Why Is Corruption So Rampant In Papua New Guinea?

Corruption – the use of public offices for personal gain – is a worldwide problem. But some countries are percieved to have a higher level of corruption than others. The PNG public service has been riddled with corruption. Massive amounts of public money has gone missing and no one has been held accountable! Recently a few finance institutions (managed by PNGeans) have also been implicated as involved in corrupted practices.

There has been enquiries after enquiries but no one has been caught and punished. Evidence sometimes mysteriously go missing and those who are involved walk away. Members of parliament who have been involved in alleged corrupted practises while in parliament are in most cases voted back into office. The most recent case of corruption in the PNG public service involves the finance department. Millions of kina have been said to be payed to certain individuals under questionable circumstances. It seems as if departmental heads are colluding with other departmental heads or other individuals in the public system to siphone money out of the public purse into their own pockets.

In the words of Sir Mekere Mourata, former Prime Minister of PNG, “corruption in PNG is systematic and systemic”. Systematic because it is planned, organised and cleverly exercuted to steal large sums of money. And they know how to avoid getting being caught. Systemic because the current systems in place or the lack of strict checks and balances fascilitates or is condusive for corrupt practises to flourish in the public service.

Just about every government department has been involved in alleged corrupt practises.

So I have been asking myself – if this how the country is being run, what is the future of PNG?

And I also have been trying to find an answer to the question – WHY has corrupt practises infiltrated the entire PNG public service? And one of the most worrying thing is that such practises are begining to be accepted as the norm. A culture of corruption is slowly taking shape. Once corruption is endemic (which it is) and widely accepted as the norm, I think it will take generations to rid of such practises.

Many have given their causes for the high level of corruption in PNG but for me while trying to find a satisfying answer, I keep going back to the PNG traditional cultures.

Papua New Guinea has about 870 different native languages and diverse cultures. It is like countries within a country! Although most of the customs practised in tradtional societies is highly variable, there are some general principles. Doing a favor for someone and expecting something back in return (doesn’t have to be immediate) is a normal practice. Giving a “gift” (bribery?) to someone before asking them to help you in doing something is a normal custom. “Big men”, that is chiefs and tribal leaders, are sometimes not punishable, even if they are wrong! If in the eyes of the people, what they do is seen as in the best interest of the people, then that bad deed or descision is OK. These are but few examples.

So I have been pondering on these cultures and customs and trying to connect with the level of corruption in PNG to see if there is a relationship. And I think there is. I think corrupt practises are so common in PNG because things are done following general principles of PNG customery laws and principles. Which are unwritten. The customery laws and principles take precedent over adopted (western?) governing principles and civil laws!

Should we then change our political system, laws and governing principles in line with our customs and traditions? Since we are doing things according to our traditions and customs anyway! And have no regard for the laws and political system we decided to adopt from western civilisations.

I’ll leave that for you to decide.


About rodney itaki

Medical doctor and public health specialist from Papua New Guinea.
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