By PNG Echo
A Supreme Court ruling yesterday that granted an injunction against police arresting Finance Minister, James Marape, saw a full bench of the Supreme Court tacitly endorsing the new, National-Executive-Council-appointed Police Commissioner Geoffrey Vaki in their deliberations.
Earlier this week, this time in the National Court, Justice Gavara-Nanu granted a permanent stay against the NEC order that disbanded the Task Force Sweep (TFS) and set up an Interim Office.
The decisions solve nothing and create two investigation bodies (men) claiming court sanctioned legitimacy.
The Police Commissioner does not agree with how Task Force Sweep has gone about prosecuting the Paraka matter (and particularly the Prime Minister’s alleged involvement) and is unlikely to co-operate with any initiatives in this matter taken by TFS.
Yet both the Police Commissioner and the Task Force Sweep are ostensibly court backed.
We have a stalemate – another potential impasse between the executive and judiciary; between politics and the law.
In my estimations “Big Man’ (traditional) politics is seeking to utilise western-style justice to effect a customary solution. It’s a situation where even those applying the paradigm of the ethics and morals of a western style government are still looking for the customary solution of ‘payback’.
Corruption and custom
It’s all very well for enthusiastic traditionalists to say that PNG is free to employ the best of Western-style and traditional practices to govern the country, because often the reverse holds, and the worst of both are used instead.
It is in the protections provided by one set of rules to breaches of the other where the unscrupulous can thrive and prosper.
And they do.
Corruption is rife, no more so than in the PNG parliament – and, so far, it’s been a low risk activity.
For, in custom, it’s not done to challenge or question a PNG ‘Big Man – and, in modern PNG there is none much bigger than a parliamentarian. So, while parliamentary salaries are modest, many parliamentarians’ wealth is not.
Some MPs may have made their fortunes before entering parliament but nevertheless will, in many cases, still unreasonably and unlawfully benefit from the public coffers just as much those who started off poor. It’s the road to riches and why there were over 3000 candidates for 111 seats in the last election.
And it’s at election time that corruption enters government processes and weaves its tentacles through to all aspects.
Voting in PNG is overlaid with unwritten and unlawful, but tolerated customary practices.
When parliamentary candidates are elected by unwritten customary rules of the Big Man, whereby he who distributes the most money and/or goods (read bribes) buys the vote and then when the Executive is decided by similar exchanges of money, is it reasonable to expect that these elected representatives will then perform according to a set of western standards?
Because it doesn’t stop there.
Beyond the elections, comes the unwritten (and unreasonable) expectation of tenure and the satirical concept of ‘protecting deniability’ (thank you Ismael Isikel). In other words once a Big Man always a Big Man and when accused – deny, deny, deny.
And with serious corruption allegations tainting his office, the Prime Minister seems to be employing both.
There will be no falling on his sword for this Prime Minister, he’s tenaciously holding on to power and, in a traditional sense, it’s what a leader would do. For a tribal leader needs to protect his patch at any cost, even the slightest sign of weakness will bring possible annihilation. Prime Minister, O’Neill is not blinking.
What’s more, the Prime Minister’s stocks are on the rise, with his political party, the Peoples’ National Congress (PNC), holding more than 56 seats (and increasing).
So, although playing fast and loose with the public purse is a practice that’s not conducive to good governance and, of course, the law disapproves – the upshot is that in PNG, disapproval is by no means universal – in many cases, just the opposite.
There is tacit approval, and an underlying admiration for this type of perceived success and many would have plans to emulate it.
If there is opposition, it is western-style law supplemented by those that are not benefiting by corruption – and can’t see that they ever will get a chance (although many would likely lose their moral outrage were they given a ride on the gravy train). If altruism plays a part in PNG politics, the altruistic are in the minority.
I either want corruption to stop, or get some of it,
was a comment made in jest by a PNGean of my acquaintance – and many a true word is said in jest.
Besides, should O’Neill be taken down at this stage in his career, and there are those that are baying for his blood, the thirst for punitive justice may be slaked, after all, ‘payback’ is a well-understood custom, but retribution will not solve the ongoing problems of politics and social injustice in PNG.
With the next incumbent, the cycle will just start anew.
Reform from the bottom up – not top down
While I am not advocating that crimes go unpunished or overlooked (although in PNG that’s been the case for some years now) – retribution needs to be accompanied by reform, so that the pattern does not simply manifest itself over and over.
Reform has to start at grass roots level – once you’re at the top, it’s already too late. The corrupt system is already a goodly way into its cycle. It’s difficult to stop a train that has sped away.
As such, a new system of electing Members of Parliament needs to be devised. Let’s stop this train before it leaves the station – at the elections and prior.
Personalities need to be taken out of the equation and replaced with policies.
There needs to be more awareness of what can reasonably be expected and for people to be relieved of the expectation of ‘cargo’ every five years. Harsh penalties should be applied to anyone caught rorting the system
Traditional expectations need to be replaced by a different set of expectations and a mindset developed and actively encouraged that doesn’t admire the corrupt.
There should be more ridicule of politicians that do the wrong thing, not reverence.
Lamb Flaps and beer need to be replaced by health centres, roads, bridges and education facilities.
It may take a monumental effort, but there’s nothing surer than tackling corruption from the top down will not work. By this time, the corrupt are too powerful to tame or curb – and are so ingrained in the corrupt system that, by then there is not even the will.