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27th April, 2001
Catholic Bishop's Conference of PNG & SI
Annual General Meeting in Goroka

Statement 0n Corruption in PNG


The Catholic Bishops of Papua New guinea with many ordinary citizens of this country believe that one of the most serious problems our country faces at his is corruption. The nation is danger of surrendering to a "culture of corruption", that is, a permanent way of thinking and acting, within all levels of society, which accepts corrupt practices as the normal way of life in PNG. Once a culture of corruption is embraced and strongly in place, it is very difficult to root out.

The word " corruption" in English and Tok Pisin is now used everywhere in PNG. People know what it means. And while many may not be able to define the word, most can describe practices they accurately consider to corrupt.

Corruption is Everywhere

Already, it seems, corruption has firmly taken root. Serious irregularities within the National Provident Fund (NPF), the Public Officers Superannuation Fund (POSF), the National Gaming Board and other statutory bodies show this. Allegations of fraud, mismanagement and misappropriation of funds arising from investigations into suspended provincial governments and elsewhere also indicate that corruption is and immense problem. Talk on the street and at the village markets reveals that people assume that corruption exists everywhere, within the highest echelons of government down to its lowest levels in the district and council ward. When people in high places gain advantage and enrich themselves through corrupt practices, those at other levels of society follow their example. Soon everyone finds a way to get what he or she believes to be their share even though they must break the law to do so.

Wantok System

The "wantok system", a good thing in many situations, is an abuse when officials appoint friends and relatives to high paying positions for which they are not qualified This is a form of corruption that encourages incompetence and is detrimental to the common good. Many corrupt practices of leaders arise because of pressure from wantoks who have unrealistic and even illegal expectations of their "Bigmen". We all share blame for corrupt behavior if our own demands force our leaders to behave this way.

Bribery, a very common form of corruption, is alleged to occur more and more frequently everywhere in our society. It is reported in politics, in the courts, in business arrangements, and in government departments, in fact wherever people compete for more powerful and better paying positions.

Misappropriation and Stealing:

In an environment where it tolerated and even condoned, corruption follows the big money. Here in PNG, contracts for infrastructure development, like road construction and maintenance, as well as economic development projects, such as logging operation, are prime targets fro corruption and some have come under suspicion. It is not uncommon to hear that fully funded projects are never completed o, in some cases, ever begun. Yet the money disappears. A number of provinces with multi-million kina budgets have very little to show for the large amount of money that has passed through their provincial and local government departments over the years. White Collar crimes seems to be flourishing. People complain that basic services, health and education are not properly funded and delivered. Where has the money gone? Who is responsible for this will they someday be held accountable?

There are corrupt individuals who take advantage of poor and careless government administration, teachers, health workers, public servants and also some church and NGO workers who collect their fortnight pay even when they are frequently absent from work or have stopped working altogether. These people are able to defraud the government because corrupt officials turn a blind eye to their dishonesty. Some members of Parliament rarely visit their electorates or are often absent during parliamentary sessions and yet they would never neglect to collect their high salaries and entitlements. And we should not forget mentioning the so-called "slush funds" which is alleged to be a source much abuse. At a time when our country is facing serious social and infrastructure problems, it is truly wrong for any government to give so much money away to be used at the discretions of the members of Parliament. The abuse of these funds is very clear over so many years and yet the Government continue to dish this money out to the MP's. Here, as elsewhere, the lack of transparency and accountability hides a serious problem. " Get into Parliament and Get Rich" has become a sad reality that encourages violent elections. The opportunity for corrupt gain seems almost limitless. Dishonest and greedy people think of new ways to cheat the government, private business, the community and each other everyday.

Corruption among youths

Very trouble now is a trend toward corruption among the youth. Wholesale cheating in school exams, sometimes instigated by teaches themselves, is thought to be widespread in some regions of the country. Failing school children can buy credits and distinctions on custom made certificates. Young people routinely use fraudulent or borrowed school certificates when applying for jobs and for places in institutions of higher learning. And it is said some politicians buy young men, who are all too willing to accept money or material goods, to assist in political campaigns which feature threats and intimidation. More and more adult leaders are willing to corrupt young people and youth groups for their own purposes. Our youth are learning how to play the corruption game very well.

