PNG politicians misuse Supreme Court, Parliament for ambition and greed

24/02/2012 10:19

By Sir John Kaputin, KBE, CMG. 

The views expressed in this article emanate from my experience as a Member of Parliament (MP) for 30 years (1972 – 2002) and, subsequently, as secretary-general of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of states (2005–2010), based in Brussels, Belgium.  As a legislator, I was also a member of the Constitutional Planning Committee (CPC) of 15 MPs who were charged with the responsibility of drafting the CPC Report, which formed the basis for the national Constitution of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea. The CPC’s important contribution to the constitution-making process took the best part of two years. 

In my various capacities, both as a member of cabinet and as secretary-general of the ACP Group of states, responsible for significant aspects of the affairs of 79 member-states, I observed many practices which changed over time and lacked compliance with good governance.  This experience has made me feel very concerned and appalled by what has been going on in Port Moresby. 

Most other commentators appear to be bogged down in legalistic arguments and technicalities, without any reference to the real issues which are the main focus of this presentation. The most annoying aspect of the continuing debate over the pros and cons regarding the current political saga is that media, lawyers, and journalists in Papua New Guinea and Australia, are almost all regurgitating the same poisonous stuff in support of one faction or another without offering a proper diagnosis of the disease that is suffocating the nation. 

It is now time that we prescribe the proper medication to deal with the cancer attacking our democracy, which is the struggle for power and money, and the misuse of the state apparatus, including the National Parliament and the Supreme Court to satisfy particular ambitions and greed.

During my years in parliament, many parliamentary and ministerial practices began to change, supposedly in the name of political stability and progress.  But, as the proliferation of political parties increased, and party platforms became meaningless documents without any commitment and loyalty, leaders of successive governments-of-the-day (prime ministers) realised that they could never count on their followers, whether as party members or members of a coalition.  This situation led to the introduction of innovations by the various leaders during my 30 years of parliamentary duties.  Having served under all prime ministers to date in one capacity or another, I have been well-placed to observe how the processes began to deteriorate.  Let me; therefore, begin by outlining my various responsibilities. 

  • Under Sir Michael Somare, I served as a member of the Constitutional Planning Committee (CPC), 1972-75; minister for justice, 1973-74; deputy speaker, 1975-77; and minister for national planning and development, 1978-79.
  • Following the first successful vote of no-confidence in March, 1980, I served under Sir Julius Chan as minister for finance until 1982.
  • When Paias Wingti unseated Sir Michael as prime minister in 1985, I became minister for minerals and energy until 1988. 
  • When Paias Wingti was challenged by Sir Rabbie Namaliu in 1988 and became prime minister, i was appointed chairman of the bipartisan special committee on the crisis in the North Solomons province until 1990.  The committee’s report was tabled in the National Parliament in 1991.
  • Following the 1992 elections, i served again under Paias Wingti as foreign minister until 1994 and minister for mining and petroleum in 1994.
  • During his term as prime minister between 1997 and 1999, Bill Skate (late) appointed me special state negotiator for Bougainville in 1998.  With the prime minister’s support, I went before the United Nations Security Council to appeal for a UN presence in Bougainville.  I signed the Lincoln Agreement in Lincoln, New Zealand, and the ceasefire agreement on board the Australian naval vessel Tobruk at Loloho, Bougainville, in 1998.
  • Under Sir Mekere Morauta’s prime ministership, I served briefly as mining minister in 1999 and then as foreign minister.  I was later appointed as special ministerial envoy for international financial institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Union Commission, and the Asian Development Bank.
  • Following my defeat in the 2002 national elections, i was appointed in 2004 as secretary-general of the 79-member ACP Group of States to be based in Brussels, Belgium between 2005 and 2010.  Pacific ACP leaders supported my nomination by a vote of 11 to 3.  The formal appointment was made by the ACP Council of Ministers in December 2004.

Kaputin: MPs need "a lot of money" to keep members together in the PNG parliament.

