A recent ACTU delegation to Papua New Guinea found they had arrived at an important and defining time in PNG’s development.
Report Of ACTU Mission To Papua New Guinea, October 21-25, 2001
Prior to the October 2001 visit to PNG the ACTU had not sent a delegation for more than 15 years. We have provided assistance to the PNG TUC in its minimum wage cases on several occasions (the last being the 2000 case) and maintained regular contact through John Paska but despite APHEDA and other ACTU initiatives in the region (e.g. East Timor, Fiji) we have not put a strategy in place which has delivered regular and significant assistance to PNG workers.
The delegation was six in number made up of ACTU/Affiliates/APHEDA (5) and a member from the student group PNG Solidarity Action. The participants are listed in the attachment (1). We spent three and a half days in PNG from Sunday to Thursday and met with a cross-section of unions, students and university officers, community groups, womens’ leaders and a Member of Parliament. A list of meetings is included in the attachment (2).
Papua New Guinea is a country which is at a relatively early stage of transition from a largely subsistence rural economy to an urban industrial/service economy. Since independence in 1975 it has struggled to provide a better life for its people but has sometimes fallen back due to poor leadership, corruption and external economic factors.
Some general statistics for PNG are :
- Population: 5 million
- Economic growth: 2%
- GDP per person: $800
- Minimum wage: $16 per week
- Unemployment: 40-60% in urban areas
- Proportion working in agriculture: 70%
- Main sources of export income: Coffee, cocoa, copra, oil/gas, gold
- Women in workforce: 5%
- Infant mortality : PNG 60/1000, Australia 6/1000
- Literacy : Men 74%, Women 65%
A national election is to be held in mid-2002 at which the newly formed PNG Labor Party will contest a number of seats. At present the national government is headed-up by Sir Mekere Morauta the former Head of the PNG Reserve Bank. Although unpopular he is said to have prevented PNG from bankruptcy by taking over from the profligate Bill Skate who is currently facing charges of corruption.
In all of our meetings the delegation was greeted with warmth and enthusiasm. The lack of substantial interest shown by Australia/ACTU in past years was noted but there was a view that we have arrived at an important and defining time in PNG’s development and for the future development of the union movement.
The strong overall impression of the delegation was that we needed to do much more to establish better relationships and deliver effective assistance to the workers of PNG.
We met with a wide range of individuals and organisations. Their ability, dedication to building a better society, high levels of intelligence and political consciousness was second to none.
This report provides a general outline of what we found. We made it clear in all of our meetings that we were there to learn, not to preach.
On the final afternoon we met with PNG media and released a statement which is attached (3). This sets out the general impressions of our visit.
PNG Trade Unions
During our visit we met with the following unions :
- PNG TUC – Executive and Council
- Nurses Union
- Teachers Union
- Public Employees Union
- Maritime Union
The total affiliated membership of the PNG TUC is around 35,000. Two major unions are non-affiliates, the Public Employees and the Teachers who between them have around 34,000 members. All-up union membership appears to be around 80,000.
The PNG paid workforce is thought to be around 300,000 – 500,000 (no definite figures were available) which would mean a union membership level of around 20-33% of the workforce.
The TUC affiliation fee is two kina per member per annum ($1.20) and it operates basically with a National Secretary (John Paska), an Administrative Secretary and a General Assistant. It is housed in its own premises in Port Moresby and it has some basic but mostly outdated office technology. The affiliation fees barely cover running costs of the office. There is minimal administrative support. That the organisation continues to be a real force in PNG is a testament to the dedication and commitment of John Paska and the officials of the unions that remain affiliated. It was stated that the Union movement is one of the few organisations left in PNG willing and able to speak out against national and international decisions that negatively effect the country and the working people. The TUC stated that they wish to consolidate the union movement in PNG and to cement relations with the ACTU.
All unions are challenged for resources and often find it difficult to pay affiliation fees. The PEA nominated affiliation fees as a reason for their continued decision to remain unaffiliated with the TUC. The PNGTA said that the continuing absence of the PEA from the TUC influenced their decision. Nevertheless, delegates from both of these unions attended the TUC meeting and official reception on the last day of our visit. Their attendance was welcomed by the TUC and seen as hopeful for the future.
