Political Reform Imperative to end PNG Kleptocracy
The past few months in PNG politics have provoked a number of responses to be made public by nonpartisan domestic and international observers of Papua New Guinea on the events which we have witnessed unfold thus far.
These responses have been wide and varied in terms of origin, purpose, experience, justification and even legality – but encouragingly, all these responses share the common denominator of putting an end to the current political woes encompassing Waigani.
Although suggested processes and methodology differ, sometimes even polarized, the outcome(s) of the views that domestic and international observers of PNG share is largely homogeneous. This means that people are proactively thinking about how we can improve the situation in PNG – another positive by-product of the political impasse.
One of the more authoritative publications released and based on field work completed in PNG over the past year is the Lowy Institute’s March policy brief on averting violence in the 2012 General Elections.
In that paper, Dr Scott Flower and Jim Leahy (standing for the Western Highlands Regional seat in the upcoming election) identify a number of election-related issues and propose a number of solutions to help mitigate the risk of election-violence occurring and re-occurring again in the future.
Although some of the key areas identified for immediate focus to manage the security of the election period by PNG and friends of PNG are premature and precipitated and in my view undesirable, for example – the urgent consideration of a regional security force with possible helicopter support from the US, most do hold considerable value over the long-term and should be seriously considered by the current and forthcoming PNG governments.
Another significant discussion, driven by the events of the past months in PNG and a blog post I wrote, has reared its head in the public discourse and is centered on the idea of reforming the PNG parliament.
As followers on Twitter would know, I recently voiced my dismay at the ongoing uncertainty in PNG politics and the ineffective checks and balances which are fundamental to ensuring the success of PNG’s democratic system.
The recent developments on the #PNG political scene begs the question of whether or not we need another level of Parliament, like the Senate—
(@Tavurvur) April 05, 2012
(@Tavurvur) April 05, 2012
One pond is too easy to pollute. The events of this week have shaken my belief in genuine democracy. This is no longer just enough #PNG—
(@Tavurvur) April 06, 2012
Already, such dismay as expressed by myself, has caught the attention of long-time PNG observers who are now arguing, and I believe rightfully so, that the citizens of Papua New Guinea are losing faith in PNG politics.
“Any democracy relies on the checks and balances inherent within the system, to stop it being abused by corrupt or megalomaniac leaders.
But often it is these very checks and balances that are being used as an excuse to topple governments regularly.
The problem is made more acute by the fact that other political safeguards – such as a robust ombudsman – generally don’t exist.
Ideally, elected governments should be allowed to serve their full term with a strong ombudsman and Leadership Tribunals to deal with abuse of power, but that does not happen. The same leaders get recycled over and over again.”
In that same essay, the Institute warned that:
“PNG is now better described as an autocracy verging on kleptocracy.”
And as Flower and Leahy point out in their Lowy Institute brief:
“PNG, thanks to its size, wealth and influence, has the potential to set the benchmark for democracy in the Pacific and more particularly in Melanesia.”
It is because of these reasons presented by both domestic and international PNG observers, and most strikingly the growing disillusionment with PNG politics by PNG citizens themselves – specifically the large generation of youth that now make up almost 50% of PNG’s population, that political reform is imperative.
The total lack of parliamentary accountability, the inefficiencies of PNG’s watchdogs to effectively perform their duties and fulfill their functions, the perception of non-existent government services in rural and even urban PNG, and the constant immature squabbling amongst PNG’s politicians which has marred realistic and timely progress – have all contributed to an immense sense of frustration with the current system, its functionality, and to be honest – its existence.