By Lucas Kiap
Why the majority of the people in the country are still unaware of corruption or even if they do, why are we not taking any action to stop it? This was the question I asked after I first started to understand the corruption endemic in this country.
This has caused me to go on a journey of fact-finding mission to accomplish the answer to my own question and unlock the mystery of the corruption culture in Papua New Guinea. First, I started browsing the internet, then searching the Matson Library at the Papua New Guinea University of Technology in Lae, eventually the newspapers and finally articles written about Papua New Guinea. I was so curious that I even interviewed old people in the villages about life during the colonial rule by Australia to make comparisons to the present.
As I read and skipped through all these literatures, there is considerable volume of literatures written about corruption in Papua New Guinea - all portray it as a corrupt country. I became aware that most of them considered Papua New Guinea to be a country relatively rich in natural resources but very poor in terms of basic infrastructure and human development. An incredible degree of the materials published by nongovernment organizations, continue to show Papua New Guinea among the worst in terms of human development, life expectancy, adult literacy rate, and gross domestic product per capita.
My interviews with the elderly population revealed that that most of the aging infrastructures in the country were built by the Colonial Australian government during its colonial rule. My Continues observations about the infrastructure in the country concluded that the government of Papua New Guinea has neglected them to deteriorate over the years, often blaming the public servants for not implementing government policies.
The daily local newspapers continue to reveal the breakdown of law and order with escalating in violent crimes scaring foreign investors and tourists away and out of the country. Papua New Guinea is regarded as one of the high risk countries in the world to do business or to visit. Also, the high cost of living and travelling within Papua New Guinea dramatically reduces tourist numbers while the government spent a lot on tourist promotion without addressing the underlying issues.
In cities and towns, squatter settlements are quickly developing, becoming a breeding grounds for street ‘mangis’ (boys) who eventually found themselves on the streets searching for opportunities to survive – they simply don’t care if taking another person’s life is a crime or a crime commit to survive. Literally, we are slaves in our own country. We don’t have the freedom to go out in the night without having to worrying about who might be your enemy. Also, the high cost of living in our cities has forced the informal sector to grow rapidly spreading all over the city corridors and streets. Coupled with our no care attitude our towns and cities are littered and filtered beyond recognition.
Far worse, there is total breakdown and lack of control over the influx of illegal Asian immigrants into the country, taking away business and employment opportunities from the locals. Worse still, there is a stiff rise in the smuggling of cheap low-quality counterfeit goods by Asians into the country, invading government tax systems and feeding our people with rubbish and rob off our hard earned Kina while we remain poor. The number of illegal businesses (brothels, pornographic movies and gambling) conducted by Asians has dramatically increased over the years, undermining the rule of the law.
When I started to look at these problems, I became aware that corruption plays a direct and prominent role in most of the problems the country is facing now. ‘Corruption’ is a serious problem slowing creeping and knocking at the doorsteps of every Papua New Guineans, escalating the deteriorating of human integral values and morals. It is slowly finding its roots unnoticed among the family settings, cultural settings, and government settings. It is becoming acceptable as a norm and a traditional way of doing things. ‘Corruption’ is a grave threat and a serious concern for the future survival of this country.
As I researched deep into the problems caused by corruption, I became aware that these are deep problems, painful problems, problems that quick fixes will not solve them. In the whole picture studied, I noticed a startling pattern started to emerge – we have an attitude problem embedded within our own cycles that slowly fueling corruption. We invent shields of ignorance and pretend that there is nothing happening at our doorsteps or that of our neighbors. We defend ourselves when we are criticized, exposed or investigated for corrupt practices. We always try to play the game of not guilty, knowing well that we will eventually come out clean by manipulating a corrupted and often flawed judicial system. We take refuge as Christians in a Christian Country; pray, attend church services, take the Bread of Life and preach the gospel to be trusted and accepted. We take temporarily relief by blaming others for own problems, taking advantage of a very large illiterate population.
When you look at these problems fueling corruption, Papua New Guinea is in fact facing a difficult future. Yet we the people keep claiming that we have enough natural resources in the country that will continue to sustain us for the generations to come. But will it does so without consequences? We tend to think that we have a government concerned enough to secure our future when in fact we have the government which has been the architect of corruption for over 37 years.
We certainly have a deeply rooted problem that need to be isolated, targeted and addressed in a profound and durable manner as to lessen the sacrifices and sufferings the future of this country will endure. We need to see things from a different frame of mind when make sound judgments in the affairs of the country. We need to change the traditional belief that Papua New Guinea is a Christian country and the prayers of the Christians will rescue the country from the doldrums.
I am dead serious that if we are to continue to have a future as a country with our rich cultural and ethnic diversity with the 800 spoken languages, then we need to change our perceptions and judgments of how the country is run. Underestimating our own actions in shaping the future is a crime committed against the future of the country.
If ever there is going to be a solution to PNG’s corruption problem that solution will not come from the government. The government is the creator and the architect of the growing corruption problem. No one in the government will ever find the solution to the country’s corruption problem. They will always pay lip service because they are part of the problem. The government doesn’t want to be implicated and revealed. They don’t want to shut off their own doors to be suffocated inside. Remember, PNG is rich in natural resources yet poor.
Do you want to know why the government is part of the problem? Well, I can at least show you why – let’s take a look at the actions of the MPs and candidates during the national elections.
When we vote our MPs into parliament, we never or hardly see them in our electorates implementing government development projects. I bet if you do, then only on ceremonial and/or free handout occasions. But we do see them every day with their loudhailers mounted on their expensive vehicles proclaiming to be the true leaders during the elections. Is it right? We see all the top shots and the so-called Honorable Members front up at our door steps promising us with new schools, bridges, classrooms, hospitals, clinics, health centers, and roads. They also bribe us with money and other material goods to vote for them. They even threaten us using high-powered guns to vote for them.
As soon the voting is over and a winner is declared, the same cycle repeats. But what happens to the losing candidates? Do they accept defeat easily as leaders? Not that easy! The losing candidates realizing what they have missed out on mobilize their supporters killing people, destroying their properties and sabotage vital government services. They burn down the classrooms, bridges, and health centers.
I always wonder why they have to do this: the very services they promise to deliver to the people during the elections they then destroy them and the very people they want to represent in the parliament they kill them. Does this make any sense? Any thinking Papua New Guinean will correctly figure out why they kill and destroy after losing the elections – they will miss out big-time the opportunities of robbing and piping the wealth of the people into their own pockets.
When the elections are over, we never heard of the winning candidates whom we always like to address as Hon. Members of Parliament. We only heard of them when we read every day in the local newspaper headlines of politicians and bureaucrats misusing public funds, travelling to overseas on regular basis, passed parliament bills to suit their own interests, appoint their own political wantoks to head government offices, and deals under the table for the exploiting of our resources by foreign companies.
So if it is not the government to solve the country’s worst corruption nightmare, then who will take the responsibility of shouldering the nation’s nightmare to find a lasting solution? I will not discuss the solution here instead opt for the readers to critically examine the problem and come up with their own solutions. But I have my inner conviction; the corruption problem will not be solved unless we shed blood. If you think you can stop corruption in this country, then I bet on you to be prepared and ready to sacrifice your own life. Don’t mistake me for civil unrest, coup, revolution, or any action that may result in violence. Believe me; blood will be automatically shed when the fight against corruption gets real and hot. Corruption is deeply rooted in this country!!