MARK DAVIS·| Facebook
CAIRNS - More details are emerging of the involvement of the corrupt Papua New Guinea government in the secret deal between the Paladin Group and Peter Dutton’s Home Affairs Ministry to provide security for the Manus detention centre.
The $423 million (K1 billion) contract looks like a special Australian government favour to the infamous O’Neill regime in PNG, with Paladin now reaping the whirlwind sown by others.
Recent attacks on Paladin, including the arrest of one of its PNG directors and the banning of executives and workers from PNG, bear the hallmarks of corporate machinations by PNG prime minister Peter O’Neill, head of the most corrupt government in the region and one of the most corrupt in the world.
The PNG government’s actions follow Paladin’s rejection of a request from O’Neill crony Isaac Lupari, PNG’s chief secretary, for a “donation” of K20 million to the ruling People’s National Congress party.
This is not an unusual type of request in PNG, where many fearful businesses, including foreign investors, like to keep PNC happy through donations, sponsorships, attendance at PNC functions, and so on.
The donation request was made earlier this year while O’Neill was amassing a war chest to fight a looming vote of no confidence.
There is every reason to believe that the Australian government would support O’Neill in such a vote – it interfered in the rigged 2017 elections to ensure an O’Neill victory, largely through the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby.
Sources let it be known prior to the election that Australia would stand by O’Neill. Official support came in the form of a flood of VIP visits, project funding announcements, project openings and other blatantly political activities in the lead-up to the election.
The appointment of Paladin fits this pattern. PM O’Neill was formally re-elected on 2 August, and the fast-tracked contract was awarded in September, with a $10 million upfront payment because Paladin did not have the wherewithal to start work.
Other extraordinary measures taken by Dutton indicate the sensitivity of the Manus contract, including to hand-pick Paladin as his contractor, run a secret invitation-only tender with only one invitee, provide the $10 million start-up funding, try to block freedom of information access from the contract, eliminate procurement rules and refuse to answer legitimate questions.
Perhaps the most important question is who put Dutton and Paladin together: the PNG government, the Australian High Commission or someone else?
Paladin, which in various iterations has been in PNG since 2009, is certainly no novice when it comes to playing the PNG game, having developed strong connections to O’Neill’s PNC party.
A director and shareholder in associated company Pomwan Paladin Security Ltd is Rodney Pokapin, a Manusian cousin-brother and confidant of PNG speaker and PNC member Job Pomat, the member for Manus Open.
Another link to PNC is through Job Pomat’s brother Kepou, who is said to be receiving as much as K500,000 a month to make sure Paladin’s operations run smoothly.
Now those connections appear to be bearing fruit.
Following Paladin’s refusal to make the required K20 million donation, police arrested Paladin’s senior local representative, Kisokau Poweseu, a Manusian, and charged him with fraud. At the same time Paladin executives and employees were prevented from entering PNG.
Now Paladin has bought PNG’s Black Swan security company, which has long been associated with O’Neill.
No details are available about the Paladin purchase of Black Swan, but what is publicly known has all the hallmarks of O’Neill’s modus operandi and is seen as a clever solution to some of Paladin’s problems given that the company has strong PNG executive management and workforce.
The Paladin contract is not the only dubious Manus deal done by Dutton. He has also contracted the much-criticised Pacific International Hospital in Port Moresby to provide health services to the detention centre.
The $13.5 million contract was also on the basis of a limited tender.
O’Neill is also said to be involved behind the scenes in PIH through a secretive and shadowy Malaysian businessman, Mohammad Sultan. PIH’s Manus services and facilities have been criticised as sub-standard and subject to inappropriate non-medical interference by Australia.
The hospital this week allowed PNG immigration officials to forcibly remove Manus patients, irrespective of their medical condition, in preparation for transport to Christmas Island.