Friday, 26 September 2008 5:11 AM

Survey Cites PNG as Most Corrupt in Region

A survey by Transparency International ranking Papua New Guinea as one of the 30 most corrupt countries in the world and most corrupt in the region reflects a situation affecting the entire region.

According to The National newspaper, 'PNG topped the corruption perception index (CPI) ladder as the most corrupt in the region with a score of two compared to Samoa (4.4), Kiribati (3.1), Solomon Islands (2.9) and Tonga (2.4)', the ranking starting with a zero score for the worst to 10 (very good).

'Of the 180 countries ranked this year by several groups including the Asian Development Bank, World Bank and Global Insight, PNG scored 151, a 10-point jump from 161 last year'.

According to the report, Transparency International (PNG) chairman, Peter Aitsi, attributed the poor rating to 'lack of real action by successive governments, including this Government, to deal with the spread of corruption and major issues including the Moti affair, recent Taiwan cash for diplomacy scandal and the Singapore US dollar account saga'.

PNG's other newspaper, the Post Courier, published its viewpoint on the rating saying that while some would blame the media for the "perceived" levels of corruption because they are the ones publishing the "bad news", 'every individual in Papua New Guinea who comes in contact with government and, to some degree, commercial enterprises, knows of the extent of corruption'.

The viewpoint mentions the "bad news" that have been published, like the 'crime that forces hoteliers and tour guides to advise their clients against walking outside the hotel fence without a guard, the Ombudsman reports of corruption, the Public Accounts Committee revelations of gross mismanagement and abuse of government funds and the blatant corruption that bedevils our attempts to have fair and honest elections'.

'Try to get a business contract without having to ingratiate yourself with one or more officials. Try to get your passport within a few days as people do in other countries. Try to get a government service in a reasonable time without having to go via the "back door" or get pally with an officer'.

These descriptions depict a dire situation in PNG but the fact is these activities are not only present in PNG but also throughout the region. PNG has the unfortunate situation of being depicted as such by the survey but news from around the region reveal corrupt practices are occurring in other nations in the region and all over the world, for that matter. The recent coup in Fiji was claimed by its perpetrators as an attempt to cure the country of extensive corruption. (Fiji was not included in this survey because its political situation meant there was not enough information to give it a ranking.)
Politicians and high-ranking individuals have been taken to court for fraud and such activities all throughout the region. In fact, many in other countries in the region besides PNG will be quite familiar with the "back door" policy and in some cases, it is the only way to get something done. The survey depicts what many in the region already know and experienced.

The Post Courier viewpoint makes an interesting statement that the 'survey reflects the experiences and impressions of many people and it is seen by others who have yet to deal with us. Obviously we will lose out on investment from such impressions!'. And this is the issue. For nations in the region who rely so heavily on foreign exchange to survive, perception is vital. For years we have been surviving on the images of white sandy beaches, blue skies, swaying palm trees, friendly people, all images of 'paradise' which make tourism one of our most important industries. We are risking this image being taken over by one of a nest of corruption, violence and instability.
With this is mind, the words of Huguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International, ring true when he stated, "In the poorest countries, corruption levels can mean the difference between life and death, when money for hospitals or clean water is in play." "The continuing high levels of corruption and poverty plaguing many of the world's societies amount to an ongoing humanitarian disaster and cannot be tolerated. But even in more privileged countries, with enforcement disturbingly uneven, a tougher approach to tackling corruption is needed."