CROOKED PNG FINANCE OFFICIALS GO

Editorial

UNPUNISHED

The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Sept. 27, 2010) - Morris Magari Sama of Ganai village in Central’s Abau district has been committed to stand trial for theft.

The 44-year-old man is alleged by the state to have stolen more than PGK2 million [US$756,000], the property of his clan. The money in land royalty is said to have been made to his name and the money was deposited in his private account.

A first payment of PGK673,214 [US$255,000] was made in December 2007 for gravel extracted from portion 373 at Baubauguina plantation in Abau. A second payment of PGK2.3178 million [US$838,000] was made in August 2008 for the plantation itself (portions 372, 387, 389, 385 and 373).

That much is known already from court documents. The purpose of this discourse is the manner in which this money was obtained.

We learn once again that documents for these payments were falsified with the collaboration of "senior officers" from the Department of Finance.

We learn further that money was paid to finance officers to expedite the payment.

So, Sama gets to stand trial but what about the un-named finance officers? Time and again this same allegation has come up in relation to various dubious and questionable payments in the past.

Such allegations led to the suspension and sacking of certain senior officers from the Department of Finance. The same officers today were said to hold very senior positions in other departments of the national government, apparently with the full concurrence of the powers that be in political and bureaucratic circles.

The same allegations of repeated collusion and corruptive behavior by Finance Department officers led to the Commission of Inquiry generally into the Department of Finance.

Although the commission has completed its task after a protracted and costly inquiry, the report cannot be publicized because injunctions have been taken against its publication.

Reading from published transcripts of the inquiry, while it was in progress, we are able to tell that serious and numerous evidence alleging collusion and bribery and corruption, of the sort alleged in the current matter before the court, was presented to the inquiry.

While the law pertaining to public finances and to the process of claims are sufficient, it is the non-compliance by public officers that has enabled the laws to be subverted.

One of the most significant breaches of duty by public officers brought before the inquiry was the incredible fact that finance officials simply disobeyed direct orders from the executive government.

Government exists because of a stringent, hierarchical command structure. It emanates as law from parliament, as policy from the executive government which the rest of government is called upon to take as directions which must be carried out to the letter.

Before the finance inquiry were evidence of numerous instances of senior finance officers, including those occupying management positions, who shrugged off NEC directions as mere policy statements which need not be obeyed. Such positions had their ripple effects right up and down the finance hierarchy.

The attitude, if expressed in words would be, "If the boss can flout lawful directions, so can we."

The subversion of legal process and the practice of corruption among the rank and file in Finance Department had its birth here - in direct disobedience and disregard for lawful directions by senior officers.

Now, we have yet another case where a multi-million-kina payout was made while the finance inquiry was still sitting and investigating this very process of unlawful payments.

It would appear that the inquiry was a big waste of time and money, and that it accomplished nothing whatsoever. Such was the contempt with which finance officers held the inquiry that they would appear to have continued right on with what they have been doing, almost in the sure knowledge that they would never be found out.

And that begs the question: Why have they not been found out?

Matters such as the current case about the man from Ganai village, Abau.

What stops the police fraud squad from questioning this man about his accomplices in the Finance Department?

What stops police from questioning, and indeed charging, finance officers who have colluded?

That is the only way the rot can stop – when the people concerned are fearful that they will be found out. Presently, they continue their corrupt practice knowing that they are safe.

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