The 2000 Minimum Wage Case was the first since 1992. The PNG TUC presented the case with the assistance of Howard Guille (NTEU – QLD) who was provided as a result of a request for help to the ACTU. The case itself was very successful with the tribunal recommending an increase in the minimum wage to 60 Kina per week. Unfortunately the government has rejected the recommendation and the current rate is only 24 Kina or around $16.
The PEA is a relatively wealthy union with 20,000 members covering mostly public employees. It operates a number of commercial ventures including the PNG Avis franchise, an insurance company, and a small loans facility. It has a number of staff involved in media, industrial, research and administrative work. It disaffiliated with the PNG TUC over ten years ago due, it states, to dissatisfaction with its representation on the Council, and problems with financial transparency and accountability. Currently it has a budget of around two million kina and is a paid-up affiliate of Public Service International (PSI). In discussions with PEA and PNG TUC it appeared that there are some prospects of PEA rejoining the TUC providing the issues mentioned earlier are resolved by both organisations.
The Teachers union has 14,000 members out of a total of around 30,000 teachers. The responsibility of the teaching is essentially that of the national government although the provinces (19 in total) have a part of the responsibility for the early school years. The major industrial issues are wages and worsening conditions as the national economy deteriorates. Teacher’s wages have lost real value while benefits like the provision of housing are disappearing due to government failure to maintain or invest in such infrastructure. Education is available on a “user pays” basis following an IMF conditional rescue package several years ago. The officers of the teachers union were “suspicious” of our visit and may have believed we were attempting to somehow railroad them back into the TUC or preach our Australian solutions to their problems. After we cleared up the purpose of the visit relations were more positive and it appeared that there may be some potential for the union to rejoin the TUC.
The Nurses union has 4,000 members out of a potential 7,000 and is an affiliate of the TUC. Both the health system and the education system have been chronically under-funded for a decade or more. HIV-AIDS is a major health problem in PNG. Nurses are poorly paid and called on to perform duties that would normally be expected of a qualified doctor. Drugs and equipment are often unavailable, especially in rural areas. As an occupation that is largely filled by women they are subject to discrimination and physical abuse in many instances.
The Maritime Union of PNG covers all aspects of work on and off the wharf. There is 100% coverage in stevedoring and seagoing labour. Wages for members vary from K100-K150 per week. The MUPNG are attempting to set up a credit union in PNG for union members. They are also in a joint venture with the PEA and community groups owning Workers Mutual Group70%, PEA 20%, MU PNG 10% community based. WMG’s buy-out of HIH PNG took place on the 23rd October 2001. HIH PNG moved away from HIH Australia earlier in the year. Through WMG members have their own medical centre giving them access to a doctor with a 90% rebate to all members and their families. The MU PNG are also attempting to start an industry based superannuation scheme.
Our general conclusions in relation to unions are :
1) There is a clear need for developing the skills of union leaders in terms of organising, bargaining and administration, economic issues, privatisation and globalisation
2) While being careful in regard to the amount of assistance that is practical some effort should be made to upgrade the technology available to unions, particularly the PNG TUC
3) Unions in particular areas should pair with their counterparts in PNG and promote opportunities for building relationships and providing appropriate assistance. Any initiatives in this area to be co-ordinated by the ACTU and PNG TUC
4) APHEDA should examine the potential for union development activities in PNG
5) The ACTU should work with the PNG TUC and its affiliated unions to develop an AIDS education program for workers in PNG utilising AusAid funding where available
6) That a further delegation visit PNG in 2002, preferably before the June National elections
7) That the ACTU support the PNG TUC proposal for the use of the remaining Australian/ILO funds for the employment of a Women’s and Education officer by the TUC
The health standards in PNG are poor for the general populace and becoming worse. Nurses and doctors are underpaid (and sometimes not paid) drugs are in short supply and equipment such as all cancer-curing radiotherapy machines out of order throughout the country. The outcome of a failing health system in a country with low living standards is low life expectancy (58 years), high infant mortality and a large proportion of the community having chronic health problems with treatable conditions.
The public health system is under heavy pressure with long waiting times for user pays but subsidised treatment and the absence of appropriate medication and technology. The bulk of the population use the public system with the upper income 20% having access to private medical clinics or alternatively treatment in Australia, both of which offer a much better standard of care.
