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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Feb. 12) – A Papua New Guinea judge yesterday made some startling observations, saying a culture of public fraud is growing in the country.

Justice Bernard Sakora said there was ample anecdotal evidence that "light-fingeredness is well and alive in this country".

He said his comments were not related to a decision he was delivering on the application by the Ombudsman Commission to restore its earlier direction to stop a K3.7 million payment to a group of Bewani landowners from West Sepik Province. 

He said he was merely commenting on the anecdotal evidence that had come before the courts during the short period of the country’s history since Independence in 1975.

He said the trust the people of Papua New Guinea once had in their public officials had been dissipating at an accelerating rate, adding that public money and public assets were unfortunately no longer considered safe in the hands of public officials.

Sakora said his experience as a judge over a number of years had shown that government checks in six and seven-digit amounts seemed to have had no trouble in being transacted over the counter and negotiated by third parties through businesses, banks and even trade stores.

"Public funds and property are not safe from this light-fingeredness," he said, adding there seemed to be "no problems with those government checks growing legs and going from one department to another so the payee does not see the checks at the end". 

He said government checks stamped "non-negotiable" could be negotiated easily by second and third parties.

Justice Sakora said he had been constantly amazed with both criminal and civil cases coming before the courts relating to theft of public funds and property.

"We Papua New Guineans have, in a very short period of time, come up with all sorts of devices and means to manipulate the system.

"We are aware of this. There has been far too much manipulation of the system to the collective detriment of the people of Papua New Guinea," Justice Sakora said, adding it was a sad indictment of a country not yet 30 years old.

"The can’t-dos and should-nots do become possible — the irregular becomes accepted. We manipulate the system to benefit ourselves to the detriment of others," Justice Sakora said. 

February 13, 2004

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