OPINION: By Peter Solo Kinjap
The critical observations by some of our intellectuals, scholars, senior statesmen and former prime ministers on the level of corruption in Papua New Guinea must command the attention of all levels of government, stakeholders, development partners and society at large.
Let me establish that it takes generations to change a society. It is not easy to bring together the two ends of the spectrum: government policies at one end and expected results delivered at the other.
I was raised among rural people and I still live in my rural village in the Tambul-Nebilyer District of the Western Highlands Province. I have also travelled to very remote villages in my country.
And I have lived and worked in Port Moresby – a rapidly growing city with mixed attitudes and cultures.
But regardless of every effort made by successive governments and workforces over the years, I am afraid I must say we have not built a steady, stable, vibrant and progressive society that can guarantee a prosperous future for every child born today.
This is the nightmare of today’s generation. And it will be visited upon the next generation soon enough
The seniors in our society today probably had the best part in the latter days of colonialism but they replaced little or nothing.
Lower health survival
Health centres and aid posts in rural areas that provided an 80-100 percent chance of survival for a very sick person 30-40 years ago now provide less than a 60 percent chance. In worst case scenarios, no chance.
Many of these places have been closed; others downgraded; a few survive with the mercy of good Samaritans.
Primary, vocational and secondary schools that provided a good chance of successful completion for every child now provide 60 percent or less and the competition for entry into tertiary institutions is cutthroat.
Vital road infrastructure that provided the impetus for steady economic growth and improved social services pre-independence era and in the early post-colonial stages has been reclaimed by Mother Nature.
There no longer good governance and effective management that in the past ensured every kina spent achieved the expected results.
Our parents and grandparents were not regular wage earners, but there was always a place to sell their copra, cocoa, coffee and garden foods so they could pay school fees from what they earned.
Today the trees are still there but we cannot do what they did because the facilities no longer exist.
Unpaid school fess
We were privileged to complete primary and secondary education without having to worry about unpaid school fees. The same is not true for today, pushing more school aged kids on to the streets.
Airfares for a short 15-minute flight from the nearest town to a remote outstation has rocketed from K27 to K230 in 20 years.
The gap between rich and poor widens day by day. In a sense there is really no tomorrow for anyone born today. Productivity is down and we achieve little in tangible terms. We are living on borrowed time.
The country just experienced a controversial vote of no confidence to change an allegedly corrupt prime minister. It was unsuccessful.
Today we look forward to the 2017 general elections. Every candidate and current member of parliament will go out in force telling every eligible voter that they have the answers to poverty. The same words our parents were told in the previous generation.
But dreams, aspirations and expectations vary with generations. Young people today are better educated and more exposed to the demands of modern lifestyle and the socio-economic issues that come with it. They are more aware and hostile than their parents.
With our vast resources, we should have a long promising future. But corruption always threatens it. Corruption is eating our heart out. We do not want it to eat our children.
Corruption encourages crime
Corruption has turned many young people of high potential to crime. It has turned many to violence. Our development policies for the next three to five years must be targeted at the immediate well-being of today’s generation and their children.
We hear people say – and it is true – that Papua New Guinea is rich in natural resources. Yet it faces a very difficult future as corruption is rife, law and order broken down, violent crimes escalating and the government is struggling to maintain authority.
Living standards and annual per capita income have barely improved since independence. Mining revenues and generous foreign aid have not been invested in roads, schools and health.
Infant and maternal mortality rates are close to those of sub-Saharan African countries. Population growth is high and job creation is low.
The rising number of unemployed young people is feeding crime and civil unrest. The lawlessness scares off investors and tourists. Dependence on borrowed money sees PNG living beyond its means.
Should this downward trajectory continue, PNG could become a failed state.
Perhaps there should be provisions in our laws that prescribe that embezzlers, fraudsters and thieves of public money be sentenced to death.
Chinese corruption law
Chinese corruption law is now an independent crime category separate from other property and economic offences. This reflects a growing recognition among Chinese lawmakers and political leaders of the corruption epidemic.
Graft and accepting bribes are capital offences under current law. In recent years, China has imposed death sentences on offenders.
A customs inspector chose to abuse his position by accepting millions of yuan to allow smuggled goods to enter China. The judge reasoned that the inspector’s criminal activities resulting in “countless losses in taxes” had an extremely negative influence on the organisation and seriously undermined the integrity of the government.
Despite the fact that the officer voluntarily returned some money and showed remorse, the judge said the offence was so grave and its social effects so negative, the death penalty was the only appropriate punishment to deter and educate the public and to serve justice.
We have many similar cases in Papua New Guinea. We have people who held responsible positions and embezzled millions of kina from the public coffers through dubious means, including false claims, misappropriation and bribery.
They were given suspended sentences and set free. Even those convicted were not given life sentences. Should not that be a concern?
I am aware that there was a public debate in our country on the death penalty. Papua New Guinea may wish to go down that path. It is a matter for the legislature to consider.
Otherwise we may consider strict Islamic justice: hand amputation for theft.
Today in Papua New Guinea, corruption is killing our country and theft is injuring it. What do you think? Should the death penalty be used as a measure to wipe out corruption and theft in Papua New Guinea?