It was against the background of my experience in the various positions mentioned above that I have been exposed to the idiosyncrasies of national politics and the national executive council.  My long association with ACP-EU institutions since 1978, including a term as co-president of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly (1995-97), and as ACP secretary-general (2005-2010), added to my experience and provided a unique opportunity to observe many aspects of politics both from within Papua New Guinea and overseas, particularly in Europe, Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

In Papua New Guinea, I saw the emergence of vote-trading and how it became an expensive business, which allowed the foreign exploiters of our timber and other natural resources to start imposing their influence in national politics, and, in turn, reduce our leaders to financial slaves.  In order to keep members together, one requires a lot of money - which our leaders do not have in the bank legally but as a result of corruption.  Political horse-trading has become so competitive that, unless one is connected to those who have the financial resources, and especially the timber people, becoming prime minister is a no-go zone for anyone without a great deal of money. 

Thus, in terms of power and money, Papua New Guineans are now dancing to the music composed by foreign businessmen who have taken up so much land in Port Moresby for themselves and their businesses. Yet in places such as Malaysia and Singapore, outsiders cannot acquire land so easily.  So why do our leaders turn a blind eye to this unacceptable situation in Papua New Guinea? The answer is:  money!

Even the procedures and processes of the national executive council have been affected by the same money-men, who have been cleverly exploiting this country’s natural resources and buying off our leaders in order to control the politics of the nation.  Thus, cabinet submissions no longer mean anything when so many of them are prepared by people from outside the proper and normal government agencies.  This has been a growing practice during the past three decades, over which the new boys on the block are fighting so that they too can benefit from the spoils.  Unfortunately, things are likely to get a lot worse before we will see any real improvement, if improvement will still be possible then.

As I have seen for myself, the same people who are exploiting our timber resources and corrupting our leaders can be found in African countries such as Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Angola.  They are so ruthless in their business dealings that they do not care about their corporate social responsibility to society, except when it can be used to cover up their own greed through their involvement in occasional, selected community fund-raising activities.

Equally dangerous for our country’s future is the blatant access to state resources by members of parliament and their cronies in the public service.  Various people have been arrested and charged with corruption, and are then allowed out on bail.  Why is it that the system has failed to detect and give early warning of people openly exploiting state resources?  Could it be that our present predicament has resulted from our lack of capacity?  If this is true, then a bigger threat to our national security and resources will surface when the expected billions of dollars from resource development starts to flow to the national treasury.

Can the proposed legislation on the sovereign wealth fund be the answer by providing security for our nation’s wealth?  In this regard, two important issues come to mind. 

A PNG LNG Project operations site outside Port Moresby. Picture courtesy of LNG World News

The first is the assumption contained in the proposal that there will be no corruption among the six wise men on the board, who will be political appointees charged with responsibility for the security of the nation’s wealth.  If this is the case, then our leaders are clearly completely ignorant of the global financial and economic crisis of 2007-2009 - which does not provide a sound basis for confidence in trusting banks, investment houses, accountants, lawyers, and other devious souls who can easily take our wealth and disappear into the wilderness.

Secondly, if it is already known that we do not have the technical capacity to cope with present demands, who will implement the decisions made by the six members of the board no matter what the projects are?  Even when our national wealth is to be invested overseas, it will cost money to do so; and, as advice becomes competitive, how can we be sure that money will not be pushed under the table for favours?  As we have seen from the experiences of 2007, 2008 and 2009, and especially the loss of 152,000 service providers, financial and other experts, including those from Canary Wharf in London, it is clear that even the collective brain-power of the six wise men will be totally inadequate to withstand the forces generated by the greed of bankers, financial advisers and other so-called experts.  Closer to home, let us be mindful of how Australian accountants and lawyers robbed the citizens of Nauru of their investments made with income earned from mining their phosphate.