HIV-AIDS remains a major problem in PNG with tens of thousands of female and male victims to date and a relatively high rate of continuing infections. For those without money HIV-AIDS means being sent home to live out their remaining life – there are no facilities or drugs available to treat those infected. HIV-AIDS’ victims are also shunned by their communities and/or their families and they die a lonely death.
Australia is commencing a $60 million program to assist PNG to bring the epidemic under control however a number of views expressed to the delegation were that the overall effort is too late and may have little effect. Scope exists for trade union involvement in an AIDS education program.
The education system is on a user pays basis from the earliest primary years right through to university. Fees are payable up-front in advance with primary years being 30 Kina a year and higher levels in later years. Because of the inability of the poorer section of the community to pay, children often cannot attend school or, if choices have to be made, male children are sent with girls kept at home.
Examinations are undertaken at years 8 and 10 with only the most able students proceeding to higher levels.
Education is essentially academic with inadequate opportunity for vocational development during schooling or on graduation.
Facilities at many schools are poor (especially in rural areas) with no library or textbooks, no paper/chalk/pens etc. At the UPNG it was expected that the finances for the last two months of the year would not be received from the government.
The Australian aid program was considered critical for the future of PNG. Around one third ($300 million per annum) of our overseas aid is provided to PNG for specified project work.
Although the aid was referred to as “boomerang” (because much of it returns to Australia as wages or equipment purchases) it was highly valued.
The number of “overpaid”, underqualified consultants associated with the AusAid program was a source of criticism along with the lack of work given to PNG firms.
Little or none of the AusAid funding has been provided to improve labor standards or union development in recent years. The ACTU/APHEDA need to do more to have input to the Australian aid program to achieve greater influence over where it is spent, the amounts allocated to various areas and the value for money achieved by the projects.
Government, Labor Party
The PNG Parliament is made up of a single house of 119 members. The national government will be up for election in June 2002 for a five-year term. The present Prime Minister is Sir Mekere Morauta, the former head of the PNG Reserve Bank – he took over from Bill Skate a populist but apparently corrupt former PM who now heads-up the Opposition.
Unions and other community groups have formed the PNG Labor Party and intend to contest seats at the 2002 election. John Paska, the Secretary of the TUC, has been endorsed for the metropolitan seat in Port Moresby. PNG Labor is hopeful of winning a significant number of seats in the 119-seat parliament and work toward a stronger outcome in 2007. The Party needs assistance in a variety of ways leading to the 2002 elections.
The voting system is being changed from the 2007 election to a preferential as opposed to first past the post system which exists today. In addition, steps are being taken to reduce the “party swapping” (often accompanied by bribes) for MP’s to switch their allegiances – in future if an MP leaves the Party he/she was elected to they will only be able to become an independent MP and will not be allowed to vote on budget or constitutional matters. These steps are an endeavour to remove the instability and corrupt practices which exist at present.
One issue which was of serious concern was the prospect of vote rigging in the election. False enrolments, stuffing of ballot boxes and multiple voting are said to be a major problem. We were requested to assist in obtaining independent observers for the election next year either through the United Nations or the Commonwealth countries.
Corruption is spoken of as the most serious single problem confronting the country. From the highest level in politics it is distorting decision-making, enriching a small number of recipients and allowing exploitation of PNG’s people and resources. Those involved are often not caught or severely punished. If it is not brought under control the future development of PNG and the welfare of the ordinary people will be seriously at risk.
A statement on corruption from the Catholics Bishops Conference is attached. (4).
There is virtually no social security for the people of PNG.
- Unemployment benefits None
- Sickness benefits None
- Maternity Benefits None
- Health Care Limited
- Old Age Pensions None
There is a superannuation system which employers and employees contribute to however this fund also has been the victim of mismanagement and corruption. As the bulk of the population (especially women) is not engaged in paid employment any employment based retirement system will not provide sufficiently to protect people in their old age.
Women in PNG
There is a strong network of women’s groups across the country. The National Council of Women coordinates 42 groups representing women from many sectors throughout PNG.
In brief, while there is legislative and policy support for the equal participation of women in all forms of social and economic development, this does not translate into practice, especially in rural areas. It was reported to us that only 5% of those in paid employment are women, and that 40% of women remain illiterate. In the Public Sector, women held only 9% of senior positions in 1995. Of the Members of Parliament, only two are women.
