committee. But he has chosen to be an outrigger of PNC. He has chosen to be a political football, kicked around for political scoring by Peter O’Neill and his henchman, Isaac Lupari. They will do anything to hold on to power, including destroying the nation. They will do anything to prevent further exposure of their wrongdoings. The resignation of the committee is a sign of the very dangerous waters that Papua New Guinea is heading towards. Papua New Guineans must not just let these issues go. Peoples’ rights to take part in any meaningful democratic process have been destroyed. Australia has nurtured the O’Neill regime and the election process. It must take some responsibility for the chaos.
How Simbus intervened to try to secure an honest election
16 July 2017
THE hijacking of ballot papers and a manipulated common roll have becomes a nationwide scandal among Papua New Guinea’s voters. The arrival of polling materials in Simbu Province a week prior to the scheduled date was secretive. But speculation of hijacking and manipulating polling and counting spread among the people anyway. The Simbu people have long been suspicious of the desperation of power hungry political parties. A strong team of anti-O’ Neill and anti-PNC people fronted up at the provincial electoral office on a Monday and demanded that the election manager unlock the boxes containing the ballot papers prior the polling which commenced the following Monday 27 June.
The election manager complied and told his team to come the next day to unlock the boxes.
They duly turned up at the office and he told them to come the following day, giving as his reason a directive from the provincial police commander to sabotage the people’s request.
So opening the boxes for confirmation was deliberately deferred for four days. On a Friday afternoon, the election manager reluctantly opened the boxes with almost 700 people looking on. As the first boxes were opened, spokesman Gorua William demanded, “Let’s use Sinesine-Yongomugl electorate’s ballot papers as a sample to verify the recent common roll.
“The Ward 1 Yongomugl local level government should have papers for a population of 2,408 eligible voters.” The counting of the actual papers commenced and totalled only 880 ballot papers – a shortfall of 1,528.
“Where are the remaining papers?” Gorua William asked.
“Try to confirm the missing papers by undoing the seal for Suai LLG Ward 4, where the People’s National Congress candidate comes from.” Under the watchful eyes of the crowd, the electoral officials broke the seal, opened the box and counted the papers. There were supposed to be just 475, but there were in fact 2,003 ballot papers – the difference being the 1,528 papers missing from Ward 1 of Yongomugl LLG. “Why have 2,003 papers been given to this ward rather than the 475 papers for eligible voters?” asked Gorua William adamantly.
The response from the officials was poor. They shifted the blame to the electoral commission which they said had undermined the updated 2017 common roll.
“Redistribute the ballot papers according to the 2012 common roll since the 2017 update is a mess,” he said. The petition was faxed to the electoral commission and forwarded to the governor-general and finally it was gazetted for Simbu Province to implement according to the petition. The provincial election manager directed the officials to redistribute the ballot papers for the six districts according to the 2012 common roll. Then the boxes was sealed with the provincial stamp and signed by provincial administrator Joe Kunda as proof that any foul play had been avoided. Furthermore, the extra ballot papers were burned in front of the crowd’s eyes. This caused a two day polling delay in the province, voting finally starting on Wednesday 29 June.
Is this democracy or communism? Is this political tyranny? It is certainly manipulation of process and system. In Simbu, citizens are asking such questions with so far no answer from the government.
Increasing Child Abuse Concerns
Post Courier, July 7, 2017
PaternaL child abuse and juvenile perpetrators are among the causes of increasing child sexual violence (CSV) in Port Moresby says a social worker at Family Support Centre (FSC).
Clinical manager Tessie Soi revealed worrying statistics received of children as young as five months old being sexually abused mostly by relatives. In the 2016 data 248 cases of child abuse were reported under the CSV category from age 0 to 17 years. 1152 cases were consulted of which 287 were females and 47 males under 17 whilst 800 females and 18 males were seen who were over the age of 18 years.
Ms Soi said juvenile perpetrators, paternal abusers, families becoming nuclear, promiscuity and parents having sex in front of their children are contributing factors of CSV. “Juveniles are becoming perpetrators taking advantage of three to five year olds whom they are trusted to babysit,” she said. “They are young as 12 to 15 year olds who are getting exposed to pornography through mobile phones mostly within their peer groups.”
“Paternal child abusers (father sexually abusing daughter) is increasing for instance in one case a mother trusted her husband to take care of their six month old daughter and returned to find the childcrying uncontrollably only to uncover her child been abused by the father when she removed the child’s diaper.” “As a social worker I disagree with compensation as the victim will grow up with the trauma while the parents and relatives enjoy the money.