Finally, the wholesale exposure of corruption on the part of members of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords in London in 2007 and 2008 should remind us that members of parliament cannot always be trusted.  As a result of media exposure of members of the mother of parliaments at Westminster, some members have been made to return monies that had been improperly acquired, and some have been sent to jail.  Moreover, according to media reports, even the former president of France, Jacques Chirac, has been found guilty of corruption and is currently on a two-year suspended sentence.

The experiences just outlined provide a worrying basis for predicting what might happen in Papua New Guinea.  As popular saying has it, when you see an iceberg floating on the ocean, what is above the water is only a small fraction of the total mass of the iceberg.  The danger lies below the surface of the water, as we know from the history of the Titanic.

The ship of state is not the Titanic, a newly-launched ship which apparently struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean due to a human error of judgement by the captain,  and is now sitting on the bottom of the ocean.  Fortunately, Papua New Guinea’s ship of state is currently only marooned!  But, let us not forget that all citizens have a responsibility not to allow it to sink into the hands of warlords and profiteers.

The present political convulsions in Papua New Guinea are not a new phenomenon in human history.  Those of us who have been exposed to international politics and global events know that many other countries have gone through much more dangerous and deadly experiences than the current political skirmishes in Port Moresby. 

It would, obviously, be very much more serious if people were to engage in armed conflict.  Having spent the best part of 10 years of my life working to resolve the Bougainville conflict, as chairman of the bipartisan special committee on the Bougainville Crisis and as special state negotiator during the peace process, I will not enjoy seeing the situation in my country develop beyond the ongoing political convulsions.

As minister for foreign affairs, I participated in the UN General Assembly’s debate on the Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict.  Then, in 1991, I was attending the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly in Strasberg when United States president Bill Clinton authorised the intervention by United States forces in the Yugoslavia/Serbia armed conflict. 

As ACP Co-president of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, I led a number of missions to various countries, including the Republic of Togo, Equatorial Guinea, as well as Burundi and Rwanda in 1996 following the 1994 genocide, when approximately 800,000 men, women and children lost their lives.  What I saw in the refugee camps was horrific.  It hurt to see hundreds of children from Burundi and Rwanda, some barely eight to ten years old, being locked up in prisons for crimes which they might not have committed on their own. 

Children prisoners at the Ruyigi prison in Burundi. Picture courtesy of UK Channel 4 Television

Among countries where resource development is a major issue, I have had the opportunity to visit Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea, where I met the leaders from both countries. 

More recently, in my capacity as ACP Secretary-General, I had to deal with countries such as Mauritania, Sudan, Niger, and Chad.  during the 2008 ACP summit of heads of state and government in Accra, Ghana, I assisted the Ghanaian president and his foreign minister in dealing with the situation when two delegations, both claiming to be the lawfully elected government of Mauritania, turned up for the meeting.  We had to pursue this issue in Paris, followed by a visit to Mauritania itself. 

With regards to oil-rich Sudan, I visited Khartoum on four different occasions for various meetings, including two separate meetings on a one-to-one basis with president Al-Bashir.  Today, what was Sudan is divided into two countries for various reasons, including the extraction of oil.

In 2007, I visited Tunisia, and, in 2009, Egypt, though neither is an ACP member-state.  My mission arose because of their close association with the African Union, whose members are African member-states of the ACP. It was clear, from both my personal observations and my dialogues with leaders that things were not right there - which eventually proved to be correct, when these two countries exploded politically in 2010 and 2011 respectively. 

Though the matter is one for accountants and, ultimately, courts to determine, it has been claimed that the former president of Egypt embezzled around $US60 billion.  After the death of the late president Sani Abacha of Nigeria (whom I had met in 1996), an account containing $US350 million was discovered in a bank in Paris.  In the overall scheme of things, let us not forget the history of former presidents Marcos of the Philippines and Mobutu, of Zaire who, despite their ill-acquired billions, finally escaped from their respective countries as very sick people.

