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239 Corruption is rampant and largely unchecked in the Pacific island nation of Papua New Guinea (PNG).1 Grand corruption has many faces in PNG: nepotism, administrative corruption, and state capture. Systemic nepotism , including ghost workers on a payroll and political favor-based hiring, has cost the state millions of dollars in just one province, as seen in the case of the Southern Highlands provincial administration. Administrative corruption reportedly takes place in a formalized system of commissions on real or rigged procurement contracts, out of court settlements, and other payments made by the state to private actors. State capture is evident to most observers in the forestry and petroleum extraction industries, which are dominated by select foreign interests licensed by the state. Petty corruption exists, but it appears to be more opportunistic and less widespread than grand corruption. The majority of the 6 million Papua New Guineans live in traditional societies, with more than 800 sociolinguistic groups. Given that 85 percent are subsistence farmers, most Papua New Guineans do not have cash on hand to pay bribes, although they may trade in other goods and favors. Moreover, as evidenced by the paucity of schools, community health clinics, and roads in much of the country, many rural villagers have minimal or no interaction with the government, and thus have little opportunity or need to pay bribes on a day-to-day basis. That said, every five years many political candidates in this constitutional parliamentary democracy are known for buying blocks of voters at election time, by negotiating for an entire village’s vote. In urban areas, traffic police 9 Combating Corruption in Traditional Societies: Papua New Guinea sarah dix and emmanuel pok The authors thank Diego Miranda, Ron May, and Fiona Hukula for their comments and contributions. 09 0328-0 ch9.qxd 7/15/09 3:49 PM Page 239 240 Sarah Dix and Emmanuel Pok collect fines without giving receipts when their supervisor is not present. To get a phone line installed or repaired, people pay the state-owned phone company cash or beer. Sometimes this is given as a bribe (in order to get the service ) and sometimes as a tip (after the installation). To explain why corruption persists despite the existence of arguably adequate anti-corruption laws and institutions, analysts and the public commonly cite widespread public tolerance of corruption as the cause.2 According to this perspective, that which Westerners consider to be corruption is acceptable in PNG, as a modern expression of Melanesian “traditional custom .”That is to say, corruption is a function of PNG’s culture, one that is not attuned to modern institutions.While this view acknowledges that other factors such as state weakness, poor governance, and the lack of institutional capacity are present, its emphasis on the pervasiveness of a corruption-abiding culture makes it difficult to imagine how reform-minded policymakers could bring about change.3 However, this chapter argues that while Papua New Guineans do draw culturally embedded lines between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, this culturally relative demarcation does not mean that Papua New Guineans are indifferent to or generally approve of scams, graft, or bribes—especially when they do not perceive direct benefits for themselves or their social network. Although there are public examples of a community’s and clergy’s protection and forgiveness of individuals indicted in scams (like the National Provident Fund in 1999), it does not necessarily follow that these supporters would overlook such transgressions in another community.4 The number of complaints lodged with the Ombudsman Commission in its regional offices, as well as in its head office, demonstrates that even without whistleblower protection , a considerable number of citizens do acknowledge corruption, and do not regard it as acceptable. As this chapter argues, the way political leaders have used certain components of traditional culture—namely, the kinship system and deference to “big men”—help to explain the persistent and increasing corruption in PNG.5 This is not to say that culture is an excuse for corruption, or that reformers should attack culture to reduce corruption. Rather, this chapter points to the need to reduce the apparent conflict between kinship or social network obligations and public service.6 To achieve this reduction, this chapter argues, policymakers need strategically to recast existing national institutions in ways amenable to local-level, traditional institutions now at risk due to the leaders’ perversion of the wantok system and because of the overwhelming pressure of big men that is entrenched in politics...


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