A worsening economy and increasing social dislocation has resulted in women experiencing increasing rates of abuse, rape and domestic violence. A recent attempt to introduce legislation against rape in marriage was rejected by the male dominated Parliament. The corrupt and often brutal behaviour of a predominantly male police force leaves women with no confidence of protection or safety. It was reported that 68% of adult women in PNG had at some time been the subject of violence.
Women told us that they specifically feared the possibility of forced sterilisation as a consequence of rapid population growth and the government’s economic policies which are subject to IMF/WB structural adjustment programs. They also specifically raised the problem of ‘comfort women’ in mining towns. It was reported that women, often girls, were being sold for this purpose, that children are abandoned when the women return home, and that there is a huge problem with the spread of HIV.
The ACTU and TUC should work with PNG Mining Unions (and possibly the CFMEU) to develop projects funded through aid agencies to educate male workers in the mining towns to deal with the problems associated with abuse and exploitation in the sex industry.
The PNG women representatives at our meeting expressed a strong conviction that having more women elected to Parliament would assist in bringing positive change that was much needed for women in PNG. The women’s network is planning to stand women candidates in electorates across the country in the 2002 elections. The ACTU women delegates were requested to assist in the establishment of mutually supportive relationships between Australian groups such as WEL and Emily’s List and the PNG NCW, especially the Women in Politics group.
Earlier this year the students’ movement and a number of community groups organised a sit-in protest against the government’s privatisation program. Despite it being a peaceful demonstration it was broken up by police with teargas and clubs. Following this action the students and police clashed at the University of PNG where two students and two other protesters were shot and killed along with a number of others who were seriously injured.
The UPNG students we met were passionate, articulate young men (and a few women) with a determination to improve conditions in their country for all people. The events of the night following the protest when four people were shot remain unclear. We heard several different accounts of the events. The police actions of shooting tear gas and bullets into the crowd were universally condemned. We were told that violent police behaviour is not uncommon.
The expulsion of several students which followed the demonstration and violent clash with police seems harsh. The Vice Chancellor claimed that the students were not expelled because of the protest but for other actions. In some cases it was alleged that the other actions related to acts of violence and intimidation.
It is in the government’s interest to suppress student demonstrations against economic ‘reform’, a policy that the government follows, because students are well respected and have high status in the community. The report from the inquiry into the student deaths has been finalised but has still not been released.
The ACTU should :
i) express its opposition to the Vice Chancellor about the termination and suspension of students for relatively minor offences not including those charged with serious damage to property or physical violence
ii) request the PNG Prime Minister to release the findings of the Commission of Inquiry into the violence and deaths at the University earlier in 2001
Due to the parlous economic situation the World Bank and the IMF have been involved in PNG in helping to provide development assistance. This has of course been conditional on a Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) being agreed to by the government which was in no position to bargain.
The SAP which is currently being implemented includes two key elements of privatisation and user pays.
In the area of privatisation the following publicly owned services are among those up for sale :
- PNG Telecom and Post
- Water storage/distribution
- PNG Airlines
The fear of most people is that the sale process will enrich those who benefit from corruption, the new owners will exploit their market position and that the proceeds of the sales will be dissipated through projects which will not be in the long-term benefit of PNG.
The user pays system now applies to virtually all services in PNG including education at all levels. For primary school children parents are required to pay 30 Kina up-front for a child to attend school. If you cannot pay there is no entitlement to schooling. As a consequence the children of the large numbers of the poor often don’t go to school or alternatively, if there is a choice, the male child is sent to school with the female child kept at home.
The work of both the ILO and the ICFTU in PNG was valued however in terms of its influence on overall developments it could only be regarded as marginal.
The PNG TUC is unfinancial with ICFTU-APRO having not paid affiliation fees for several years. It also has not yet fully expended a (US) $50,000 grant from the Australian government through the ILO which was made in 1995.
There is a need for both the ILO and the ICFTU to do more to assist the TUC.
Reception by PNG TUC/Unions
The PNG TUC, its Secretary John Paska and the President John Mahuk from their scant resources provided the delegation with every assistance. We would not have achieved the contact with the range of organisations in the three working days had it not been for their help and that of their union affiliates.
