Remarks on the first NRI Public Sector Seminar Series for 2010 on Ethical and Effective Governance

Welcome to the NRI and the first Public Sector Seminar for 2010.

This year, the Public Sector Seminar Series will focus on a growing issue of concern to many of us; Ethical and Effective Governance.

PNG faces a wide range of challenges, each requiring multiple and often complex policy responses in the march towards social, economic and human development.

Of these challenges, Ethical and Effective governance stands out as Papua New Guinea’s number one development priority today.

Our human development indicators are some of the lowest by global comparison. We cannot turn our backs on the fact that poverty levels, in terms of incomes and socio economic conditions, are some of the poorest in our region. Many mothers and babies die during child birth because of limited health care coverage. Of those that live, according to the 2006 Demographic Health Survey, between seven and eight out of 100 children die before they reach age five due to a lack of immunization and health care facilities.

Of those children that survive past age five, less then half will get a basic primary school education. While many will not have access to a school at all, others may start school, but will never complete primary education – because there are no teachers, no textbooks or even no school buildings.

The lack of funds is often cited as a major reason for the current state of things, but on closer analysis, it is evident that the lack of funding is not the main reason. There are billions of kina allocated by Governments in annual budgets every year to maintain and expand government services. In 2008, the Treasurer’s report indicated that nearly seven billion kina was spent on salaries, goods and services by both national and provincial governments. A similar level of funding was expended in 2009.

These are substantial amounts of money spent each year by Government. Yet we continue to hear stories about lack of funds to implement key service delivery activities. There is a lack of drugs in major hospitals, let alone in health centers and aid posts in remote areas. There is a lack of fuel for Police to attend to emergency calls, poor road conditions, a lack of teachers and a lack of classrooms. The stories keep coming and activities that will determine whether we move forward or regress.Programs have not been implemented because the funds allocated have been stolen outright. Payments are made for projects even before the project has been started. In other cases, the funds have been expended but weak systems and processes have seen funds misused and maximum benefits not gained.

Yet in other instances, the systems are fine, but it is the people who manage these systems who lack proper ethical and moral attitudes and manipulate the systems to steal public funds.

I see a trend emerging where officials are designing public programs on the basis of how they will personally benefit from it rather then the common good.

We have allowed our governance and management systems to be eroded to a situation where funds are now disappearing into a black hole.

Poor governance will mean that the large anticipated revenues from the planned LNG project will not enrich the country but continue to disappear into this black hole. These revenues will instead enrich a few powerful people at the expense of the rest of the population.

To continue the story of our young people, the future generation – many of our young people who get an opportunity to complete school will remain unemployed due to a lack of jobs. Jobs can be created by increases in investments, both from foreign and domestic sources. However, we are not seeing the large scale investments that should happen, because of the inefficiencies and corrupt behavior of officials in various state entities. The World Bank’s annual survey on the “Ease of Doing Business” places PNG among the bottom fifty percent. Land is difficult to access. Property rights are difficult to enforce. Skilled labor is not available and skilled foreigners cannot be brought in because of bureaucratic procedures that we create.

Ethical and Effective Governance can translate resource revenues into genuine improvements to services and to the lives of all Papua New Guineans, especially the vast majority of our population living in rural areas. It is the single most important development obstacle of our time – it must be addressed NOW.

Governance is no longer an issue that donors and development partners talk about in terms of their allocation of aid. It should no longer be a demand that is coming from outside the country.

Ethical governance should be the demand of every Papua New Guinean who wants their child to go to school, who wants to keep their families healthy, see our children and people employed in fairly-paid working conditions, and who wants to access reliable water and electricity.

The end result of poor governance is corruption and fighting corruption is one important part of promoting ethical and effective governance. But the other important aspect to governance is developing the systems across the political system and the Public Sector, which will see money spent transparently and accountably, leaders elected or appointed fairly, and decisions made according to sound policies and sound research.

Poor governance also begets even poorer governance because bad decisions now will breed further democratic decay.

PNG’s development problems are not a problem of not having enough money to run the country. We need ethical and effective governance systems that will ensure funds are expended for the benefit of a majority of our people in order to improve on the poor levels of health, education and low income levels.

To talk about education for all, we must talk about governance. We must talk about transparent and accountable funding systems that ensure materials make it into our schools at the beginning of and dilapidated the year, to ensure our teachers are paid and to ensure our children have a learning environment that isn’t over-crowded.

To talk about health services for all, we must also talk about governance, because a healthy population can only become a reality with a strong health sector that is managed effectively and delivers results.

To talk about infrastructure development we must talk about governance.