Today our young people, who are the largest single population group in this young country, are learning the principals and values they will later apply as adults when shaping the society of the future. We adults, all to anxious to get all we can for ourselves how, should stop and think about the moral values we are passing on to the next generation.

To the young men and women of this country we way this, " Do your love your country Papua New Guinea? Are you proud of province and community? Do you look forward to a brighter future where all people of PNG will enjoy peace and prosperity?" if so, then reject all forms of corruption; take pride in personal honesty and fight for a fair and just society.

There are many honest and dedicated men and women of admirable reputation n government, the public service, the private sector, the churches and the community at large. They are the potential saviors of this nation. We call on all men and women of integrity to stand firm and not to give into the temptation of corruption and easy money. Rather, together let us fight corruption, courageously report it, speak out publicly against it, and blow the whistle on corruption wherever it occurs.

Message for our Prime Minister

We speak now to our Prime Minister, Sir Mekere Morauta. When you took office, you promised to fight corruption aggressively. You and your government have much progress in this and little command for it. We congratulate the police who have begun investigating and prosecuting more and more corruption cases. The Ombudsman Commission has become more involved too. We support all these efforts. However, much more needs to done. And all -out battle against corruption, no matter what the financial and political costs, is necessary. A strong policy against all forms corruption should be backed by fearless and swift action through out the country, in every province, district and council area. Such an initiative has our full support and, we believe it certain to have the support of the majority of the Papua New Guineans as well.

We believe the corruptions not only threatens the well being of our nation but may as well endanger the very survival of Papua New Guinea as a viable democratic state.
Therefore, we urge that every allegations of corruption be aggressively investigated. When the evidence justifies it, the accused should be diligently prosecuted so that no criminal escapes justice. Law enforcement authorities and the courts should act fairly but also quickly in these matters. At present, there are many too many delays, wrong doers should be held accountable for their actions and when found guilty be punished.

Integrity of the legal system

Papua New Guinea is fortunate to have independent legal system that has maintained unquestioned integrity through the years. The Supreme Court as well, National Courts enjoy an outstanding reputation. However, District, local and village courts are not always well regarded because they at times experienced great pressure in places, political or ethnic rivalries exists, result in justice being misplaced. Nonetheless, we look to the courts with hope and trust as our nation tries to rid itself of the course of corruption.

We are seriously concern about the low standard and quality of prosecution as we see, time and time again, cases are supposed to be straight forward, being dismissed and known criminals freed. The police Commissioner has expressed frustration about this. We call on government to improve the training and resources of police prosecutors so that the unmistakably criminal actions are properly prosecuted and offenders are brought to justice through the courts.

Proposed Action

The spread of corruption will not stop unless speedy and uncompromising actions is taken in every instance. The web of corruption that has began to cripple our nation will begin to unravel when law breakers, one after another in quick succession, are seen to pay a heavy price for their crimes. Prison sentences for corruption should reflect the degree of damages done to the society. Those who steal should make restitution, perhaps even have their properties confiscated what they have stolen.

Accountability must become a doctrine of government. The right people, those committed to strict financial accountability and those who insist that subordinates carry out assigned tasks faithfully should be put in supervisory positions. Most of all Papua New Guinea needs good leadership at all levels, man and women of exceptional honesty and integrity to show the way. Only than will we be able to establish in Papua New Guinea a " Culture of Honesty and Integrity", that is, a permanent of thinking and acting, within all levels of society, which accepts honest, just and fair practice as the normal way of life in Papua New Guinea. And with God's blessing, once a " culture of honesty and integrity", is embraced and strongly in place, Papua New Guinea will experience greater peace and prosperity for its people.

+Stephen Reichert OFM Cap.
President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference