Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, boasted on Monday that he had achieved a ”realignment” of the country’s aid program from Australia as part of the recently negotiated agreement.
Australia has spent billions of dollars in aid in the country and, last financial year, the amount was tipped to rise to about $500 million – the majority of which was to be closely controlled by AusAID in a bid to avoid corruption.
Speaking just after arriving back in the country on Monday, an upbeat Mr O’Neill said his government would set the priorities for all of Australia’s aid programs.
”We have had experience of where AusAID programs have been running parallel to our own programs and, of course, when the AusAID programs are delivered, there is nobody to take carriage of the programs after they are completed,” he said.
Mr O’Neill said the country had developed programs to counter corruption.
”We already have AusAID workers in our financial treasury and across all departments, so I think those fears are unfounded,” he said.
While Mr O’Neill was happy to give some insight into what had been offered to achieve the deal, he gave few details about how asylum seeker processing would work, except to say would-be refugees could arrive ”any day”.
He could not say how many refugees his country would accept.
”I cannot know what’s going to happen in the future,” he said. ”I don’t think the numbers are going to be as big as expected.”
Papua New Guinea has battled corruption issues for years, leading to Australia’s aid donations being closely managed and monitored by Australian government interests.
Last year, Sam Koim, the head of Papua New Guinea’s new anti-corruption unit, Taskforce Sweep, described the country as suffering from a level of fraud that had ”migrated from sporadic corruption to systematic and now an institutionalised form of corruption”.
A spokesman for Foreign Minster Bob Carr said Australia always had a partnership agreement with Papua New Guinea over where aid money is spent, with Australia deciding the amount.
He said Mr O’Neill had identified health, law and order and education as the main priorities for Australian aid but not all the $500 million program would be directed to these areas.
”Each individual aid project needs to meet the test of merit and show to be an appropriate use of aid money,” the spokesman said.
But the country’s opposition leader, Belden Namah, spoke critically of the deal. ‘‘[The Prime Minister] has failed miserably by not consulting the people through their elected representatives on the floor of parliament,’’ he said. ‘The problem in PNG is not money.
‘It’s about bad financial management and corruption.’
A history of PNG corruption
June 19, 2013: Law enforcement sources tell Fairfax up to $500 million may have been stolen from PNG government legal aid funds over several years, which may have been siphoned to Australian banks.
October 8, 2012: An analysis by Task Force Sweep (TFS), a national corruption watchdog, finds up to half of PNG’s 7.6 billion kina (about $3.5 billion AUD) development budget from 2009 through 2011 was lost to corrupt practices or mismanagement by public officials and government departments.
16 February 2011: Australia’s High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea says he’s very concerned an Australian aid advisor may have been attacked for fighting corruption.
2011: Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer shows that 85% of PNG people survey found that the level of corruption has increased in the last three years.
2007: In a diplomatic cable later released by Wikileaks, the US embassy in Port Moresby refers to a PNG Health Minister: ‘mostly remembered for his insistence that he was just a politician and therefore could not be held responsible for the fact that the country’s hospitals had run out of medicines while his ministry was still flush with cash’.
with Daniel Flitton