Following the 2008 presidential elections in Kenya, the result led to rioting in the capital, Nairobi, which claimed the lives of more than 850 people.  Over 600,000 people were displaced, mostly squatters in Cabrera, one of the biggest slums in Africa.  Ethnicity was one of the contributing factors, and one side of the political configuration would not accept the result as it claimed to have been unfairly treated.  Oginga Odinga, who became prime minister in the subsequent government of reconciliation with the incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, claimed that those who had fought for political independence, had been left out of the political equation for far too long.

So, with regard to the current political convulsions in Papua New Guinea, it is clear to me that the crux of the matter is not the Supreme Court or the National Parliament as institutions of the state.  The issue at stake is one of power and money and the misuse of our state apparatus, including the Supreme Court and the National Parliament, out of political ambition and greed.

In a paper prepared for the Kokopo summit on micro-finance and small business, held on 3-7 April 2011, I wrote:

When confronted with the current political scene in Papua New Guinea, one feels somewhat cheated and angry at the lack of transparency and compliance with the laws of Papua New Guinea and related procedures by the leaders.  What has happened to the dreams and aspirations of emancipating ourselves from the Australian colonial cocoon in order to paddle on our own canoe to the Promised Land following independence in 1975?  Were all the efforts and contributions made by our people to attain political independence and to create a just society that would not be contaminated by corruption, bribery and personal greed, and the constant struggle for personal power misused? Were the energy and personal sacrifices they put into these efforts and contributions really for nothing?           

Following the declaration of independence, who was it who had the temerity to proclaim publicly that ‘we are not Africa’, and, in doing so, to insinuate that we, Papua New Guineans, are different in our character and national aspirations?

While participants in the constitution-making process in Papua New Guinea drew on experience, both positive and negative, and precedents in other countries, the Constitution itself is ‘home-grown’, both as a matter of law in that it does not owe its authority to any foreign law or government but to the people of Papua New Guinea, and because of the role many thousands of Papua New Guineans and their elected representatives played in its making. 

Some tens of thousands of people were consulted during the process by making written submissions directly or as members of discussion groups which met and considered both issues and options around the country, or by attending meetings at which the CPC met with them when we went on tour around Papua New Guinea and listened to what they said, before finalising our report. 

It is, therefore, all the more dismaying to read comments by people, including some very prominent foreign lawyers mistakenly described as ‘experts’, suggesting that the problem with our Constitution is that it was designed by outsiders.  This is not only untrue.  It diverts attention from the real, underlying causes of the ongoing political convulsions.  These seriously mistaken – and misleading claims – are also being used to suggest that the Constitution is somehow responsible for the current situation, and not the behaviours I have outlined.

Kaputin: Debating real issues has taken a back seat in the PNG parliament.

Having been a member of parliament for 30 years, I have personal experience of the reality that parliamentary debates have become theatrical and meaningless.  Debating real issues has taken a back seat, while shouting matches and bickering over procedures and irrelevant technicalities have become the major preoccupation of the dominant performers in our National Parliament. 

The former member for Maprik, Sir Pita Lus might have been perceived as vociferous and a loose cannon, but, behind this façade, there was a very serious mind concerned with real issues, expressed in pidgin with lots of humour and punctuated with colourful phrases in English. Unfortunately, most of the arguments in recent times are self-centred, and although members may be very argumentative, their arguments provide little guidance as to the way forward to prosperity and integrity for Papua New Guinea.

So, how do we move forward?