Australia has had an historical connection to Papua New Guinea for over 100 years. It is our nearest neighbour, we administered the country for over 50 years, many Australians worked in PNG in a variety of capacities, we fought there in wartime and we promoted independence in 1975.
PNG is a relatively small country with around five million people, English speaking and with daunting social and economic challenges. Its people look to Australia for help and assistance to make progress in the future.
For many years the ACTU has not engaged with PNG in any significant way. The need is clearly there for us to do more. The time has come for a major effort over the next decade or more to provide stronger friendship and assistance to the PNG workers and their unions.
Bill Mansfield ACTU
Sandra White IEU
Peter Bruekers MUA
Karen Iles CFMEU
Chris Chevalier APHEDA
Jesse Wynhausen PNG Solidarity Action
Corruption in PNG
Statement of the Catholic Bishops of Papua New Guinea
The Catholic Bishops of Papua New Guinea along with many ordinary citizens of this country believe that one of the most serious problems our country faces at this time is corruption. The nation is in danger of surrendering to a “culture of corruption”, that is, a permanent way of thinking and acting, within all levels of society, which accepts corrupt practices as the normal way of life in PNG. Once a “culture of corruption” is embraced and strongly in place, it is very difficult to root out.
The word “corruption” in English and Tok Pisin is now used everywhere in PNG. People know what it means. And while many may not be able to define the word, most can describe practices they accurately consider to be corrupt.
Corruption is Everywhere
Already, it seems, corruption has firmly taken root. Serious irregularities within the National Provident Fund (NPF), the Public Officers Superannuation Fund (POSF), the National Gaming Board and other statutory bodies show this. Allegations of fraud, mismanagement and misappropriation of funds arising from investigations into suspended provincial governments and elsewhere also indicate that corruption is an immense problem. Talk on the street and at the village markets reveals that people assume that corruption exists everywhere, within the highest echelons of government down to its lowest levels in the district and council ward. When people in high places gain advantage and enrich themselves through corrupt practices, those at other levels of society follow their example. Soon everyone finds a way to get what he or she believes to be their share even though they must break the law to do so.
The “wantok system”, a good thing in many situations, is an abuse when officials appoint friends and relatives to high paying positions for which they are not qualified. This is a form of corruption that encourages incompetence and is detrimental to the common good. Many corrupt practices of leaders arise because of pressure from wantoks who have unrealistic and even illegal expectations of their “Bigman”. We all share blame for corrupt behaviour if our own demands force our leaders to behave this way.
Bribery, a very common form of corruption, is alleged to occur more and more frequently everywhere in our society. It is reported in politics, in the courts, in business arrangements, and in government departments, in fact wherever people compete for more powerful and better paying positions.
Misappropriation and Stealing
In an environment where it is tolerated and even condoned, corruption follows the big money. Here in PNG, contracts for infrastructure development, like road construction and maintenance, as well as economic development projects, such as logging operations, are prime targets for corruption and some have come under suspicion. It is not uncommon to hear that fully funded projects are never completed or, in some cases, ever begun. Yet the money disappears. A number of provinces with multi-million kina budgets have very little to show for the large amount of money that has passed through their provincial and local government departments over the years. White-collar crime seems to be flourishing. People complain that basic services, health and education, are not properly funded and delivered. Where has the money gone? Who is responsible for this and will they someday be held accountable?
There are corrupt individuals who take advantage of poor and careless government administration, teachers, health workers, public servants and also some Church and NGO workers, who collect their fortnight pay even when they are frequently absent from work or have stopped working altogether. These people are able to defraud the government because other corrupt officials turn a blind eye to their dishonesty. Some Members of Parliament rarely visit their electorates or are often absent during parliamentary sessions and yet they would never neglect to collect their high salaries and entitlements. And we should not forget mentioning the so-called “slush fund” which is alleged to be a source of much abuse. At a time when our country is facing serious social and infrastructure problems, it is truly wrong for any government to give so much money away to be used at the discretion of the Members of Parliament. The abuse of these funds is very clear over so many years and yet the Government continues to dish this money out to the MPs. Here, as elsewhere, the lack of transparency and accountability hides a serious problem. “Get into Parliament and get rich” has become a sad reality that encourages violent elections. The opportunity for corrupt gain seems almost limitless. Dishonest and greedy people think of new ways to cheat the government, private business, the community and each other every day.
