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Whether it is "Redefining literary techniques and devices", "Justifying Papua New Guinea Literature", or "Translating the Bible into Anuki", these offer valuable reading for the paperless student of literature, and indeed the best sort of literary entertainment you can get out of Papua New Guinea. Check them out either on Soaba's Storyboard or The Anuki Country Press.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Corruption: where it all began

We seem to mislead ourselves with the thought that corruption must be defined in an intelligent manner; and then, once sure what it is, tackled head on.

That mistake we hold strong leanings to when we believe that the word “corruption” is a separate entity altogether and not an inborn thing. We forget that it has been present in our lives the moment we left certain things undone and then found it difficult to undo them – in order to free ourselves from the scrutiny of the authority that approves or disapproves. When we fear the word “corruption” we succumb to its very power of control. Under that spell we find it extremely difficult to redeem ourselves.

So where does corruption really begin?

Let storyboard do a bit of illustration here. When he was seven years old he was sent by his mother to fetch two water melons at a garden house about two hundred yards from the main village. Having collected the melons (and they were heavy) he had to struggle over a wooden fence with them. He could not let go of either one of them nor leave them on the ground while climbing over the fence for the fear of hungry pigs grunting close by. He did what was correct: nurse them and deliver them intact to his mother.

In the process of struggling over the fence one fell and broke much to the pleasure of the pigs. So he was able to take only one home. His mother sliced the melon to the required number of delicate pieces and these were then served to the elders by storyboard’s sisters.

Now the moment of judgement arrived soon after the visiting elders left the village. His mother asked what happened to the other melon. She had to ask that when she noticed that storyboard was not making a move to go back to the garden house to collect the other one, if they were both too heavy to be carried in one trip. So storyboard explained what really happened.

But the crime in all this was the time it took for storyboard to come up with some justifiable explanation of why he was able to manage one when he was indeed asked to produce two. Worse, the explanation came after the mother’s prompting; not before that.

Thus, the moral lesson. When in all our undoing we fall into the habit of needing time before providing an explanation of our mistakes, the mind that needs to be rightfully informed of our weaknesses feels vanquished. And if that mind happens to be someone we love then that little moment of misgiving on our part becomes unforgivable. It will thenceforth take years to undo.

This illustration we can regard as the origin of the word “corruption”. You will be mindful of a seven year-old’s inability to manage two heavy objects over a wooden fence. You will also be mindful of a mother’s anxiety in seeing just one melon provided when she had previously prepared two at the garden house for the guests. Wherever the scales of justice finally fall there is no denying that corruption had seeped its way in, into the consciousness of these two individuals. The demands of accountability, therefore, rule the day – for both parties.

Papua New Guinea as a young country went through a similar process from the sixties and seventies, trying to inch its way into the arena of global politics that demanded self-rule. There were rules in place; requests hinted upon; and activities carried out to warrant its status as a community of a people ready to govern itself. Its public service apparatus in particular was a worthy tool which a new and independent government would depend upon in order to implement and execute new policies.

What all that meant was a faithful translation and if need be re-wording of rules, freshly thought up or borrowed, that would help keep the new nation afloat for several years, at least until the country itself reached some stage of maturity. Within the sixties and seventies, for any government to come into power, it would need an efficient public service which would carry out its orders. When Michael Somare started serving the new nation in his capacity as Chief Minister and later the Prime Minister the demand on the efficiency and workability of that public service machinery was heavy. The Grand Chief himself was particularly vocal about the usefulness of the public service: that without it pulling up its socks the new and independent nation could go astray. And he was right. So where was there room for this new visitor called “corruption”? Even the chief himself would walk to work some mornings to save fuel and energy.

And then, and then, things began going wrong. Everyone was lending a hand in this business of government. An ordinary clerk in this great public service machinery became wiser than expected, most times overnight. Mr. Jones of George Orwell’s Animal Farm went missing suddenly. So who was there left to fear? A new elite was born. And this elite was no longer just attending to the chores of translating the laws word for word for the benefit of the masses but also re-writing the clauses of those laws wherever possible for its own benefit. Now we know very well that in Animal Farm no animal is allowed to sleep on a bed once enjoyed by humans. That would be uncouth. Until, of course, there is a select number that crawls into the mansion in the late hours of the night to rest a tired pot belly on one.

That select number would now go down, correctly, in our chronicles as a fine example of our attempt to define this word “corruption”. Never mind about the troublesome nakimi or tambu lewa (in-law) who comes loitering around your workplace each pay day. He ain’t corrupt. He’s doing the right thing. Nakimi madi, na narimu (Ah, beloved in-law, I’m here to wait for you), etc. Consider the seven year-old boy with the water melons. If he hasn’t yet started promising a pay rise for the whole of the public service for the next decade (because the elections are just around the corner), then he is the one planning a strategy by taking his time to explain where things have really gone wrong. Says his colleague, the well-respected lawyer and academic, “Alas, we are but our own worst enemy.”

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