Home > Papua New Guinea > The Case Against Peter O’Neill

The Case Against Peter O’Neill

ONeill

Adam Boland | Pacifik News | June 1, 2016

Peter O’Neill has become the great survivor.

For two years, he’s avoided serious questioning over allegations that could end his time as Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea.

Amid the claims and counterclaims, it’s perhaps easy to lose track of how we got to this point. So, we’ve broken down the main issues that refuse to go away.

The crusade

Almost immediately after coming to power in 2011, Peter O’Neill vowed to rid his country’s bureaucracy of corruption.

He set up a powerful crime fighting unit comprising police, prosecutors and auditors. It was known as Taskforce Sweep and it proved extremely effective.

Investigators showed they weren’t scared of anyone. Business leaders, senior officials and politicians were among those arrested. Their probe revealed shocking examples of public money being used for private purposes. Education, health and other vital projects all suffered as corruption flourished.

Arrests turned into convictions as taskforce head Sam Koim proudly declared: “We have created a momentum and other agencies are now beginning to rise up. More and more, we see prominent people are being called into question.”

One of the people about to be called into question was none other than Peter O’Neill.

The Paraka Allegations

Evidence emerged that supposedly linked the Prime Minister to fraud at PNG legal firm, Paraka Lawyers.

Lawyer Paul Paraka

Lawyer Paul Paraka

In mid 2013, Paul Paraka was accused of invoicing the government for work that was never done. Of almost 3,000 bills issued, 97 per cent were found to have been inflated or falsified. That added up to around $30 million in public money that was then thought to have been laundered through Australian banks. Paraka denies any wrongdoing.

Investigators say the money kept flowing to Paraka thanks to a letter of authority signed by Mr O’Neill when he was Finance Minister. He insisted the letter was forged and he had no knowledge of the payments.

But Taskforce Sweep was confident in the evidence and wanted to question Mr O’Neill. When he refused in June 2014, an arrest warrant was issued.

The fallout

The Prime Minister was determined to avoid being questioned. He went to court, gaining an order that prevented his arrest.

Soon enough, Taskforce Sweep was starved of funding before finally being disbanded. The Police Commissioner and Attorney-General were also replaced.

Mr O’Neill was unrepentant: “We are going to continue to terminate everybody who is going to undermine the work of the government,” he said.

To this day, he’s avoided arrest but a smaller anti-corruption unit is again on the case, albeit with tight restrictions from factions within the police loyal to Mr O’Neill. Investigators were even locked out of their building last month after arresting the Prime Minister’s lawyer on allegations of perverting the course of justice.

The UBS loan

The Paraka scandal isn’t Mr O’Neill’s only problem.

He’s also facing intense scrutiny over the process he used to take out a US$1.2 billion loan on behalf of the country in 2014.

The money was used to buy a 10 per cent stake in Oil Search Limited.

Former PM Michael Somare

Former PM Michael Somare

Former Prime Ministers Michael Somare and Mekere Morauta both accused Mr O’Neill of bulldozing the deal through government agencies despite huge risks to PNG.

The country’s Ombudsman was concerned too and referred the matter to the public prosecutor who then called in the Leadership Tribunal.

But once again, the Prime Minister sought court intervention, obtaining an order to stop the tribunal from convening.

Former Chief Justice Arnold Amet says if the tribunal is ever allowed to convene, Mr O’Neill will be automatically suspended. The three judges who make up the tribunal also have the right to dismiss the Prime Minister if they find wrongdoing.

The Supreme Court will soon rule on whether the tribunal can convene.

The protests

And that brings us to the ongoing protests by university students.

For a month now, they’ve been calling on the Prime Minister to come good on his 2011 promise to shine a light on corruption.

They say that can only happen when he finally submits to questioning.

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  1. Dilu Goma
    June 3, 2016 at 7:30 am

    Peter O’Neill’s argument against stepping down or resigning as Prime Minister in order to allow law enforcement authorities to do their job of investigating allegations of crimes or misconduct in office is that there is no ‘evidence’ of any wrongdoing on his part. Based on this, he has fought tooth and nail, both in court and out of court, to stay on in the office of Prime Minister of PNG. The out of court tactics he has used (killing the Task Force Sweep, changing justice minister, removing police commissioner, trying to remove the chief magistrate, etc) are clear signs of a power-hungry individual. The in-court battles he has fought will not come out in his favor in the end, because lawful processes of the Police, Prosecution, Leadership Tribunal, etc are all guaranteed under the Constitution, and the Supreme Court is likely to uphold this clear principle of good governance.

    Two fallacies of O’Neill’s argument concerning ‘lack of evidence’ are as follows.

    One, it is not for him to determine whether there is evidence of any wrongdoing, because only a court can make that determination. And the ridiculous thing is that when the court (and Tribunal) want to make this determination, he finds a way to put a stop to that. So, it seems that only HIM will continue to make this determination, albeit only temporary. I do not believe the Constitution has given him (or any body else who has been alleged to gave committed a crime) to make such a determination. Everyone else submits to the due process of the law, so who is Peter O’Neill to not to do the same? If it is because he is the Prime Minister, then this is a clear abuse of his office. Indeed, it really should be the other way around; i.e., because he is the Prime Minister he should be the first person in the country to show respect for the public office he holds and do two three things: one, he should resign from office; two, he should voluntarily attend at the police station and answer questions that the police have; and three, he should cooperate with the police and leadership code authorities to have any case started against him heard and determined. I would say that that would be the marks of a true leader who cares about protecting the integrity of the office of Prime Minister. This is not to say that he will forgo his individual Constitutional rights, because the recognition of his rights are integral in the legal processes involved, and so his rights will be observed as a matter of course.

    Two, the only criteria under the Leadership Code (s.27 Constitution) that Peter O’Neill (or any other such leader) is required by this Code to be concerned about is to ask himself if his conduct (or what is alleged against him) may give rise to ‘doubt in the public mind’ as to whether he ‘could’ have a conflict of interest or he ‘might’ be compromised or his conduct ‘demeans’ the office of Prime Minister or his conduct has allowed the integrity of the office of Prime Minister to be called into question or his conduct has endangered or diminished the respect for and confidence in the integrity of government of PNG. The general public of this country may not know these exact wordings of the Leadership Code, but it is their general understanding of things that can be sufficient to warrant a leader to resign, submit himself to the law, and cooperate with law enforcement authorities. The bottom line in the Leadership Code is the protection of the name and integrity of the public office that the leader holds. In my mind, Peter O’Neill has clearly forgotten about this very important principle.

    Dilu Goma
    Lawyer
    Goroka

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