This is why the National Research Institute’s Public Sector Seminar Series is focusing specifically on ethical and effective governance in 2010. We want to sensitize stakeholders and the public at large on the issues of effective governance, as the biggest development issue facing PNG today.

Dr. Thomas Webster
National Research Institute


14 thoughts on “Remarks on the first NRI Public Sector Seminar Series for 2010 on Ethical and Effective Governance

  1. Grappleling with PNG Reality

    Many have commented before and will no doubt continue to comment about how
    to fix PNG’s current woes. The crux of the problem is simple. The problem is
    that the PNG government isn’t able to effectively discharge their
    responsibility. So until PNG can effectively govern itself, nothing will

    Traditional PNG culture was so entrenched at the time the country was thrust
    into Independence, that the essential mechanisms for effective government
    (like separation of powers, accountability and responsibility, transparency
    of action, etc.), have never been allowed to flourish. These essential
    pillars of government have either been starved of funds and left to ‘whither
    on the vine’ or actually been accused of being the problem itself.

    Younger PNG people are now starting to see what the problem is and are
    questioning their tired, old leaders as to why the country with so much
    promise is actually falling apart. The current leadership team clearly has
    no answers. The resulting impasse is in danger of becoming a pressure
    cooker without a safety valve.

    Leadership, by its very nature, must come from the top. To use the often
    quoted, US government mindset, ‘Regime change’ is required. The problem
    appears to be that there is no mechanism in traditional PNG culture, except
    perhaps in clan warfare, for younger aspirants to challenge those looked on
    as traditional leaders. Traditional culture dictates that younger leaders,
    irrespective of their education and ability, must wait their turn.

    Until this fundamental issue can be overcome, there can be no possible
    change to the present dilemma. Like the proverbial cork in a bottle, this
    impediment must first be removed before the desired contents can be

  2. David and Emmanuel,

    maybe the answer is to find a way whereby the ‘old guard’ (read ‘dead wood’), can be allowed to bow out with dignity before they are pushed. To achieve this, it is suggested two factors are necessary and that these must be publically announced:

    1. Agree on a ‘sunset clause’ to apply to all previous activities. No ‘witch hunts’ and an animosity if they go quietly but it must be NOW. A similar scenario allowed Richard Nixon to escape before he was pushed. Suggest gratuities, awards, medals etc. be considered.

    2. The new government team to set out a manifesto of what will be guaranteed after they take power and what won’t be permitted. i.e. a metaphoric line drawn in the sand. The new team must start with a clean slate and everyone must agree to follow the rules (i.e. the law, etc.). Those that break the law will have to resign and/or be charged.

    It suggested that two other concerns are also extremely important. These may not necessarily be publically announced as often the public either doesn’t care or doesn’t want to know.

    1. The backers of the previous regime must be dealt with (one way or another), and an accommodation found that will allow a smooth transition of power with sufficient room to move afterwards otherwise the same circumstances will continue with just a cosmetic change at the top.

    2. Complete and detailing planning on what will be put in place as regards government activity as soon as the change occurs. This is the key to any successful changeover at the top. If this doesn’t happen before the changeover, then you are right back to where you started.

    Maybe you need to develop a ‘think tank’ team and get like minded people together?

    1. Thanks Paul.

      Good suggestion albeit a very volatile one given the difficulty with which to sell such brilliant ideas to the masses of our people who still thinking ‘big man’.

      I do not believe PNG is ready for such a revolutionary change just yet. The key in such a rapid regime change as you proposed is that the new team must have popular support and that it must not depart or be seen to depart significantly from the democratic principle of government by people, lest we end up with an autocracy.

      Education and awareness is the key for mine. And PNG must invest heavily in this area to bridge not just the leadership gap but all other development gaps in the most democratic way possible. It will be a slow process but it is important that we get it right. While on that, PNG is currently witnessing the emergence of a young, talented and determined middle class it has never seen before and I am very hopeful for our future.

      The dead woods’ days are numbered and they know that. We are currently at the the beginning of an end.

      1. Hi David,

        you are right about the problems associated with moving too fast and the importance of education and political awareness, especially in rural areas. The issue as I see it (and I agree, from outside the country but nonetheless, living next door), is that by the time this slow process gets going, either autocracy will have effectively taken over or there is a revolution or both.

        If this happens, education and awareness will not get a firm foothold in the villages and rural towns for many years.

        I do hope you’re right about it being the beginning of the end for the ‘dead wood’? Maybe it is also the end of the beginning, as Churchill put it?

      2. Hi Paul,

        You are quite right on both.

        OLIPPAC has effectively delivered us an autocracy. There is currently a Supreme Court reference on its Constitutionality. But then our dilemma is that fully liberal democracy has proven to be self destructive for us as we saw politicians roaming around the floor of parliament like headless chooks looking for the seat that could afford to hold up their pot bellies. That was what OLIPPAC intended to correct and in the process delivered PNG an autocracy.