“I am concerned with parents bluntly having sex in front of their small children some of these parents are university graduates who get drunk and force their wives to do that.
“All this worries me where is our society heading to?
Women And Girls Freedom Of Movement Around The City Has Been Given Another Boost By The National Capital District Commission (NCDC) Transport Department After A Donation Of Two 50 Seater Buses To The Ginigoada Foundation. As part of the Safe Public Transport Programme, Ginigoada (UN Women NGO partner) has worked in collaboration with United Nation (UN) Women to provide safe transportation options for women and girls in Port Moresby. Ginigoada Foundation assistant training manager Rodney Graham thanked NCD governor Powes Parkop for his ongoing support and for the donation of the buses when receiving the keys yesterday. “Since 2015, Ginigoada has operated four women-only buses providing safe transit to approximately 650 women and girls daily.
Funding crisis affects hospital services
THE Kundiawa General Hospital in Chimbu scaled down its services on Monday because its operational grants for the last three months were not received, hospital chief executive Dr Harry Poka says. Poka told The National yesterday that the hospital board held an emergency meeting on Monday because of the severity of the situation that is affecting the hospital operations. “Given the circumstances that we did not receive any operational funds from the Government for almost three months, the operation of the hospital is being severely affected,” he said. “We have been using funds from the hospital trust account to purchase emergency pharmaceutical supplies from private distributors and that has been a tough time for us.
“So as part of the control mechanisms, the board has had an emergency meeting on Monday and made a resolution to put on hold all operational expenses pending availability of funds.”
He said apart from the non-release of monthly operational grants, there was also a shortage of water due to the dry weather. Poka said except for patients and guardians, the public was restricted from entering the hospital premises unnecessarily. “Additional control measures will include limiting new patient admissions and discharging and referring patients back to their respective health centres to complete treatment.”
Prison shooting ‘legal’: Report
July 13, 2017 The National
THE four wardens who shot dead 17 inmates who escaped from Buimo prison in May were only doing their job, according to an internal investigation by the Correctional Services.
The investigation found that the wardens’ actions were in line with Correctional Services regulations, acting Commissioner Stephen Pokanis said. “The four officers at the compound made two attempts to lock the main compound gate after the lock was broken by the detainees, but were not successful as they were being stoned by the remand and maximum convicted detainees,” Pokanis said.
‘“One of the officers ran and raised the alarm by ringing the bell.
“The sergeant in charge made the third attempt and finally secured the main compound gate by locking it with the spare lock, but by then, the detainees had already ran out from the cells and through the dog track, over the fence and out in the open area facing the single barracks and the officers’ residential area.”
Stephen said the wardens fired warning shots but the detainees kept running. “Shots were fired to prevent further escapes and several detainees who were about to jump the fence, ran back to the main compound,” Pokanis said. “The officers recaptured three detainees alive while 17 lost their lives in their attempt to escape, whilst 38 are still on the run.” The Buimo jailbreak occurred on May 12, when 58 detainees escaped from the main compound.
PNG ‘not ready’ for climate change
The National Research Institute (NRI) says that PNG is not well equipped to manage adverse impacts of climate change even with lessons learnt from past incidents. Senior research fellow and programme leader Prof Eugene Ezebilo told a group of participants in a research presentation in Port Moresby yesterday that government agencies responsible for managing natural disasters were not prepared well enough to adapt to climate change. “As Papua New Guinea already witnessed drought and frost incidences in 1997 and 2015, it is expected that the country would have developed a sustainable adaptation and management strategy to cope with the drought and frost issues,” he said. “The latest (2015) drought and frost incidences revealed that government agencies responsible for managing natural disasters in PNG were also not well equipped and prepared to tackle the problems faced.” Ezebilo said more than two million people at the time were reportedly hard hit and as a result it led to food and water shortages in several provinces. “Papua New Guinea has been a witness to many droughts and frost but despite this reality, the agriculture sector in the country has not been able to develop a climate adaptation strategy.” “In order to improve effectiveness in disaster management, it is necessary to improve funding of provincial disaster offices, train more citizens on planning and management of disasters and improve long-term monitoring and forecasts of climate change events,” Ezebilo said.
Court orders that expelled missionary can return to PNG
http://asopa.typepad.com/asopa_people/2017/07/court-orders-that-expelled-missionary-can-return-to-png.html#more. 10 July 2017
Radio New Zealand International
PAPUA New Guinea’s national court has ordered the country’s Immigration and Citizenship Service Authority to facilitate the return to the country of New Zealander Douglas Tennent.