Corruption among Youth
Very troubling now is a trend toward corruption among the youth. Wholesale cheating in school exams, sometimes instigated by teachers themselves, is thought to be widespread in some regions of the country. Failing school children can buy credits and distinctions on custom-made certificates. Young people routinely use fraudulent or borrowed school certificates when applying for jobs and for places in institutions of higher learning. And, it is said, some politicians “buy” young men, who are all too willing to accept money or material goods, to assist in political “campaigns” which feature threats and intimidation. More and more adult leaders are willing to corrupt young people and youth groups for their own purposes. Our youth are learning how to play the corruption game very well.
Today our young people, who are the largest single population group in this young country, are learning the principles and values they will later apply as adults when shaping the society of the future. We adults, all too anxious to get all we can for ourselves now, should stop and think about the moral values we are passing on to the next generation.
To the young men and women of this country we say this, “Do you love your country Papua New Guinea? Are you proud of your province and community? Do you look forward to a brighter future where all people of PNG will enjoy peace and prosperity?” If so, then reject all forms of corruption; take pride in personal honesty and fight for a fair and just society.
There are many honest and dedicated men and women of admirable reputation in government, the public service, the private sector, the churches and the community at large. They are the potential saviours of this nation. We call on all men and women of integrity to stand firm and not give in to the temptation of corruption and easy money. Rather, together let us fight corruption, courageously report it, speak out publicly against it, and blow the whistle on corruption wherever it occurs.
Message for our Prime Minister
We speak now to our Prime Minister, Sir Mekere Morauta. When you took office, you promised to fight corruption aggressively. You and your government have made much progress in this and we commend you for it. We congratulate the police who have begun investigating and prosecuting more and more corruption cases. The Ombudsman Commission has become more involved too. We support all of these efforts. However, much more needs to be done. An all-out battle against corruption, no matter what the financial and political cost, is necessary. A strong policy against all forms of corruption should be backed up by fearless and swift action throughout the country, in every province, district and council area. Such an initiative has our full support and, we believe, is certain to have the support of the majority of Papua New Guineans as well.
We believe that corruption not only threatens the well being of our nation but may also endanger the very survival of Papua New Guinea as a viable democratic state. Therefore, we urge that every allegation of corruption be aggressively investigated. When the evidence justifies it, the accused should be diligently prosecuted so that no criminal escapes justice. Law enforcement authorities and the courts should act fairly but also quickly in these matters. At present, there are too many delays. Wrongdoers should be held accountable for their actions and when found guilty be punished.
Integrity of the Legal System
Papua New Guinea is fortunate to have an independent legal system that has maintained unquestioned integrity through the years. The Supreme Court as well as National Courts enjoy an outstanding reputation. However, district, local and village courts are not always well regarded because they at times experience great pressure in places where political or ethnic rivalries exist, resulting in justice being misplaced. Nonetheless, we look to the courts with hope and trust as our nation tries to rid itself of the curse of corruption.
We are seriously concerned about the low standard and quality of prosecution by police as we see, time and time again, cases that are supposed to be straightforward, being dismissed and known criminals freed. The Police Commissioner himself has expressed frustration about this. We call on Government to improve the training and resources of police prosecutors so that unmistakably criminal actions are properly prosecuted and offenders are brought to justice through the courts.
The spread of corruption will not stop unless speedy and uncompromising action is taken in every instance. The web of corruption that has begun to cripple our nation will begin to unravel when law-breakers, one after another in quick succession, are seen to pay a heavy price for their crimes. Prison sentences for corruption should reflect the degree of damage done to society. Those who steal should make restitution, perhaps even have their property confiscated to repay what they have stolen.
Accountability must become a doctrine of government. The right people, those committed to strict financial accountability and those who insist that subordinates carry out assigned tasks faithfully, should be put in supervisory positions. Most of all Papua New Guinea needs good leadership at all levels, men and women of exceptional honesty and integrity to show the way. Only then will we be able to establish in Papua New Guinea a “culture of honesty and integrity”, that is, a permanent way of thinking and acting, within all levels of society, which accepts honest, just and fair practices as the normal way of life in PNG. And, with God’s blessing, once a “culture of honesty and integrity” is embraced and strongly in place, Papua New Guinea will experience greater peace and prosperity for all its people.
Issued by: Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands