The Chief Ombudsman was invited by the United Nation’s Development Programme (UNDP) Papua New Guinea Office to attend “The Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC) workshop on Regional Anti-Corruption Trends: Constituency Development Funds and Anti-Money Laundering at the Parliament of New Zealand in Wellington, New Zealand from 28 November to 29 November 2022.
The Workshop by GOPAC brought together Parliamentarians from the Oceania Region including Papua New Guinea as well integrity officials, Ombudsmen and Leadership Commissions within the Region. The purpose of the workshop was to develop the capacity of parliamentarians within the Region to support anti-corruption awareness and programs within their role of parliamentary oversight.
The Chief Ombudsman contributed with discussions on “the need for transparency with Constituency Funds” given the role of the Ombudsman Commission of Papua New Guinea in over sighting the use of public funds to ensure accountability by being compliant in all aspects of the use of public funds. PNG is a country over-governed with many laws. Everything that is done is guided by laws, policies and guidelines. For the Ombudsman Commission, its duty is to ensure that there is accountability, transparency and compliance to improve and promote good governance. The end result is “service delivery” to the rural population.
The Chief Ombudsman stressed on the importance of ensuring that there is accountability and compliance, and that the Ombudsman Commission has maintained a good working relationship with the Parliamentarians with conviction to bring corruption under control. In countries where there are poor checks and balances and where where the bureaucracy is weak or where leaders are only worried about themselves that is when corruption creeps into our society. This we must avoid.
As an integrity organization, the Commission continues to maintain its performance in ensuring that the system of checks and balances that have been put in place by the Constitution are followed religiously.
In PNG, the Constitution assists all of our leaders including myself, in determining how we should conduct ourselves, by laying down our duties to the People through the Leadership Code.
The Leadership Code assists in the process, by laying down a universal code of morality and ethics. It seeks to ensure that leaders are playing by the same rules.
In enforcing the Leadership Code, the Ombudsman Commission since 1976 has referred a total of 134 leaders to the Public Prosecutor for prosecution before the Leadership Tribunal. It is noted that out of the 134 referrals, 89 were Members of Parliament, while the others were Members of the Bougainville House of Representative, Constitutional Office-holders; National and provincial Departmental Heads, Heads of State-owned Enterprises and Political Staff with 48 referrals to do with the allegations of misapplication of public funds.
In ensuring transparency in dealing with public funds, the Commission most often used its powers under Section 27(4) of the Constitution to prevent possible breaches of the leadership code and to protect leaders’ integrity and has for many years used that power sparingly with 2 instances outlined below:
• In the 2022 National General Election many electorates had ten, fifteen or more candidates. The result of this was that many successful candidates won well below 50% of the vote. Some MPs were elected to Parliament with the support of only a percentage of the eligible voters in their electorate. When these same Parliamentarians have such wide-ranging discretionary powers to use the “public funds”, it is inevitable that some of this money ends up being used for “vote buying” instead of for its intended purpose. The administration of the discretionary funds has failed mainly due to excessive political interference in the process.
• Bougainville Members’ Constituency Grants – A Direction was issued in September 2017 after complaints were received that Constituency Funds were being paid into Members of the House of Representatives’ personal Bank Accounts.
With the Commission’s assistance, separate trust accounts were created for each constituency and the Commission’s Direction also extended to compliance with the Policy Guidelines for the Constituency Development Grants.
The Chief ombudsman also informed the audience that in ensuring accountability, transparency and compliance for service delivery, the Commission has also revised the old Annual Statement Form which was designed for use in 1975 and made it user friendly for our leaders. The improvement is to guide leaders in the performance of our duties and responsibilities. This improvement is a significant change made to combat corruption which has evolved and mutated over the years and is now slowly eating away the very fabric of our society.