A jet plane landed at Port Moresby’s Jackson International Airport not many weeks back and created a stir.
The plane seemed to have been Pacific island hoping and there were some suggestions the persons aboard were of dubious character and that certain actions of the crew were suspicious.
Even the Customs and Immigration officials were baffled, as were Civil Aviation.
In the end, all turned out to be alright, that there was nothing sinister about the purpose of the flight or the actions of the crew, but the assurance had to come from high up the political ladder and, unfortunately, well after much had been made of the issue in the media.
PNG seems prone to these kinds of sudden visits, clandestine or otherwise that are shrouded in mystery which serve to raise more questions than they settle.
During the Somare era, there was the report about a certain multi-billionaire of Thai origin who flew in, again with little knowledge of people on the ground who should know. He reportedly toured parts of the country including Wewak and the hinterlands of East Sepik looking at prime agricultural and timberland before flying out again. The personality, like a snail, seemed to leave a silvery trail behind him and not all of it complimentary.
There was the other case of a certain Papua New Guinean politician and a lawyer getting mixed up with personages of Taiwanese origin, the latter of which ended up being indicted at Taiwanese criminal courts.
A former PNG prime minister ended up in Taiwan when he was officially meant to be in Australia where he proudly announced a US$1 billion deal which money was never heard of again in PNG.
A more recent meeting by PNG politicians and a person with a police record in another country is the celebrated case of Djoko Tjandra.
Tjandra entered the country, received political patronage from a number of senior politicians including their active soliciting for him to gain citizenship, all the while he was facing serious charges back in his home country – Indonesia.
Today the granting of that citizenship is in question and his passport is withheld pending a review of the processes involved in his attaining citizenship.
These incidents seem to follow a similar pattern. PNG officials – normally Customs and Immigrations – raise the alarm about the sudden unannounced arrival of persons or crafts on PNG shores. Then the all clear is sounded from political sources which seem to be well aware of the movements of these persons but who seem to have contempt for the Customs and Immigration laws and processes in place to protect PNG.
These incidents, and there are many more than the examples above, caused far more collateral damage for Papua New Guinea’s image here and abroad than imagined by those involved.
On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with a couple of politicians meeting with a couple of expatriate businessmen or influential people or even coming to their defence.
Indeed, it does not matter a wit whether or not these expatriates do in fact stand guilty of any wrongdoing.
The damage is already done at the first meeting or defence by PNG politicians of persons who clearly seem to flout PNG laws or who have past or current records elsewhere which are questionable.
This is the age of the internet. A person or entity carries its past with him. There are no secrets or they do not remain so for long.
Issues such as corruption are like a matter of perception. Association with personages who might have cases to answer or who are being pursued by authorities in their own land rubs off on our politicians and in the end upon our country.
A quite simple meeting by a senior politician with somebody with an Interpol record immediately raises eyebrows and when these kind of meetings seem to be repeated over a period of time, reasonable people will reasonably develop opinions that a shadowy agenda is being pursued. And that is all it takes, the perception, to drop PNG’s corruption ranking further down the ladder.
It behooves all our leaders to ensure that any investor who is invited into the country has a squeaky clean record and that all visits are carried out above board with all systems and clearance processes in the country adhered to.
Nobody, but nobody, should be seen to rise above our laws. Just the perception that this is happening is sufficient to damage PNG’s tattered image further.