  • The most obvious thought that comes to mind is to go to election.  While this may provide the opportunity for some good prospective leaders to enter parliament, unfortunately, history has not been very kind to us.  Electing more ‘bros’ like the present members into parliament will not necessarily resolve our ongoing problem with the leadership issue.
  • Elsewhere, current political convulsions would have provided the perfect environment for some general or commodore to take the bull by the horns and throw some leaders into jail in the name of non-compliance, lack of good governance and accountability, and to rule by decree.  However, this would not resolve our political problems.  Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on one’s point of view, our various forces are not united and do not have the numbers or unity to impose and sustain military rule.  But there are, of course, people who are misguided enough to try. 
  • Perhaps one saving grace we have is the cultural and linguistic diversity among our people.While we have two, in certain respects, dominant regions in the highlands and the Sepik, and another region is separated from the mainland by the ocean, our diversity means that we can never be united to prop up any one leader forever.Although smaller regions such as Papua and the New Guinea Islands have been cleverly used in the past, time is fast running out for this kind of political exploitation.
  • Instead of exploiting the national constitution for their own purposes, members of parliament should be examining the constitution in order to ensure that our system of government caters for the future, taking into account cultural differences, ethnicity, the distribution and sharing of wealth, provincial powers for raising internal revenues, land use and ownership, and the costs of infrastructure, education, and health, as well as issues such as migration, and effective access by our people to opportunities for development.Unless we address these fundamental issues, national leadership will continue to be a major problem.
  • What if the leadership issue is not resolved and more and more problems are created in the future?
  • Australia must not be allowed to be involved in our internal problems as the so-called “deputy sheriff” of the United States.They played a major role in the creation of one of Papua New Guinea’s major problems, which was the compulsory acquisition of Rorovana and Panguna land for the Bougainville copper mine.Moreover, the lack of capacity that has continued to plague this country was to a major extent created by Canberra and its colonial administration with their lack of realistic policy initiatives to prepare Papua New Guinea for independence.Until the 1960s, there were no full high schools in Papua New Guinea, and our first university was opened only in the late 1960s.We have tried our best since 1975 to educate and build up our trained personnel and capacity for over 35 years, but, unfortunately, we are still a long way from what we need.Although we are constantly being criticised by Canberra and other Australians for our current lack of capacity, they have never admitted that the fault was theirs.
  • Despite the quite sizeable pool of intellectuals who have joined the Waigani ghetto at the Australian National University, Australians have never really changed their views about Papua New Guinea, despite the grim reality that, although many aspects of our country are changing, more and more Papua New Guineans are being left out of mainstream development.Listening to the political polemics by Australian spokespersons with regard to current political events in Port Moresby gives the impression that there is nothing they can do for us except to use their military might to protect their economic interests in Papua New Guinea.They seem to think that Papua New Guineans are a bunch of actual or potential law-breakers and that they can, therefore, apply their security laws in the name of democracy and non-compliance without recognising thatthe main issue is, in fact, their failure to educate us well in advance for independence and to help us build up our capacities both in the public and private sectors.
  • In anticipation of our lack of adequate capacity, Australia made sure of securing easy access to Papua New Guinea for Australian businesses and citizens in bilateral agreements but without reciprocity for Papua New Guineans, or an option even for Papuans, who are former Australian citizens, to obtain similar opportunities in Australia.
  • Finally, if our leaders cannot resolve their differences, article 96 of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement can be used in situations of non-compliance with the principles of democracy.This can lead to economic sanctions, which, in Papua New Guinea’s case, would mean that our tuna, cocoa, coffee, and other commodities such as oil and gas would be taken into consideration.This would be a real test for the European Union and Australia – whether they are genuinely prepared to protect our democracy, or whether their own economic interests in Papua New Guinea will take precedence over the maintenance of important principles of democratic parliamentary rule.

In conclusion, it is hoped that the views expressed in this article, may assist readers to appreciate and understand the complexities of the political situation in Papua New Guinea.  All citizens, whose rights are protected by the national constitution of the independent state of Papua New Guinea, must use all resources at their disposal, including their intellectual capacity, their other manpower resources, and their voting rights to protect the constitution.  It is both our moral and collective duty to do this.  As I am reminded by Nelson Mandela, “overcoming poverty is not a task of charity; it is an act of justice.  Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural.  It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.  Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great.  You can be that great generation.  let your greatness blossom”, and as Martin Luther King  has reminded us, “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”