This Wikileaks document is revealing because of the general lack of public discussion in Australia about the massive amounts of aid given to Papua New Guinea or the resource curse that besets the nation:
Papua New Guinea is entrapped by deeply corrupt politicians who have enriched themselves on resource revenues and Australian aid programs, according to United States diplomatic reports.
Australian government officials are reported as saying that generational change in PNG politics following the eventual departure of the ailing founding father and former prime minister Sir Michael Somare is a “false hope”. They describe the PNG government as a ”totally dysfunctional blob”.
The damning assessments of Australia’s nearest neighbour and former trust territory are contained in confidential US embassy cables obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to The Saturday Age.
In a 2008 briefing the US embassy in Port Moresby noted that resource revenues and Australian aid have served “more to enrich the political elite than to provide social services or infrastructure. There are no large-scale local businessmen, but numerous politicians are relatively well off”.
PNG is Australia’s largest recipient of foreign aid and in 2011-12 will receive more than $480 million. The Australian development assistance agency, AusAID, says PNG has “some of the worst health and education outcomes in the Asia-Pacific region”.
Anxious to avoid diplomatic offence, Australian government ministers and officials rarely talk openly about corruption and maladministration in PNG, preferring to speak of “strengthening governance” and helping “institution building”. But the cables provide grim assessments of PNG’s chaotic political system and failing administration.
In a May 2007 cable titled “Ponzi politics”, the US embassy gave a damning account of PNG politics.
“Steeped in traditional magic and innocent of modern economies, PNG’s citizens prove easy marks for Ponzi schemes which proliferate throughout the country,” the embassy observed. “Now it’s election time … and the politicians are dusting off their bottles of snake oil … it’s an appalling spectacle of disregard for governance.”