        With regards to revolution, some people have been arguing, quite rightly, in the past that such a thing will not happen in PNG due to our diversity. But this notion is now being seriously challenged with the William Kapris saga in which we saw a greater degree of collaboration amongst ordinary people from everywhere in PNG to commit the crimes for which they now stand accused. My experience is that a Highlander and a Sepik seldom found common grounds previously, but now they do more often than not. These are the two groups of people in our country I’d term as most explosive and who can command quite a following. Our social dynamics are changing and the environment is fast becoming conducive for a united revolt against the powers that be.

  3. I see Paul’s view that the dead woods must bow out as not only a positive suggestion but an immediate short term solution. There are some who are fed up of corruption in the parliament and would raise their hands for a change if the situation & conditions are right. At present, as David nicely puts it, OLIPPAC is a vehicle for autocracy much less responsively destructive to parliament sessions & voting on bills.

    A collection of members like Sam Basil, Parkop, Joe mek, C. Abel and maybe Philemon, Mekere and Chan to be this “interim regime change” is a suggestion. These guys have been vocal & portrayed characters that can decree as “power remains with the people” manifesto.

    However, David is dead right, awareness and eduction is the key and the long term solution to this beautiful country’s progression.

    1. Attempting to standardise qualification on leadership in our cultural diverse country is impratical. Leadership and how it is acquired in the sepik is different from the highlands, and different again from the trobriand islands for example.

      Problems always occur when we impose western values of leadership apon our leaders. The payment of brideprice and compensation by leaders are unacceptable to europeans and yet are the foundation of leadership values in some parts of our country. Compensation in Enga and Kula in Trobriand Islands are culturally different, yet both activities determine the casting of a vote in their respective areas.

      Further, consensus cannot also be readily achieved in terms of developmental expectations. The expectation of tolais in Rabaul may be different to goilalas in central province.

      Under these circumstances, perhaps a certain degree of guided democracy is required at this stage of our development and that equates to strong leadership to bring about the necessary reforms to put our country back on the right course.

  4. G’day Greg,

    Therein lies the dilemma. How to achieve a change in leadership without jumping from the proverbial frying pan into the fire.

    History is full of leaders who preach change for the better but in fact achieve just the same results as before or worse. This is because they are really offering no different options than those they replaced. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions’, as someone once said.

    There is nothing wrong with strong leadership provided that the law is obeyed by all and that even the country’s leaders can be held accountable for their actions. This requires transparency of process however and there must be a system in place to monitor the actions of those in power. Currently in PNG, this is the Ombudsman Commission. Now if the Ombudsman’s powers are to be reduced, then it can only be for one reason. Those in power want more.

    As soon as there is a power vacuum, someone will try to fill it. That’s human nature. However if those who achieve high office were only allowed a limited time in office and with no chance of re-election, perhaps this may help ensure poor leaders don’t get settled in the role. The US example where their President can only be re-elected a second time sounds OK but as one US voter lamented, ‘No matter who you vote for, you always get a politician!’

    Your points about the various cultural differences in PNG are well made. It unfortunately takes most human societies a long time to recognise that they need effective leadership and then to work out who is the right person or persons to do the leading. What often helps unite disparate human societies is a common threat.

    Kafu’s list of who may be already available in Parliament sounds pretty much on target. But would a coalition of those people be acceptable to the country in this hour of desperate need? Could a coalition of these people be able to take over the reins of government before the no confidence vote period starts again?

    The official PNG Opposition hasn’t had too much success with their no confidence votes, given the partiality of the Speaker and the actions of the current PM. They need to start ensuring they have the numbers before they let another attempt misfire. What could they offer those members who might be prepared to change horses in mid stream? Good, effective leadership as well as properly working government services? It might take a few more personal incentives to be doled out but then wouldn’t that make them the same as the current government team?

    I’m just afraid that the time may be running out where the situation can be saved. If that is so, I really fear for PNG and her people.

    Very interested in your thoughts and assessments.

  5. Paul,

    The harsh reality of any democracy is that leadership is determined by the numbers game. Kafu’s list is a dream but unrealistic, unless of course the likes of Charles Abel and Sam Basil etc. have the attraction to draw adequate numbers of other leaders to join with them and to give them that mandate to lead at national level…and I doubt if will happen.

    I agree that the Speaker has been partial thus removing the political check on government decisions. OLIPAC has placed us in this situation, and one can only hope for an appropriate outcome in Danaya’s case.

