The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however, the government did not always implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption at all levels of government was a serious problem due to weak public institutions and governance, lack of transparency, politicization of the bureaucracy, and misuse of public resources to meet traditional clan obligations.
Corruption: The Ombudsman Commission and Public Accounts Committee are key organizations responsible for combating government corruption. The Ombudsman Commission is mandated to investigate alleged misconduct by governmental bodies, alleged discriminatory practices by any person or government body, and alleged misconduct in office by public officials under the leadership code. The constitution provides for the Ombudsman Commission’s independence.
The Public Accounts Committee is a permanent parliamentary committee established by the constitution with a mandate to examine and report to parliament on public accounts and national property.
The Ombudsman Commission met regularly with civil society and at times initiated action based on input received. Although civil society organizations began to engage with individual members of the Public Accounts Committee, the committee was less receptive to public input and generally did not seek to engage with civil society. The Public Accounts Committee generally operated independently of government influence, but lack of trained staff hindered its effectiveness. Neither body had sufficient resources to carry out its respective mission.
In 2011 the government established the Investigation Task Force Sweep (ITFS), a temporary interagency body with the mandate to arrest, charge, and prosecute government officials engaged in corruption. ITFS officers were seconded from several government departments, including the Department of Justice and Attorney General, police, customs, and treasury. After its establishment, a number of high-profile politicians and business people were arrested and charged, but the courts had convicted only one person in these cases, due to the slow judicial process. At year’s end the ITFS chairman reported that 27 people had been committed to stand trial in the National Court, 16 cases were going through the committal process, and 16 others had been rejected by the Committal Court. The rejected cases were referred to the Office of the Public Prosecutor. At year’s end they were being reviewed for possible filing of indictments to a higher court.
In 2011 the government filed corruption charges against the former minister for national planning, Paul Tiensten, for misappropriation of funds, conspiracy to defraud the state, and abuse of office. Tiensten fled to Australia but returned and was arrested in November 2012 and had further corruption charges filed against him for diverting state funds to his own private company. Voters reelected Tiensten to parliament in 2012. On November 22, the National Court found him guilty of misappropriating Kina (K) 10 million ($5 million) of public funds
while serving as a state minister. The National Court extended his bail to January 21, 2014, to allow time for his lawyer and the state prosecutor to make submissions on his sentence.
Whistleblower Protection: There is no legal or institutional framework to protect whistleblowers.
Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws as stipulated in the leadership code of conduct. The Ombudsman Commission monitored and verified disclosures. The commission’s mandate includes administration of the leadership code, which requires leaders to declare, within three months of assuming office (and thereafter annually), their assets, liabilities, third-party sources of income, gifts, and all beneficial interests in companies, including shares, directorships, and business transactions. Declarations are not made available to the public. Sanctions for noncompliance range from fines to imprisonment.
Public Access to Information: No law provides for public access to government information. The government published frequent public notices in national newspapers and occasional reports on specific issues facing the government; however, it generally was not responsive to individual requests, including media requests, for access to government information.