Papua New Guinea | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea

Freedom in the World 2010

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Civil Liberties
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Political Rights
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A March 2009 Ombudsman’s report revealed serious misuse of government funds in Papua New Guinea. Despite growing domestic discontent and external criticism, lawmakers failed to address governance issues and rising violence, or improve economic and social welfare during the year. Meanwhile, lawmakers voted to significantly increase their own pay and other forms of compensation.

Papua New Guinea (PNG) gained independence from Australia in 1975. In 1988, miners and landowners on Bougainville Island began guerrilla attacks on a major Australian-owned copper mine, and by 1990, the islanders’ demands for compensation and profit-sharing became a low-grade secessionist war. Australia and New Zealand brokered a ceasefire in 1998 and a peace treaty in 2001, which called for elections for a semiautonomous Bougainville government and a referendum on independence in 10 to 15 years. Parliament approved a new constitution for Bougainville in 2004, and voters chose John Kabui, an independence advocate, as their first president in 2005. Australia remains deeply involved in recovery efforts, sending observers, peacekeepers, police officers and trainers, and material assistance.
In July 2007 general elections, Prime Minister Michael Somare’s National Alliance captured 27 of the 109 seats in Parliament. In August, the new Parliament elected Somare to a second term. Somare’s premiership has been plagued by controversy surrounding his alleged involvement in enabling Julian Moti—who was wanted in Australia for alleged sex crimes against a minor in Vanuatu in 2007—to escape to the Solomon Islands. Somare barred a 2006 special inquiry report into the incident from public release, though a leaked copy revealed recommendations for Somare’s prosecution. A subsequent Ombudsman Commission’s investigation into the Moti affair was not completed by the end of 2009.
Kabui died suddenly of a suspected heart attack in 2008, and James Tanis, vice president of Kabui’s Bougainville People’s Congress, was elected as the new president. Heavily armed roadblocks stopped residents of some regions from voting in by-elections, and many voters were unable to cast their ballots because their names were missing from the electoral rolls.
An Ombudsman’s report released in March 2009 noted that the education sector had misused $13.3 million in allocated funds. The European Union subsequently requested that PNG return $61 million provided for teacher training and the purchase of library books and textbooks. The report revealed that the government had also failed to account for tens of millions in the sales of mining and logging rights. Similarly, Australia reported in Aprilthat much of the $9.6 billion in aid it has provided since 1976 has been misused.

Logging and other forms of natural-resource exploitation have provided a significant increase in revenue for the government, spurring economic growth in recent years. However, poverty remains widespread, infrastructure is poor, and literacy, health, and other human development indicators all remain low. Parliament has failed to implement necessary reforms in the education and healthcare sectors, and the courts and other public institutions are understaffed and poorly resourced. Meanwhile, lawmakers unanimously voted in January 2008 to increase funding for their own allowances and perks, amounting to an additional $10 million annually for the national budget. Parliament approved the 2009 budget, which included $11 million as part of a five-year loan repayment arrangement to purchase a $46 million French-made jet airplane for the prime minister’s use. Lawmakers voted unanimously again in 2009 to increase their accommodation and transportation allowances by 42 percent and 50 percent, respectively; the increase represents another $35,000 per lawmaker each year, or $3.8 million for all 109 members of Parliament.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

PNG is an electoral democracy. However, the 2007 elections were marred by reports of fraud, lost ballots, attacks on journalists and candidates, and deaths. Voters elect a unicameral, 109-member Parliament to serve five-year terms. A limited preferential voting system allows voters to choose up to three preferred candidates on their ballots. The prime minister, the leader of the majority party or coalition, is formally appointed by the governor-general, who represents Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.
The major parties are the National Alliance, the United Resources Party, the Papua New Guinea Party, and the People’s Progressive Party. Political loyalties are driven more by tribal, linguistic, geographic, and personal ties than party affiliation. Many candidates run as independents and align with parties after they are elected.
Official abuse and corruption are serious problems. Although a number of high profile corruption cases are pursued each year and arrests are occasionally made, comprehensive reforms to increase transparency and the rule of law have not occurred. Senior officials generally avoid investigation by claiming executive privilege or parliamentary immunity and have occasionally silenced accusers through defamation and libel suits. In March 2009, the speaker of Parliament resigned amid allegations of misuse of parliamentary funds. In November, an investigation uncovered rampant corruption in the foreign affairs ministry and the immigration department, though no one was charged or arrested by year’s end. PNG was ranked 154 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of speech is generally respected, and the media provide independent coverage of controversial issues such as alleged police abuse, official corruption, and the views of the political opposition. However, the government and politicians have tried to limit critical reporting at times through the use of media laws and libel and defamation lawsuits. PNG has two state-owned and two privately-owned radio stations with national coverage, as well as a number of local radio stations. There are one commercial and three state-owned television stations. Internet access is limited by cost and lack of infrastructure, but the government does not restrict access.
The government upholds freedom of religion. Academic freedom is generally respected, but the government does not always tolerate criticism.
The constitution provides for freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally observes these rights in practice. In October 2009, police rejected a request by the Salvation Army church group to hold a rally against poverty; no reason was given for the decision. Many civil society groups provide social services and advocate for women’s rights, environmental conservation, and other causes. The government recognizes workers’ rights to strike, organize, and engage in collective bargaining. Marches and demonstrations require 14 days’ notice and police approval.
The judiciary is independent, and the legal system is based on English common law. The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal and has original jurisdiction on constitutional matters. The National Court hears most cases and appeals from the lower district courts. Laypeople sit on village courts to adjudicate minor offenses under both customary and statutory law. Suspects often suffer lengthy detentions and trial delays because of a shortage of trained judicial personnel.
Law enforcement officials have been accused of corruption, unlawful killings, extortion, rape, theft, the sale of firearms, and the use of excessive force in the arrest and interrogation of suspects. The correctional service is understaffed, and prison conditions are poor. Prison breaks are not uncommon: in 2009, 60 inmatesescaped from a Port Moresby prison in September, 28 escaped from a jail in Garoka in October, and 70 escaped from a jail in Lae in December. Military control and effectiveness are hampered by a lack of training and equipment, poor morale, low pay, corruption, and disciplinary problems. In October 2009, police officers received a 5 percent pay raise, the first since 2006. The incidence of street and other serious crimes, including kidnapping and murder, continue to rise. Also, weak governance and law enforcement have allegedly made PNG a base for organized Asian criminal groups.
Native tribal feuds over land, titles, religious beliefs, and perceived insults frequently lead to violence and deaths. Inadequate law enforcement and the increased availability of guns have exacerbated this problem. Attacks on Chinese migrants and their businesses continue to increase, as the native population is generally frustrated by high unemployment and the increasing numbers of Chinese migrants opening businesses and working in mines. Their resentment is further fueled by government rhetoric and media reports that emphasize the influx of illegal Chinese migrants and their involvement in criminal activities.
Discrimination and violence against women and children are widespread. Females face high mortality rates from the lack of basic maternal health services, teenage pregnancy, and domestic violence. Despite pressure from women’s rights groups, lawmakers generally oppose special seats for women in Parliament, and women are frequently barred from voting by their husbands. Although domestic violence is punishable by law, prosecutions are rare, as police commonly treat it as a private matter, and family pressure and fear of reprisal discourage victims from pressing charges. However, 25 women joined the military in July 2009 for the first time in PNG’s history.