The religious lay worker was deported last month for allegedly breaching the terms of his religious worker visa. As a qualified lawyer working for the Archbishop of Rabaul, Mr Tennent had been advising landowners at West Pomio who were involved in a contractual wrangle with logging and palm oil multinational company Rimbunan Hijau. Mr Tennent was bundled on to a plane and flown to New Zealand despite a stay order on his deportation being presented to Immigration personnel. The court has ordered Immigration to allow for Mr Tennent’s return entry to PNG within two weeks from Friday.
Basic health care in PNG overlooked: Barter
Post Courier, July 11, 2017
Former health minister Sir Peter Barter says it is hard to come to terms that the real need at hand for specialised health treatment in the country is being overlooked. “When you consider money being used to built super freeways, hotels, fund events mainly in Port Moresby it is hard to come to terms when there is an urgent need for specialised treatment in PNG, particularly outside Port Moresby,” he said. Sir Peter remarked when expressing his deepest remorse to hear of the death of pioneer radiation oncologist, Dr John Niblett last Tuesday.
“This does not just cover cancer, the shortage of dialysis machines is another concern along with the trained specialists and consumables needed to provide treatment in PNG. Sir Peter said the community in Lae and the hospital board are raising money themselves to accommodate cancer patients and in turn he (Sir Peter) supported Dr Niblett who regardless of his own disability was very well respected as evident by the number of people who have spoken since his passing early last week.
Cardinal Ribat presents acquittal report to NGCB
Post Courier, July 20, 2017
Churches in PNG engaged in Health, HIV and education projects and programs are encouraged to continue to be accountable and transparent before God when dealing with public funds and ensure the promotion of good governance “as we continue to provide vital basic services to our people in PNG.” Chairman of PNG Christian Leaders Alliance on HIV and AIDS, Cardinal Sir John Ribat, said this when he presented the acquittal of K300,000 to the National Gaming Control Board community benefit fund this week. Cardinal Ribat said NGCB was the major sponsor who helped fund the first HIV Summit for Heads of Churches in PNG, which was staged on March 15 and 16. “NGCB supported the first HIV Summit for Heads of Churches with K300,000, and as our commitment we are honouring it by documenting our acquittals report and presenting it back to our sponsor,” he said.
“PNG Christian Leaders Alliance on HIV and AIDS and the heads of churches, who are members of this alliance, want to be accountable and transparent as much as possible.
After receiving the K300,000 acquittals from Cardinal Ribat on behalf the chief executive officer of NGCB Imelda Agon, acting director community benefit fund Ms Rayleen Kurua, praised Cardinal Ribat for his leadership and for the heads of churches for their collective effort in achieving success in the first HIV summit. “Many organisations who receive funding from NGCB fail to acquit funds, and we hardly see organisations coming in like this to present their acquittals report,” she said.
HIV increase by 4 percent: UN report
Post Courier, July 21, 2017
A new United Nations AIDS (UNAIDS) report on the global HIV epidemic has found new HIV infections in Papua New Guinea have increased by 4 percent between 2014 and 2016.
And at the same time, the country has experienced a significant improvement in its HIV treatment coverage with 52 percent of all people living with HIV accessing life-saving antiretroviral medicine. But UNAIDS has urged PNG to renew its commitments and investments in the country’s HIV response and to address the difficult legal and policy issues which continue to impede the country’s prevention, treatment and care programs.
There is a need to review the architecture of the country’s response within the changing financial landscape and the evolving understanding of the country’s epidemic.
According to a statement released by the UNAIDS, (Ending AIDS: Progress towards the 90-90-90 targets) finds a slight upward trend with an estimated 2800 new HIV infections occurring in Papua New Guinea last year. “This uptick follows several years where new infections have stubbornly remained stable, recording no decline,” UNAIDS PNG director David Bridger said. “Clearly prevention efforts have stalled and Papua New Guinea needs to return to the leadership it has shown with such success in the past and re-invigorate its HIV response.
Prevalence of blindness rates 5.6 pc
July 21, 2017 The National
A recent survey revealed that Papua New Guinea has an estimated national prevalence rate of 5.6 per cent of blindness, says PNG Eye Care deputy chief ophthalmologist Dr Jambi Garap.
