Transparent corruption
Published July 13th 2007 in The National
Key Excerpt: "There is no doubt that preferential voting is a far more accurate way than the first past the post system of assessing the wishes of the voters and providing them with parliamentary members representative of their choice."

Full Article

FRIDAY again – and we note further progress in the process of our country’s national election.

Votes from our many electorate are being tallied in increasing numbers as polling moves to its final stages.

In a matter of weeks, we will know the composition of the new parliament and the identities of those who will lead Papua New Guinea for the next five years.

Has this been a successful election?

Much depends on the yardstick used to determine success.

If comparison is the basis, and violence and crime the specifics to be measured, then on balance Election 2007 has been no worse than its immediate predecessors.

Some would argue it has been better. There appears to be a consensus that limited preferential voting is a viable electoral system for PNG.

That bodes well for the future.

There is no doubt that preferential voting is a far more accurate way than the first past the post system of assessing the wishes of the voters and providing them with parliamentary members representative of their choice.

But great care will need to be taken to explain every step of the way as the country moves gradually towards full preferential voting.

No government since independence has made a concerted effort to teach people how their country works.

Successive PNG administrations have expected their people to be familiar with the intricacies of one of the world’s oldest systems of elected government, one that has been in existence for three quarters of a millennium.

But they make no attempt to give them the means to create that familiarity.

Until an incoming government puts national political education as one of its priorities, the role of Parliament will remain obscure to the bulk of our people.

Worse, the obligations and responsibilities of members will continue to be wildly misunderstood.

Much of our adopted system of government depends on trust and on concepts of honesty and fair dealing. Until these precepts are understood and put into practice by both the members and the people, the performance of our governments and of individual members will remain flawed.

We believe that the lack of a formal and ongoing campaign to acquaint people with their rights and their responsibilities as outlined in the Constitution and as determined by Parliament has led directly to corruption.

And that is one aspect of this election that we find alarming.

If there was one word that was pre-eminent during the election campaign, it was “corruption”. Scarcely a candidate failed to sound the corruption conch shell or beat the dishonesty drum.

The newspapers were full of some of the most overwrought election promises seen so far in PNG. And there was one unifying theme – the fight against corruption.

Voters were exhorted to cast their ballot for candidates who were allegedly incorruptible and who would carry the fight against theft and white-collar crime and corruption to new heights.

But in the towns and cities and villages of PNG, the stark contrast of the reality was stunning.

These very candidates were in the forefront of the vote-buying, the bribery, the promises of advancement, the purchasing of clan and tribal support – the whole sick structure of corruption that threatens to bring PNG to its knees.

That is bad enough.

But worse is the reaction of ordinary people for whom bribery, vote-selling and the chance to make a quick buck have turned our national elections into a kind of black market festival.

So while the man in the street berates the politicians for their corruption, their dishonesty, their lack of heart for the little people and so on, he does not hesitate to accept a cash hand-out, or a carton, or a couple of pigs if they’re offered by a political hopeful or a sitting member.

Then, of course, that candidate is the best of the best, the man who must be voted into Parliament. It seems to us that our national elections have become the very focus of corruption and that candidates and voters are equally responsible.

The gulf between what the public and our leaders claim to want and the reality of what actually happens in our country, appears to be widening daily.