PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT
Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
PNG MINISTER: $467 MILLION LOST TO CORRUPTION
PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Jan. 18, 2012) – In Papua New Guinea (PNG), almost 1 billion kina [US$467 million] of public funds goes down the drain annually because of widespread corruption, it has been revealed.
During a debate in parliament on the first national anti-corruption strategy 2010-30, Public Service Minister Bart Philemon stressed that if nothing was done to address the problem now, the government would continue to lose that much money each year.
Government agencies have over the years conducted investigations and inquiries into the misappropriation of public funds but nothing had been done to effectively address corruption, Philemon said.
Because of this, he said, the national wealth had failed to trickle down to the people - despite the billions of surplus money in government.
He told parliament that there had been unequal and inefficient distribution of services although there had been a record budget of 60 billion kina [US$28 billion] in the past nine years.
He said corruption was worse than the killer disease HIV/AIDS because it affected everyone in society while the latter affected only individuals.
Philemon said the way to address corruption was at the top "and come down gradually to the bottom".
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill introduced in parliament the 20-year strategy which set out a clear pathway to address corruption in PNG.
"Yet there is common agreement that despite efforts to eradicate it, corruption continues to run unabated and is doing inexorable harm to the vary fabric of the PNG society,’’ he said.
"Influential reports from both the PNG government and independent sources show clearly that corruption is no longer sporadic, isolated to certain segments of the community and institutions. Rather corruption appears to be more systematic and endemic."
For example in 2010, the Public Accounts Committee reported that it had made inquiry into 1,000 agencies, each examined from 2003 to 2008.
The findings showed that the management and accountability of public servants and the government had collapsed miserably.
Overall, there had been a rise both in terms of the number and frequency of corruption and bad governance practices as shown by the investigations of a range of inquiries by government and the public accounts committee, auditor general and Ombudsman Commission.
"This is both frightening and worrisome and should elicit the attention of both citizens and authorities at all levels," he said.
He said corruption and bad governance tended to feature prominently in areas that included: Questionable and dishonest conduct which undermines and questions the personal integrity of those who are in position of trust and authority; The use of bribery to acquire preferential service or treatment; Theft of public money and illegal acquisition of assets by abusing one’s position of authority; Disregard and by-passing officially sanctioned process to acquire a service or select appointees; Lack of compliance with the Public Finance Management Act including breaching of procurement process; Conflict of interest in public decision making; and Nepotism, resulting in recruitment and retention of unqualified staff.
He said corruption also existed in the private sector which had often been implicated in corrupt procurement processes.
"Companies will pay bribes or rely on contact to rig tenders,’’ he said.
"Additionally, with PNG’s wealth of natural resources, while of great potential benefits to citizens, at the same time have opened up huge opportunities for corruption.
"Corruption in how revenues from natural resource extraction activities are collected and distributed is a huge problem.’
O’Neill said PNG could not afford to pay for the cost of corruption and by extension, bad governance.
"Loss arising from thefts and siphoning off of financial resources, poor policy making and weak transparency and accountability have already placed heavy toll on the delivery of services to our people and the political and economic governance of the country at all levels."
He said the anti-corruption strategy was not only about criminalizing corrupt conduct but more importantly preventative measures in educating youths and children about the dangers of corruption
The National: www.thenational.com.pg/