20/07/2012 10:27

Campaign gifts: kaikai o pekpek?

By Fr Frank Arnold

By chance I was in Vanimo during election time and I could observe how the campaign was conducted by candidates and their supporters. I was expecting more rallies and more noise in town; but, in public, it looked like a low-key campaign. Apart, in fact, of the big rallies for Michael Somare and Belden Namah, life in town was apparently quiet and subdue.

But it was a false impression. In fact a lot of activities were going on in the numerous haus sel erected for different candidates along the main roads. Entertainment was provided in the night together with food, drink, speeches and planning. A lot of money was also dished out both to individuals and to groups by the campaign managers of the most affluent candidates. Land cruisers and motorboats were also donated and money to individuals was handed out up to the very day of the polling. Some people I interviewed told me that they had received money in exchange of the promise to vote for certain candidates and that their names were written down by those who gave the money.

As a pastor I was curious to know how those people consider those “campaign gifts” which for me were clearly a form of bribe. But that was not the word used by the majority of people I spoke to. Here are some of their answers: It is money to support the campaign done by the candidate’s campaign managers and supporters ; it is part of the money the members receive to be spent in their electorate; it is our money; it is money received from the sale of our trees to Melanesian companies; it is a small refund for the taxes that I paid to the government; it is a donation to poor families….

When I insisted and asked whether those who gave the “campaign gifts” expected the receivers to vote for certain candidates, everybody agreed that that was exactly what was expected, but the receivers could also vote for another candidate or simply invent an excuse and avoid voting. They said that there was a sort of proverb in Tok Pisin whispered among the people: Mipela I kaikai long hap, tasol bihain mipela I pekpek long peles bilong mipela.

Other people, however, mentioned the fact that according to the Melanesian way, if one receives something from somebody, one feels obliged to reciprocate somehow that gift. In the case of election, one could at least give a second or third preference vote to the donor candidate.

I continued to ask myself. Is it really possible that our people don’t see those donations as bribes, after all the warnings of not to sell their votes, given on TV, in the newspapers, and even from the church pulpits? Is it really possible that the conscience of our people has been so corrupted by politicians that they consider donation what is in reality bribery?

That question was still in my mind when I went to hear confession in one village church. As usual I was not expecting to hear anybody confessing of having received a bribe but I was wrong. Two women came to confession and accused themselves of having received money in exchange of their vote. I thanked them for that admission which, in my opinion, shows that some of our people still feel that it is evil to collude with something that is evil like buying votes.

But then I asked myself whether we pastors have been vocal enough in condemning as sinful both the giving and the accepting of bribes, no matter the disguise in which they are coated. It is even more sinful to accept bribes and vote for a candidate who, by giving out bribes, has already tarnished his reputation as a good leader.