Garap said the first national rapid assessment of avoidable blindness (RABB) percentage translated into 40,000-plus adults of 50 years and over being blind in both eyes and 70,000 in one eye. “The commonest cause of blindness is cataract and the need to wear glasses. So that means in PNG cataract surgery can be done, but if you look at the 40,000 against the 14 or less doctors there is a big task,” she said. “They need a team of doctors to work with and they need things that they need to work with, consumables which are expensive. It will be about doing one cataract surgery for about K100, if we got everything together for one person.”
She said other challenges apart from up skilling doctors to carry out cataract surgery include infrastructure, upgrading the theatre with microscopes and instruments and a fulltime eye team. “For the people out there in PNG they just need to make sure that they bring their parents for an eye test. If you are living in a town or city where there is an eye doctor you need to bring your parents or the elderly to have an eye check.
Refugees forced to move as Demolition Begins
Post Courier, July 26, 2017
Refugees on Manus Island say they are stressed and worried now the Australian and Papua New Guinea governments have begun demolishing accommodation in the detention centre.
“Charlie” compound, which housed 10 men, has been taken down. The 700 refugees in the detention centre have been told to move into a new “transit” centre closer to the main town, but they fear they will not be safe there.
“It is a stressful situation, we are very worried about accommodation.”
Mr Udin said the camp’s management were also reducing services. “People are not allowed to take water, they are decreasing the water supply and they are making hard rules day by day,” he said. The Australian and PNG Governments had told the refugees another compound, Foxtrot, would be closed by the end of June, and it is expected to close soon. Immigration officials also warned refugees that if they continue to refuse to move, it could affect their applications to resettle in the United States. While a number of men have been interviewed for US resettlement, the US State Department said no decisions had been made about who would be resettled. The United States also reached its new refugee intake cap and could deny entry to new refugees until the cap resets in October.
A View from a Vetern in The Australian (Rowan Callick)
MANY Australians, perhaps most, merely have been shrugging at news of the shoddy administration of Papua New Guinea’s five-yearly election. Large numbers of voters were left off the new rolls and counting is still at an early stage, although it’s a week today since polling stopped. Three members of an independent electoral watchdog resigned, feeling they had been prevented from carrying out their task.
But why do Australians usually think the worst of our closest neighbours? Amazingly, few have even been there. OK, the fares aren’t cheap and the hotel prices are mostly exorbitant. But I would have imagined a sense of curiosity, at least, might have driven more just to take a look.
I arrived to work there a few months after PNG’s rushed push for independence in 1975. The mood was infectiously optimistic, the level of commitment to the new country of 812 languages, intense. Before self-government in 1973, the Australian government had invested little in PNG — of which Papua, the southern half, had been a colony since 1906, with New Guinea, the northern part, being mandated to Australia first by the League of Nations after World War I, then by the UN after World War II.
There were very few permanent roads, and none connecting the two regions of Papua and New Guinea — a plight that, astonishingly, hasn’t changed in the 42 years since then.
Most schooling and health work in rural PNG, where the great majority continue to live, was run by the mainstream churches, not by the government. Employment opportunities were scant. The limited housing in towns was supplied by workplaces, which remains common, with many of the rapidly increasing town dwellers living in scrounged or nailed-together shanties.
The adrenalin kicked in by independence and freedom pumped impressively for the first couple of years, during which the program to prepare locals for key jobs seemed to be working well. The streets of the towns were safe, though public transport pretty well disappeared after dark. Schools were neat and tidy, public libraries were available in key centres, the ABC-equivalent broadcast a broad range of quality programs. The bureaucracy largely responded in a timely way to the public — although following a victory by the public servants’ union, the government stopped work, and still does, at 4.06pm daily.
I recall the shocked conversations when the Ombudsman Commission announced its first case under the Leadership Code, leading to the dismissal as culture minister of Moses Sasakila over a wantok receiving a free airfare. Surely not in PNG, many said. It is a devoutly Christian country — certainly more so than Australia, for instance. No public occasion is complete without lengthy prayers and preferably hymns, too. But PNG is also, it would seem, a nation of many sinners.
Why is it languishing as 154th, alongside Zimbabwe, of 188 countries in the UN’s latest Human Development Index? Its living standards have improved substantially, according to the HDI, during the past 25 years. But others have improved more. Life expectancy, at 62.8 years, is almost 20 years below that of Australians, and PNG provides education, on average, for only half as long.The country faces many physical as well as social challenges. But the chief hurdle at which it appears to fall is a moral one — that of corruption. The country is 136th of 176 countries on Transparency International’s index.
