THERE are a handful of politicians who would forego the electoral development funds that are allocated to each MP if only they knew how to. None is willing to stand up in Parliament and move a motion to suspend or remove the funds. It would be akin to shooting themselves in the foot.
This handful knows three things that seem to elude the majority of their colleagues.
The first is that it is not the politician’s job to be purveyors of cash or other goods and services to the electorate.
Secondly, doing so promotes and sustains the handout mentality which has become a curse.
Third, no amount of cash dished out by politicians will ever be enough for an electorate whose needs for development and cash are bottomless.
In 1982, when the slush fund was born under the then Somare administration, it was known by its rather humble name Village Services Scheme and the amount of K10,000 per MP was equally humble by comparison to today’s millions. Still it worked out to a handsome sum of K1.09 million – a sizeable amount given the size of the budget at that time.
Over the years, the amount has increased, always increase. It went to about K20,000 per MP around 1986, to K40,000 per MP a few years later, to K100,000, then K200,000 at which point a suggestion was put forward by long time member for Maprik, Sir Pita Lus, that the amount should be increased to K1.5 million per electorate.
It was laughed off as ludicrous but within a few months, MPs had voted to give themselves the amount. To keep donor consternation and outrage at bay, the MPs agreed K250,000 would be discretionary but K1.25 million would be tied to projects.
That was the going rate until the current administration in 2007 decided to pump K10 million into each electorate and some K200,000 per electorate under the National Agriculture Development Programme.
Other amounts were parked elsewhere in the Government system for MPs to pick up – some K200 million through the Education RESI funds, about K50 million through the District Services Improvement Programme and others through other sector funds such as through minor works and transport infrastructure funds.
As the amounts grew over the years, the number of MPs facing serious investigations by the Ombudsman Commission rose correspondingly.
This ought to have raised a red danger flag for MPs but it did not. The reason is simple. They were and continue to be under immense pressure from the electorates, who crave development, which has been absent seemingly forever. The public service machinery there to implement Government policies and programmes, seem to have developed lethargy of a rather chronic sort ever since Independence.
The public service story is yet another long and sorry one. Public servants too have their version of how politicians might actually have been the impediment to service delivery but that is a good yarn for another telling.
And so MPs, chosen directly by the people to represent them and to improve their livelihood or face the “the music” within five years, quickly saw one stark reality: If they did not elect themselves to be purveyors of goods and services, they would be voted out of office.
This they did. And so the rot set in. And it stayed. And it grew.
Since that humble beginning in 1982, there have always been guidelines for the disbursement, use and the remittance of public funds given through MPs to electorates. The problem has been remittance and actual monitoring on the ground to ensure that money said to have been spent on a certain project has been so spent.
And so the perception of corrupt use of public funds, of misuse and abuse of guidelines and established processes and procedures and of lack of accountability and transparency has hovered over the highest offices of the land – over the offices of MPs and over ministries and departments for more than 27 years.
Whether corruption actually occurs or not it often begins with a perception of corruption. Once that perception is formed, it takes a lot longer to wipe clean and sometimes never. That perception is now established as can be seen in the reports by Transparency International (TI).
The latest ranking, released last week, lists PNG 151 out of 180 countries surveyed, putting it at the bottom 30 of the most corrupt nations on earth. Whether or not PNG is that corrupt, nobody can tell for sure. Corruption, by its nature, operates in secrecy and discreetness so it really is most difficult to measure.
What is most unfortunate is the perception that corruption is allowed or is actually practised at the highest echelons of Government. This gives credence to reports such as that by TI.