    It appears that corruption is on the increase amongst leaders, and if that is the case then it brings into question the effectiveness of the Ombudsman. Perhaps it is time for a review and the question is how can we improve on its effectiveness. Unfortunately I am not familiar with the Maladina Amendments. Are the Amendments in fact reducing the Ombudsman powers? These are issues we should look at carefully. We must also keep in mind that PNG is the only country in the world where the Ombudsman keeps a check on Leaders. The traditional role of the Ombudsman is to monitor mal-administration by government and its agencies, and we have learnt recently for example from the ‘Finance Inquiry’ that massive corruption exists in Government Departments and corruption continues to increase. The Ombudsman has in recent times concentrated their work more so on monitoring the Leadership Code, and it appears they have neglected their traditional role. Quite frankly I’m not surprised that they have now come under scrutiny.

    Your comment on whether “time may be running out”. My response is that we’ve been around for thousands of years and we’ll continue to remain for thousands more until the good Lord returns. But what’s important is that we have major projects comming on-line eg. the LNG project and numerous other resource projects, and its important for us as a nation to gear up quickly to ensure that the benefits of these resources are converted to sustainable industries and building infrastructure before everything runs out…and that requires good governance.

  6. Paul’s comment on the misfires from current opposition members does bring to light a few questions; is the opposition weak in lobbying? do they lack effective change strategies? are they just good leaders with a mouth but no teeth? or are they in wrong the company, in the wrong place?

    While some political scientist thinks OLIPAC will bring about stability in the government, we are seeing a slight downside of this law with the “numbers game”. OLIPAC was deemed the legal framework where there is stable dissemination of public funds & service delivery, why didn’t we see that it could encourage autocracy if not anarchy?

    About the Maladina Bill, its the product of OLIPAC. If it can get 83-0 voting, have these members really did their own research & deliberations before taking a vote? or is it a one-party policy, just vote, you don’t need to think!!!

  7. Kafu and Greg,

    There’s an old saying ‘That people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’. Corruption is not restricted to PNG or any one country but it really breeds in an exponential manner when there are no checks and balances in place. As someone observed, crime is the product of 95% opportunity and 5% intent. So when does corruption become crime? When it starts of course.

    But what is corruption? PNG’s laws were derived primarily from western concepts that were essentially based on Judeo Christian beliefs. That is not to say that other cultures and religions do not have the same basic tenets that help keep human society from breaking down (e,g, the original Ten Commandments etc.). It’s just how these laws are applied in practice.

    PNG has a basic dilemma to resolve. In another highly relevant discussion on this blog about the PNG Constitution, there were some very interesting insights into how the current PNG system of government may not be entirely appropriate. So is the traditional PNG culture still appropriate in today’s modern world, given these concepts were relevant for thousands of years but don’t seem to be entirely suitable today, when vast amounts of non perishable and easily hidden wealth are available to be distributed around. It is true that the Ombudsman Commission has not previously seemed to be up to the task it was designed to do but has this been due to underfunding or just poor staff work?

    Common, ethical standards for a nation are hard to define when, as Greg quite succinctly points out, there has traditionally been no common ground to compare each against the other. It is suggested that a simple code of ethics is always the best standard to espouse. For leaders and politicians, let’s suppose the following ethical standard was in place:

    1. Only accept what payment you are legally entitled to and publically declare all income. (Transparency)
    2. Ensure that the nation’s services and public servants are properly funded to perform those duties they are responsible for. This means stepping aside from actually trying to do the work of the public service (that was never expected of politicians anyway), but instead, hold government officers accountable and responsible for the public funds and facilities they are in charge of. (i.e. Separation of powers)
    3. No involvement or medalling in a guaranteed transparent and independent government staff promotion system based alone on proven merit. (Promotion on merit)
    4. Agree to resign or step aside from public office and submit to the legal system of your country if you have been accused of having broken the law. (Accountability and responsibility)

    As far as the PNG Opposition is concerned, there appears to be a yawning gap, (and I do mean ‘yawning’ in both senses of the word), of credibility where ethical standards are concerned. IF the PNG Opposition is really fair dinkum, they must draw the above standards (1 – 4) or something similar in the metaphoric sand and challenge all PNG politicians to either accept these standards or be accused of breaking them.

    There cannot be a grey area. Limited commitment equates to no commitment.

    The PNG Opposition also needs an effective Opposition Whip to explain to all members what they should or should not be voting for. Whether the vote on the Ombudsman’s powers (83 – 0) was actually understood begs the question: Does anyone in the Parliament REALLY understand what they are doing?

    If the answer is clearly ‘NO’, then perhaps Greg and others are right and a different system of government might be better for PNG. But who could ethically decide that question and by what means?

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