Lawrence Stephens thinks a better approach would be to increase the number of judges and strengthen existing institutions such as the police and the courts.
In Transparency's last global perceptions index PNG ranks alongside Nigeria at 144 of the 177 nations surveyed....177 being the most corrupt.
Chairman of Transparency International PNG Lawrence Stephens speaking with Geraldine Coutts.
STEPHENS: First of all our ranking, yes, 144 and to our embarrrassment we're alongside countries like Nigeria, with its immense wealth and immense poverty combined, so it is quite a worry to us the perception of corruption in Papua New Guinea. The possibilities of us improving are always there and ways of doing that are to improve the governance structure. The Independent Commission Against Corruption would be one way or could be one way of doing that, so to could be strengthening the police, improving on the records of the public solicitor and the police for investigating and prosecuting cases which need to be attended to and also the Ombudsman Commission. If we can keep focusing on improving these institutions, we can go a long way. What we need to be able to show is that people can't break the laws within impunity.
COUTTS: On the Ombudsman Commission though, I just wonder how seriously it would be taken, given the recent example of Oil Search contract, that the government signed and the Commission launched an inquiry into the process of how those contracts were drawn up and whether they were legal. It was signed on 13th. March and the Ombudsman Commission didn't know that, so it was quite late in calling for that Commission, but they're going to continue. So if the Ombudsman Commission doesn't even know when there's a possible breach of the law, how would any strengthening of it help?
STEPHENS: Yeah, I'd say post-factor, they have said that there appears to be breach of the law. Many commentators tell us that there has definitely been a breach of the law in that the loan was not referred to the parliament and if it's found that the procedures followed were incorrect, then there could be some repercussions, hopefully a very stern reminder to the people involved in the drawing up the agreement, that you can't just ignore rules that say huge debts like this have to be approved by parliament. It can't just be something signed up between ministers and a lending agency.
COUTTS: But if governments, and not just this one, but any government continues to run their own race, the corruption. I'm not saying this is a corrupt act that hasn't been proven. But if there is corruption within the ranks anywhere, you've got to know about it in the first place. I know that the task force Sweep has just had its worst first sentence, but look at the effort that that's taken to get there and so I'm just wondering how will an Independent Commission Against Corruption actually be able to work within the existing system.
STEPHENS: That's a very good question. We have existing agencies that aren't apparently able to work with the efficiency that we require. Another agency to that it's like watch this space to see how things go. But in reality, we have a moribund ?? system, a system which just is not able to respond adequately to the numbers of cases that are before it and this is one of the things that worries us. So what we see is the importance of strengthening those institutions that we have and if we create new institutions making sure that they have the teeth to be listened to.
COUTTS: And would that include the potential for a special court that deals with corruption only, exclusively?
STEPHENS: Yeah, I've heard the suggestion, a special court dealing with corruption might be what we require. I'm not so convinced that that would be the way to go. The danger though with that as I see it would be that you would be having a couple of judges perhaps focused entirely on that issue, whereas we have a huge range of issues that need the attention of the courts. So, I guess my off the cuff reaction would be I would prefer see strengthening and widening, broadening the number, increasing the number of judges, so that individual judges can be identified as the one handling a particular corruption case, but that you don't have all corruption matters handled by one or two individuals. I'd like to see it spread. Personally, I think that's the way you would ensure that you have a good number of eyes looking at individual cases of corruption and corrupting generally.