An entry in the Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
ON 2 January 2013, seven months after the political stalemate and the general elections, Sir Michael Somare and his National Alliance Party buried the hatchet with Peter O’Neill’s National Congress Party in Alotau and made O’Neill Papua New Guinea’s ninth prime minister.
Given that Somare’s personal reputation, clout and dominance had been tarnished and humiliated by O’Neill and his cohorts, the Grand Chief’s surprising volte-face overshadowed the outstanding Constitutional references, court proceedings and other issues, paving the way for normalcy and stability.
The impasse and its related events were water under the bridge. Consigned to history were the ousting of the Grand Chief from Parliament and his East Sepik provincial seat (which he had subsequently regained at the general election), the military fracas, the controversial judicial conduct laws and the storming of the national court by then deputy prime minister Belden Namah in pursuit of chief justice, Sir Salamo Injia.
It seemed that O’Neill was now on a stable turf until Investigative Task Force, the corruption busting agency O’Neill had been instrumental in establishing in August 2011, began to undertake some serious work.
It had been established just 10 days after O’Neill seized power from Somare and began an investigation into allegations of corruption at the Department of Planning and Monitoring. The sleuthing implicated O’Neill in a multimillion corrupt deal now popularly known as Parakagate.
O’Neill has resolutely defended himself against the allegation since the matter surfaced in a massive investigation into the Finance Department turning up one of Task Force Sweep’s key pieces of evidence.
It was an authorisation letter containing the prime minister’s signature which O’Neill said was forged. It was sent off for forensic testing which affirmed the signature was O’Neill’s and not a forgery.
But O’Neill has been adamant that the signature on the letter of 24 June 2012 authorising a payment of K71.8 million of state money to Paul Paraka is not his. He says someone else signed the letter.
Then, in the face of a potential arrest, he accused Task Force Sweep, police and even the judiciary of collusion and politicisation and alluded to a plot to overthrow him. There was never any evidence of a plot and, to my mind, on the basis of the forensic test result, O’Neill did not tell the truth about the signature.
There is a credible indication that the signature on the authorisation letter belongs to O’Neill and that he himself signed the letter.
If O’Neill thought the forensic test was biased or flawed because of collusion between Task Force Sweep, police investigators and the forensic tester, then the rational thing to do was to seek independent forensic tests. How else could he prove that he didn’t sign the letter associated with the corrupt transfer of funds?
Furthermore, if O’Neill done no wrong, the simplest and most honourable action for him to take was to present himself to police investigators, answering their queries and clearing his good name.
By doing that, he would also have lived by what has always preached: that no citizen, no matter how powerful, is above the law. This straightforward action would have maintained his integrity but upheld the dignity of his office.
But instead, he has refused to engage with police investigators and taken to the court to block and prevent normal police operations to uphold the law and ensure the administration of justice. This avoidance action has cast doubt over his claim of innocence and incorruptibility.
If O’Neill has done no wrong, there was no reason for him to fear former deputy police commissioner operations Simon Kaupa, former attorney general Kerenga Kua, Task Force Sweep head Sam Koim (still superintending a disbanded organisation)and others who took a stand against corruption and seek justice.
Instead he has incapacitated them by termination and disbandment. His actions appear to me to indicate fear and desperation to conceal something and avoid the processes of justice.
Even if the court clears O’Neill of wrongdoing, I will never be convinced that he has not played a role in the siphoning millions of kina to Paraka Lawyers that rightly belong to the 7.5 million people of Papua New Guinea.
Truth will always remain the truth. One can deny the truth but it cannot be changed.
A man, any man, who is innocent in a free society, does not fear and run from the law. Only one who breaks the law fears, runs and hides. But the running can’t last forever. One day the long arm of the law will find our man and justice will prevail.