The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Nov. 8) – Corruption in Papua New Guinea appears to have more heads than the legendary Medusa. No sooner do the authorities get to the root of one corrupt situation but new examples spring into life.

The National carried a report on Friday that said two former senior officers of the Narcotics Bureau are continuing to receive substantial salaries, despite not having worked for the Bureau for more than 10 months.

We would be telling less than the truth if we said we were shocked and surprised by the news. We are not.

The National Narcotics Bureau has been an ongoing disaster since the departure of Father Liebert, the charismatic and committed Catholic priest who came to the job determined to stamp out the growing drug scene in this county. Since those days, the Bureau has suffered from bewildering changes of location, coming under first one department, then another.

Compounding this, the anti-narcotics body has too often been headed by a succession of highly unsuitable appointees.

Their tenure of office has at times suggested very little concern for the issues that the Bureau is supposed to address.

The usual cry of "under-funding" will doubtless break forth, but since that is a common denominator for all Government instrumentalities, it carries less weight than it otherwise might.

When asked about the payment of high salaries to former staff, one of the two Bureau chairmen, Pr Charles Lapa, conceded that all manner of shady payments may have been made to members and former members of the organization.

Few people would doubt Pr Lapa's financial probity, so when he refers to a sum of almost half a million kina in NNB salary and allowance overpayment, the media and the public both need to sit up and take notice.

He added that the organization had not been working properly when he was appointed to it two years ago.

But he said that he had not been given the means to do what he had been appointed to do.

Whatever the reasons for this situation, one fact could not be clearer.

The only people to take the Narcotics Bureau seriously are those who stand a fair chance of making money from it.

Nobody could deny that for some years the stench of corruption has surrounded this vitally important organization.

There have been physical confrontations between would-be bosses. There have been large and unexplained gaps in the financial processes of the Bureau.

There have been allegations that some of those closest to the Bureau's operations have been making hefty profits from its activities, particularly the seizure of illicit drugs.

And there have even been suggestions of shadowy and profitable links between certain former senior staff and the drugs-for-guns trade that threatens to crucify the lives of many of our people.

It is high time that the Government took this matter in hand.

The Bureau should be re-staffed from top to bottom, properly and transparently funded, and its functions outlined with the utmost clarity.

It should be completely independent of government departments, in particular those of the Police and Correctional Services.

At the head of this body there should be a small Board of Commissioners made up of irreproachable community figures.

These could be drawn from groups such as judges and well-respected senior magistrates; outstanding young women leaders, perhaps with academic or business sector experience; relevantly qualified specialist doctors, welfare and social workers; teaching religious brothers and sisters used to daily inter-action with youth; an iconic sports figure or two, and above all, responsible recognized youth leaders of both sexes.

PNG cannot delay longer over this issue.

The welding together of drugs, guns and money occurred long ago.

Today that triangle of evil can be extended to include the lives of thousands of our youths of both sexes.

Add to that the growers of drugs for whom the crop offers income in uncertain times.

Then there are the street sellers, often addicts themselves, for whom the trade meets both their insatiable personal needs, and those of their ever-widening circle of customers.

And at the end of the line - always - the tragic spectacle of the drug users, helpless victims of their own making, and society's apathy.

The drug scourge is everybody's problem.

November 9, 2004

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