During my recent visit to the country, not a day passed when a land-owner or NGO didn’t complain about the negative effects of Western corporations on daily lives; exploitation supported by a corrupt political elite.
Some recently released documents via Wikileaks provides a grim picture. Both are written by Australian journalist Philip Dorling.
When Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, was unceremoniously removed from office last August, the private US intelligence company Stratfor was desperate for inside information to pass to its clients, especially international companies with interests in PNG’s burgeoning resources sector.
Stratfor had one well connected operative who could provide insight on PNG politics, a Brisbane based consultant closely engaged in business in Port Moresby. “Source CN65” was quickly tasked and his subsequent reports, released by WikiLeaks, provide a direct insight into the chaotic and often corrupt PNG political scene.
CN65 didn’t mince words about PNG’s new Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill. In an email to his Stratfor “source handler,” CN65 suggested the new prime minister had a keen sense of personal financial interest.
“Quite corrupt. I know him. … O’Neill is not any more pro-Western than anyone else up there. As long as he makes money for himself (he has significant business investments in mobile phones, among other things), he couldn’t really care less.”
Asked what the new Prime Minister would want from Australia, CN65 gave a succinct reply: “He’ll be interested in just one thing – money. He will be wanting increased aid from Australia, and untied aid, i.e. direct budgetary support as opposed to aid tied to particular projects and administered by Australia.”
PNG is Australia’s largest recipient of foreign aid and with more than A$480 million allocated in 2011-12.
Stratfor’s Source CN65 was revealed by WikiLeaks last week to be the former Australian Senator, Bill O’Chee. A Queensland National Party Senator from 1990 to 1999, O’Chee was the first ethnic-Chinese Australian to serve in the Australian Parliament and was also the youngest person to serve as a senator. He remains active in the Liberal National Party in Queensland.
Reporting on PNG’s international relationships, O’Chee expressed the view that domestic political turmoil was unlikely to have much effect. Asked about PNG’s growing ties with China, he observed that “the links between PNG and China won’t be changed by who is in power, as China already has a substantial foot in the resources sector – Ramu NiCo and Marengo Mining, for example, as well as sniffing around PNG LNG.”
“The main factor limiting China’s ability to reach into the country is the inability of the PNG politicians to be efficient in receiving aid offers. For example, most of a US$200m loan facility remains undrawn because they can’t work out how to utilize it. The thing about Melanesia is that politicians are not pro-active, and certainly not policy active. They are instead led by people from outside. The factors that determine future direction are: first and foremost, how Australia throws aid around; and what other countries put on offer.”
More broadly O’Chee concluded: “The real challenge for PNG is that it is too corrupt to develop efficiently. … The standard of the political class is clearly lower than it was 15 years ago. The old guys got corrupt and lazy, and outdated. The newer guys have been obsessed with personal wealth, and lack the respect for the offices they hold, which the previous generation had. This, at least, was the view presented to me privately … by one of most senior diplomats.”
Wikileaks Cablegate from last year in the Sydney Morning Herald:
Papua New Guinea is trapped in ”Ponzi politics” being practised by deeply corrupt politicians who have enriched themselves on resource revenue and Australian aid , according to US diplomatic reports.
Australian government officials are reported as saying generational change in PNG politics following the departure of founding father and former prime minister Sir Michael Somare was a ”false hope”, and the PNG government was a ”totally dysfunctional blob”.
The damning assessments of political and economic life in Australia’s nearest neighbour are contained in confidential US embassy cables leaked to WikiLeaks.
In a November 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 from the country.
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”.
The leaked US cables are ambiguous about Sir Michael’s financial interests and their effect on political decisions and public policy. However, they noted a ”strange” shift in PNG government policy that potentially increased its financial exposure in legal action being taken by Bougainville residents against company Bougainville Copper. ”Given the way things are done here, the general suspicion is that PM Somare has been given a financial incentive to reverse the previous government’s position on the case. Certainly, it would be very typical of Melanesia if what the government saw as in its nation’s interest also redounded to the individual benefit of its leadership. It is worthy of note that Paul Nero (sic, Nerau), a plaintiff and the current PNG [consul-general] in Brisbane, is very much a Somare man.”
The US cables confirm that, privately, Australian officials have no illusions about the state of the PNG government. After a mid-2007 discussion on political and economic developments with Australian high commission staff in Port Moresby, the US embassy reported: ”One Australian analyst described generational change as a ‘false hope’, while other Australian officers described the PNG public service as a ‘totally dysfunctional blob’ that is great at planning but appalling at implementation.”