In 2020 we found that over the previous decade, support for anti-corruption organizations in Papua New Guinea had gone through a boom and bust cycle. This cycle, also seen in other parts of the world, sees new governments coming in with strong anti-corruption rhetoric and policies, initially allocating more funds to anti-corruption organizations than the previous government, and even creating new organizations. to fight against corruption (the arrow). However, over time, as corruption scandals come to light, the government underspends and undermines the anti-corruption organizations it originally promised to support (the bust).
In PNG, we have seen this trend under the country’s former Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill (PM from 2011 to 2019).
When current Prime Minister James Marape replaced O’Neill in 2019, he pledged to fight corruption, created a investigative committee in the controversy UBS agreement (with the resultant report recently tabled in parliament), has set up a parliamentary committee in corruption in the health sector, adopted whistleblower legislationand created a new Independent Commission against Corruption (CCIC). His government has also allocated more funds to key anti-corruption agencies.
In our previous analysiswe have highlighted some of these initiatives along with an increase in allocated funds to suggest that the new Marape government, like the previous government led by O’Neill, had ushered in a first and modest anti-corruption boom.
Budget allocations are, of course, an important indicator of the government’s intention to support its policies and rhetoric. However, it is also important to consider whether budget allocations translate into expenditures.
The publication of the 2022 budget allows us to understand how much anti-corruption organizations actually received in 2020. So now we can answer the question: have the main anti-corruption organizations received the promised allocations under the Marape government?
We find that, overall, for five key anti-corruption organizations – the Ombudsman Commission, the new ICAC, the National Fraud Brigade, the Office of the Auditor General and the financial analysis and oversight – much of the allocated funds promised in the Marape the government’s first budget for 2020 have not materialized. Figure 1 shows that at 2021 prices, anti-corruption agencies received almost 10 million kina less than what they were promised. Budget allocations for these organizations have been reduced for 2021 and 2022.
Figure 2 shows the allocations and expenditures of these organizations as a proportion of the overall budget since 2008. Arguably, this allows for a fairer comparison over time, as it adjusts to the amount of money available to governments, which increases during good times and reduces in evil.
The figure shows that while the Marape government promised 0.33% of the budget to these five anti-corruption organizations in 2020, they only received 0.27%. This is slightly higher than the percentage of the budget they received the previous year (0.26%).
In 2022, the relative funding of the country’s anti-corruption organizations is expected to drop to the lowest level since our records began in 2008. This is despite the government allocating, at 2021 prices, 4 million kina in 2021 and 1.9 million kina in 2022 for the new CCIC.
Progress on new ICAC slowed due to ombudsman difficult arrangements within the framework of the organic law on the Independent Commission against Corruption.
When we explore individual agencies, there is good news. In 2020, the Fraud Squad received almost double what they were promised (in real terms, they received 1.35 million kina against a budget promise of 720,000 kina). All other anti-corruption organizations received less than their allocation.
So, it seems that at least one aspect of PNG’s boom and bust cycle is alive and well. Despite pledges to fight corruption, financial support for key state-based anti-corruption organizations has declined. Funding for these agencies appears to have collapsed.
It is true that the government has had to deal with an economically and socially devastating pandemic, which has shaped funding decisions. And he made efforts to report expenses related to COVID-19. However, some have raised concerns on the lack of transparency associated with funding to deal with COVID-19, suggesting that strong anti-corruption organizations are needed more than ever.
The financial trends we identify are not necessarily the end of the story. The government can still decide to reallocate funds to support these anti-corruption organizations. It’s also possible that whoever takes the reins of the new government after this year’s election will increase allocations to these agencies. The boom and bust pattern we identify suggests this is more likely with a new prime minister. However, this trend is not “prepared”. In PNG politics, as in many other aspects of the country, it is always important to expect and hope for the unexpected.
This research was supported by the Pacific Research Program, funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The views represent those of the authors only.