The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (May 7) - It is so very simple. Yet our inability as individuals and as a nation to commit ourselves to eliminating corruption in Papua New Guinea increases daily.

Corruption has become an accepted part of daily life and is even seen as a victory over "the system."

Many pages have been written about the inability of that system to manage the country, the inappropriateness of the form of government chosen for Papua New Guinea and the inability of people to understand and conform to the laws of the land.

But we believe most of those earnest pages amount to little more than a weak apologia for our unwillingness, apathy and pure laziness, both as individuals and as a nation.

It is harder to be honest.

It is more demanding to play the game according to the rules.

It is easy to be corrupt and to bend the laws to suit our own ends.

Since her appointment to the Bench, Judge Catherine Davani has shown a refusal to take the easy decisions, even when such action would not have placed her reputation in question.

Speaking in Lae recently, Judge Davani noted, "Individuals must place their commitment to this country before the need for personal or tribal gain."

If we as Papua New Guineans care sufficiently about our nation and its future and about our own children and their future, then the call to place commitment to this country first should be heard and acted upon by every citizen.

Papua New Guinea’s only female judge acknowledged that "it is the individual who must make the choice even at the risk of being ostracized from the tribe, (or of) being killed or sacked."

For many, that’s too hard a choice.

For them, well – lead an unexceptional life as a faceless member of the group, be it clan, tribe or company work force.

Don’t rock the boat.

Let someone else blow the whistle.

Why put my life on the line for a principle?

Other people are making thousands out of illegal deals – why not me?

We’ve become accustomed to pointing the finger at various high profile figures against which accusations of corruption have been made.

The mere fact that he or she stands accused is enough for us to make up our minds, no matter how ill-equipped we may be to do so, about the guilt of a suspect.

Guilty, we chorus from the rooftops.

Our lack of knowledge of the cases concerned and our ignorance of the circumstances surrounding those stands starkly revealed when time after time the accused walks freely from the court, proven to be innocent of the accusation brought against him or her.

Why are we so ready to believe the guilt of a person accused of corruption?

For the most basic of all reasons: our own sense of guilt.

Most of us are guilty of some level of minor corruption in our daily lives.

We seek to make a distinction to quieten our consciences.

Taking that box of felt pens from the office cupboard was not stealing, now was it?

Of course not -- it would have been opened and distributed eventually anyway.

Taking PGK20 million [US$7 million] from consolidated revenue wasn’t stealing, now was it?

Of course not – it was just sitting in the account unused and now it will be back in the economy once again.

Let’s be in no doubt – there is absolutely no difference between those two scenarios.

They both involve stealing and the thief in each case is a corrupt criminal.

But we’re prepared to make every kind of excuse in the matter of the felt pens; in fact we would think it ridiculous to even mention their removal.

Until we change that attitude towards corruption, we cannot hope to fight it effectively.

It’s not just the multi-million kina thefts that are corrupt.

It’s the state of mind that leads to theft, trivial or huge that is corrupt.

Judge Davani drew attention to our public service, long since politicized.

The public service is tasked with delivering goods and services to the people.

Too often, those goods and services end up in the hands of corrupt officers.

Then, blindly, we blame "the system."

It’s time we looked at ourselves, changed our priorities and put our nation first.

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