Reforms addressing corruption

Yesterday the world celebrated Anti-Corruption Day. The United Nations convention against corruption was signed on Dec 9, 2005, including the Government of Papua New Guinea. In 2020, PNG has much to share with the world about the institutional reforms that can be taken to address corruption, DIRK WAGENER writes

Major law reforms have been enacted in recent months, such as the adoption of the bill on the establishment of an Independent Anti-Corruption body.
This is a welcome step while there still remains more work to be done to ensure that these new reforms start to take hold across PNG and operate to concretely improve the lives of ordinary Papua New Guineans.
Across the world, data showed that corruption was undermining countries’ efforts to achieve the 17 sustainable development goals which guide national efforts to improve people’s enjoyment of their fundamental human rights.
For example, during the Covid-19 pandemic, corruption in many countries meant that health workers were not able to access the personal protective equipment they needed to protect themselves and others.
In other countries, corruption impacts the education system resulting in teachers not being paid, or lack of funding for books and materials they needed to teach children.
Or it can mean that the natural environment is harmed and polluted because corrupt companies can bribe their way out of environmental regulations and safeguards.
On the other hand, tackling corruption frees up scarce resources which can be devoted to achieving national development goals.
If less money leaks out of the system due to corruption, it can be targeted towards improving people’s lives.
Government funds can be spent properly on infrastructure, service delivery and people-centred welfare programmes – social safety nets that are so important during the global pandemic.
To harness the benefits that come from tackling corruption, in November the Parliament took a major step forward by passing the law establishing a new Independent Commission Against Corruption (Icac) which is a commendable achievement after many years of work.
The new Icac has two key mandates.
First, the Icac has the important task of preventing corruption, by educating officials about their duties, but also by raising awareness with ordinary citizens about their role in not participating in corrupt activities, or reporting them.

Whistleblower Protection Act was passed last year designed to protect Government officials and ordinary people who report corrupt behaviour. – Picture courtersy of Transparency International PNG

Secondly, the Icac has the mandate to work with other key law enforcement institutions to investigate and prosecute corruption.
The next step now will be to ensure that the new Icac is adequately funded and given the support of all Government levels and the community to discharge its mandate.
UNDP’s (United Nations Development Programme) experience from around the world showed that Icac’s were not effective if they exist only on paper.
Experience from the region, and the world, showed that the Icac must be given the space and support to do their jobs properly.
In support of the Icac Legislation, the Parliament already passed the Whistleblower Protection Act in 2019.
This law is designed to protect Government officials – and ordinary people – who “blow the whistle” on corruption, that is to report corrupt behaviour.
It is a very important anti-corruption law, but still needs to be implemented to clarify the practical processes that people must go through if they want to complain about corruption and have their rights and safety protected.
Funding from the Government will be needed to support the development of guidelines and training of officials.
The third key anti-corruption law reform that is still to come is a Right to Information Law, which will give meaning to Article 51 of the Constitution of PNG which gives every citizen “the right of reasonable access to official documents, subject only to the need for such secrecy as is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society”. A draft law has already been developed and the Parliament is encouraged to pass the law swiftly as access to Government information – and even more proactive disclosure by Government bodies – has been shown to be one of the most effective ways of improving public transparency and accountability.
Papua New Guinea has made great strides towards improving the legal frameworks that will help to stamp out corruption around the country, but there is more work to be done.
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted how important it is to have accountable, transparent and effective government systems.
Even during such a crisis, governments need capacities to respond quickly and to do so in ways that protect valuable government resources from misuse and misappropriation so that essential health and other services can be delivered.
Corruption thrives in times of crisis and the ongoing global pandemic has not been an exception either. During the Covid-19 health crisis, fighting corruption can mean the difference between life and death, adequate food or hunger, having a roof over one’s head or becoming homeless.
Therefore, this year’s theme emphasises that an inclusive the Covid-19 recovery can only be achieved with integrity and accountability.
UNDP stands ready to work with PNG as people continue to move forward to ensure that every single Papua New Guinean can benefit from this wonderful country’s abundant resources – and to live healthy, prosperous and empowered lives.
To recover with integrity, we need to stand #UnitedAgainstCorruption

Dirk Wagener is a United Nations
Development Programme resident representative