By SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
CORRUPTION has been on the lips of many Papua New Guineans including ordinary grassroots citizens and foreigners living in this country.
This has been so because corruption affects everyone and it certainly has been the hottest topic in recent times.
PNG has been ranked among the worst performers on the global scale when it comes to country ratings on good governance, transparency and accountable leadership.
It is no wonder numerous calls have been made by individuals and groups including spiritual leaders from the church pulpits demanding swift and resolute response from the Executive Government, particularly Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare to lead with example in the fight against corruption.
Parties in the Opposition have been in the frontline waging a national campaign for the removal of Sir Michael, who apparently affirmed in Parliament in Nov 2009 when answering questions from the Leader of Opposition Sir Mekere Morauta that corruption was rampant, even in his (Somare) current Government.
Sir Mekere noted then that the Prime Minister had "finally come to his sense by admitting corruption was rampant in his own Government, but has failed to take most appropriate and immediate action to rid this cancerous evil".
"Everyone everywhere is fed up. The evil and destructive effect of corruption is fast destroying the very fabric of the system on which Papua New Guinean is built upon. The Prime Minister cannot blame the public servants. As the number one lawmaker, he must lead by example instead of buck passing and blaming civil servants. The people need him urgently to lead a nationwide fight against the real causes of corruption.
Fighting symptom will not stop corruption. Up to you Prime Minister. Show your leadership and save the country that you say, you've "fathered". It is a total waste of time, money and other resources fighting the system when the deep-rooted causes which allow this corruption to remain flourishing," the Opposition leader summed it all.
Since that statement of Nov 2009, nothing much, if anything has happened with the status quo remaining the same - corruption rampant and a thriving industry for perpetrators who benefit from it.
The sad fact is that there is now an increasing perception within PNG and among the international community that the current National Alliance-led Government of Sir Michael is not doing anything to start addressing the issue of corruption starting within the Cabinet to sideline or decommission ministers who have been seriously implicated of misconduct in one way or another, criminal or leadership referral.
Last Tuesday (Feb 16, 2010), outspoken Bulolo MP Sam Basil renewed the numerous calls by the Opposition, non-government organisations, professional bodies and the civil society for Sir Michael to start getting serious and lead by example to address the issue of corruption.
"The Somare Government is not doing anything to address corruption. Corruption is hindering development while vital education, health and other services throughout the nation is deteriorating to state of condemnation and disrepair," Mr Basil stressed in a Parliament House media conference.
He urged the Prime Minister to stop procrastinating over this issue and start cracking the whip, starting from within his Cabinet to decommission all ministers implicated of corruption, referred for trial by a leadership tribunal or facing criminal charges.
"We do not have three sets of laws, one for the senior members of parliament, one for junior MPs and one for the ordinary grassroots people. If a person breaks the law, then he or she must be made answerable to such action," the no-nonsense first term MP stressed.
Mr Basil also urged the Prime Minister to act on the recommendations of various commissions of inquiries, including probes into the former National Provident Fund (Nasfund), former PNG Investment Corporation (Pacific Equities Balance Fund) and the PNG Defence Force Commission of Inquiry.
The probes revealed instances of gross misuse of funds, blatant abuse of process and clear breach of the country's laws. Numerous concerns have been expressed over the Prime Minister's indecisiveness to acting on them resulting in the findings collecting dust, despite millions of taxpayer funds spent on the investigations.
Mr Basil also questioned the Prime Minister why he was not doing anything to deal with controversies and scandals linking members of his government including:
- Julian Moti affair of Oct 10, 2006 in which an international fugitive was spirited out of Port Moresby to Solomon Islands in a clandestine operation on a PNG Defence Force aircraft ordered by the PM as revealed by the PNG Defence Commission of Inquiry.
- Failed US29.8 million (K85 million) Taiwan diplomacy scandal in which PNG citizens are alleged to have received bribes.
- $US40 million (K145 million) in Singapore accounts, money from log exports, sitting in a bank account of a PNG government minister looked after by a "consortium" in that country;
- PM allegedly not declaring his shareholding in Pacific Registry of Ships Limited. Official registry showed that Sir Michael is a shareholder "in trust for the Independent State of Papua New Guinea".
- PM's endless court actions to stop the Ombudsman Commission and the Public Prosecutor from performing their constitutionally mandated duties on allegations of the PM not completing or providing annual returns since 1992. Sir Michael is alleged to have failed to lodge annual returns for the periods 1994/95, 1995/96, and 1996/97, his late lodgment of returns for the periods 1998/99, 1999/2000, 2000/01, 2001/02, 2003/04, and incomplete statements for the periods 1992/93, 1993/94, 1997/98, 1998/99, 1999/2000, 2000/01, 2001/02, and 2002/03.
- Hawking carbon credits to carbon cowboys
- Purchase of K128 million Falcon jet for exclusive executive government use despite widespread opposition from the PNG general public; and
- Alleged misuse of over K160 million from Memorandum of Agreement funds for resource owners in Southern Highland and Gulf provinces.
"It is incumbent on all state institutions and agencies to ensure that the long-term security, well being and welfare of our over six million citizens are put ahead of any petty, personal and partisan interests," the Deputy Leader of People's Progress Party said.
While attributing the current escalating of crime PNG-wide to the general breakdown of law and order, he said the open defiance of laws by the ordinary people was a direct result of leaders breaking rules and laws.
Mr Basil said: "The recent trend of crime wave is an indicative of the fact that people are becoming increasingly frustrated because of the alleged involvement of leaders in high-level corruption. It is therefore imperative that all efforts to curb crime in the country must start from the top down. It must start with the leaders who are implicated in one way or another."
He said all implicated politicians and public officials must face the law and appropriate remedial actions taken by law enforcement agencies in the public interest.
"There is only one set of law for everyone. Not one for the leaders and another for the ordinary people. We must not send the wrong signal to the people by wrongly portraying that there are two sets of laws because where the head goes, the tail follows," Mr Basil concluded.