This derives from a vicious circle. Living in a society that has failed to develop at the pace or to the level that they long have had a right to expect — or that even has fallen backwards — many will take a chance to pull their extended family, their wantoks, up the ladder to a better life. Indeed, they will view it as their highest moral imperative — well, a level below the Ten Commandments or the gospel, but those are viewed by many as essentially aspirational — to seize an opportunity, whether it might be labelled corrupt or not, for a windfall to help the family. Once this idea got a grip, and with diligent competence remaining only modestly or poorly rewarded, then it became more difficult to turn down payments for services.
The examples at the top were and remain crucial.
Culturally in PNG — and Australia isn’t much better — leaders tend to love deals and ribbon-cutting, and shun involvement in the nitty-gritty of competently delivering services and maintaining infrastructure. The choices involved in deal-making lend themselves to personal opportunity. Although PNG is a country of eight million, its elite circle is small, and word soon gets around about the beneficiaries of deals. A friend, for instance, told me how his uncle was a driver for a minister who used to send him weekly to pick up a briefcase containing cash from a casino run by logging interests. Lesser fish find it easier to justify to themselves feeding off corrupt earnings when the big fish often seem to do so with scant constraint.
Peter O’Neill, the Prime Minister for the past six years — whose mother was from the Southern Highlands, his father a PNG magistrate originally from Williamstown in Melbourne — has vowed to introduce an independent commission against corruption. But systemic barriers, opposition from MPs and his own apparent reluctance to invest sufficient political capital have combined to prevent its establishment so far. The need is encapsulated in a meticulously detailed 812-page report into one particular nest of alleged corruption by a parliamentary-appointed commission of inquiry headed by PNG and New Zealand judges and a famously upright veteran PNG business leader. This alleged that a cabal of top public servants and lawyers, including the then finance secretary and solicitor-general, had stolen more than $300 million from their own government via sham compensation claims.
In all but five of the 783 cases it investigated, the government — whose officials were in on the scam — paid out on default judgments or out-of-court settlements so the concocted claims were never tested in court. Criminal prosecution of 57 named figures including 14 prominent lawyers was recommended. Since the report was delivered in 2010 to Michael Somare, the prime minister at the time, it has languished. None of the alleged culprits has been charged and many even have been promoted. I was sent a rare copy of the report, which for years was injuncted by some of those named in it, with my own injunction written on the cover: “Do us justice, Rowan.” Sadly, despite this newspaper’s best efforts on that front, I’ve let down the sender.
No wonder that corruption cascades down from such levels, so that many coveted official documents become available on the market — from driving licences to passports. More general crime also takes its cue from this perception of “anything goes” among many of those in authority.
In most other respects, this is a country and a people who should be going places. It is achingly beautiful. Its highlands — reaching to 4500m — have a perfect climate to grow almost anything, it has hundreds of exquisite islands, it remains highly prospective for gas, oil and metals, it retains in lively form its traditional cultures. But these are viewed by many as barriers and burdens rather than opportunities to establish, for instance, a great tourism centre.
Crucially, PNG needs the kind of jobs that booming tourism can create. The population is growing dangerously fast. Bored youngsters inevitably become troublemakers. No one is “unemployable”, although of course education is vital. People are quick on the uptake.
Irish firm Digicel drove the introduction of mobiles, which became swiftly and widely available thanks to commercial savvy, not that of the many state-owned enterprises constantly hovering on the verge of privatisation. Mainly due to government control of utilities, just 15 per cent of PNG has electricity.
My experience running a publishing firm there taught me that PNG’s women perform especially capably as managers, given the chance. But cultural barriers continue to hold them back in public life. Many women celebrated, rather sadly in hindsight, getting even three elected to the outgoing parliament — alongside 108 men.
The country has enough strong institutions to see it through rough patches.
People believe in democracy, as affirmed by the high proportion turning up to vote at this election even though incompetence or worse prevented many from actually voting.
The courts remain largely independent. Media outlets are lively and capable of speaking truth to power. The churches retain the loyalty of the majority. There are capable and focused non-government organisations.
But PNG also needs its best in the political arena that continues to mesmerise many there.
At present, a bitterness overshadows this world, between the two most prominent leaders to have emerged, aside from Somare — O’Neill, likely to retain office for a further five years relatively comfortably, looking at the results in so far, and economist and former prime minister Mekere Morauta.
The battles ahead — for starters, to manage better the economy and the public service, to host next year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit, to hold the 2019 referendum on Bougainville independence — require PNG’s talents working together unselfishly.
The political game of thrones of the past hasn’t worked too well, as we have seen.