BY KEITH JACKSON
WHILE PRIME MINISTER PETER O’NEILL has been doing his level best to ease tensions between Papua New Guinea and Indonesia over the Falcongate incident, in a rambling public statement minister Sam Basil has said he “personally finds the Indonesian embassy response shallow and wanting”.
Mr Basil, the National Planning Minister, was aboard the government Falcon jet that was intercepted by Indonesian defence force fighter planes over Indonesian airspace on 29 November.
The incident was brought to light only in recent weeks and has sparked a number of serious questions relating both to the circumstances of the intercept and to what deputy prime minister Belden Namah, other politicians and Malaysian businessmen were up to in making the controversial flight.
In his statement, Mr Basil makes a barely disguised reference intimating that Indonesia staged the intercept as a deliberate act of intimidation:
No nation, however large or small, however rich or poor, however large or small its army, should be allowed to intimidate, coerce, manipulate and dominate another.
I am urging Papua New Guineans not to be swayed by malicious and untrue suggestions that the Falcon jet was carrying US$250 million. That is a red herring – a mere diversion from the real issue.
But the statement makes no mention of serious allegations that the Indonesians were prompted to act because an international fugitive, Djoko Tjandra, was on board the Falcon.
Tjandra is alleged to have various business dealings with some PNG ministers, and is said to be behind a controversial attempt to establish what would be a lucrative rice monopoly in the Central Province.
Mr Basil's statement, issued through his website, went on to say:
The Falcon jet was chartered by the Bewani oil palm project and was ferrying business partners in the project which included Deputy Prime Minister Belden Namah, [Police] Minister [John] Boito and myself.
I was there because the trip offered insights into oil palm project management which is useful in the light of the Tekadu oil palm project in my Bulolo electorate as well as the Markham Valley oil palm project in Morobe generally – not to mention that as National Planning and Monitoring Minister I would sooner or later have to deal with oil palm-related issues.
As a commercial chartered aircraft, all of us were subject to the rigorous checks required under customs, immigration and civil aviation laws of the various countries where we landed….
Spearheaded by Mr Namah, we formed the new O’Neill-Namah government that wants to see issues like lying over shares one holds, resisting and delaying legitimate Ombudsman Commission processes through the court system, unexplained missing Taiwan dollar-for-diplomacy funds, breaking multitude of PNG, Solomon Islands and international aviation laws highlighted in the Defence Force Inquiry into the Julian Moti Affair and extensive waste of funds in the Commission of Inquiry into the Department of Finance with no one charged or prosecuted to date.
He went on to say said that he finds the Indonesian government response to the air incident “shallow and wanting”.
The Indonesians explained the intercept as being an error caused by confusion over whether the Falcon had an overflight permit or not.
"Someone is not telling the truth,” Mr Basil said, “and the truth has a way of slipping out despite best efforts to cover up – even by nations.”
Let’s hope the truth about exactly who was on the Falcon and what they were really up to also “slips out”. At the very least, the ministers on board could be perceived to have a conflict of interest.
Mr Basil's attack on the integrity of Indonesia will not only anger a neighbouring nation, it will be seen, to use Mr Basil's term, as an elaborate "red herring" to cover up some salient facts about the flight that the PNG public has a right to know.
Time to come clean, Messrs Namah, Basil and Boito.