Papua New Guinea Post Courier

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (June 14) – The decision to establish a parliamentary committee to review the operations and powers of the Ombudsman Commission was legally made. The committee, headed by former deputy prime minister Moses Maladina, has been busy in holding meetings and trying to gather information and opinions on which to base their findings. It is a legitimate activity for our elected representatives to review the Ombudsman’s situation in Papua New Guinea life and we respect their attempts to do so.

[PIR editor’s note: One of the Ombudsman Commission’s roles is to investigate possible misconduct or improprieties of parliament leaders while in office. See earlier story  for more.]

However, we have grave doubts about whether the people who voted the Members of Parliament into office would support any clipping of the Ombudsman’s wings. There is no sign in public gatherings or in discussion venues like the newspaper and radio opinion programs that there is a groundswell of feeling against the Ombudsman’s actions and powers. Indeed, there is extensive evidence in letters to newspaper editors that the grassroots feel the Ombudsman needs more sweeping powers and more money to fulfill its legislated duties. Basically, many feel that there is a great and pressing need to more strictly check the activities of public leaders and to give the investigators the resources to take action.

Now we have Transparency International Papua New Guinea and a major church leader calling for tough action on leaders who are found guilty of corruption in office. Archbishop Sir Brian Barnes, the head of the Catholic Church’s Port Moresby archdiocese, believes that leaders found guilty of serious official misconduct should be banned from holding public office for the rest of their lives.

Sir Brian said the Ombudsman Commission needed strengthening of its role as watchdog over government. We agree wholeheartedly, for all governments, not just the incumbent one. There is a natural tendency for those holding the reins of power to go beyond the acceptable, especially if they are not held in check by the prospect of exposure and punishment. And that belief holds for all regimes, not just Papua New Guinea governments.

It has been plain for a long time that corrupt leaders can smile at the Ombudsman and walk away from their crimes of corruption with hardly a dent in their armor. If we were really serious, we would make sure that leaders could not avoid the effect of the law by merely resigning from office. Equally important, the slap on the wrist of a three-year ban from holding office does not deter the serious rogues in public life. We need to sharpen the watchdog’s teeth, not file them down to rounded-off stumps!

June 15, 2006

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