Source: ACT NOW!
The Prime Minister’s announcement of an Administrative Inquiry into the Manumanu land deals and naval base relocation is just another exercise in covering up corruption and avoiding justice.
We have seen numerous lengthy and expensive Commission’s of Inquiry over the years but no action to address the corrupt behavior they uncover. It will be the same with the latest inquiry, whether it is termed as a Commission of Inquiry or an Administrative Inquiry.
This is because such inquiries lack a crucial power – the power to take action against those revealed to be involved in corruption; instead all they can do is make recommendations, recommendations that, history tells us, usually get ignored.
Such inquiries are also flawed because their initial timeframes and budgets are often insufficient when they uncover so much wrongdoing. This leads to delays and sometimes the inquiries end up taking several years. They can also lack political independence, being appointed directly by the Prime Minister, and their reports can be hard to access.
This is why Papua New Guinea desperately needs a well-funded Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) with the power to immediately investigate and prosecute allegations of corrupt behaviour.
The Government of Peter O’Neil was elected in 2012 on a promise to combat corruption at all levels through the establishment of an ICAC. It has failed to deliver on that promise, and instead it continues to waste public funds on administrative inquiries whose recommendations are usually never implemented, and sometimes, not even published.
In 2013, the Commission of Inquiry into Special Agricultural Business Lease recommended forty unlawful leases be revoked, but those recommendations continue to be ignored. Crucially the Commission also failed to report on one-third of the leases investigated and failed to identify with clarity the government officers responsible for the unlawful land grab or recommend action against them.
In 2014, there was the Commission of Inquiry into Law Firm Brief Outs, that report has never been published.
Prior to that, a Commission of Inquiry into the Department of Finance found K 780 million in public funds had been stolen and recommended the prosecution of a list of 35 persons. Almost none of those persons have been arrested or charged.
And whatever happened to the Commission of Inquiry into the Investment Corporation, Defence Force Retirement Fund and National Provident Fund? Where are those reports now and why has so little action been taken?
Corruption in this country is prevalent in all sectors of society and its impacts are far-reaching! Corrupt activities are not just carried out by public office holders. It is really a collaborative effort of individuals from elected officials, appointed public and constitutional office holders, clergymen, civil servants, foreign and local companies, business associates and even family members of these individuals!
It is for this reason a well-resourced, self-funded, Independent Commission Against Corruption with wide powers is needed to investigate and prosecute corrupt individuals – not another pointless inquiry.
Having promised a Commission of Inquiry, under the predicted Chairmanship of (Rtd) Judge Graham Ellis, who cut his teeth in the National and Supreme Court during the 1990s, working a number of high profile anti-corruption inquiries, PM O’Neill has been in reverse gear ever since.
This culminated first in an announcement by the Attorney General, that his government had somehow overlooked court proceedings barring any Commission of Inquiry from being convened.
Then we learnt yesterday that an ‘administrative inquiry’ would be convened, under the leadership of John Griffin QC.
John Griffin QC is most well-known for dashing the hopes of the country, when he managed to secure for his client Jimmy Maladina, a suspended sentence after the latter confessed to misappropriating K2.65 million during his tenure as Chairman of the National Provident Fund, a time when he was joined at the corporate hip to Peter O’Neill. The court let Maladina go with a suspended 8 year sentence, and a 2 year good behaviour bond. On the other hand, a middle man Maladina acted through received 6 years prison.
Later Griffin managed to get even Maladina’s conviction overturned by the Court, despite the fact Maladina ‘admitted freely that he had committed the offence’.
Given Jimmy Maladina declared himself bankrupt, and claims to have sold off his Australian properties to pay restitution – it can only be assumed Maladina has good friends who could pay for a silk of Griffin’s stature.
However, with a budget of K2 million for this ‘administrative inquiry’ into Duma/Pok, paying for high priced silks will not be a problem.
We are told the inquiry began on 7 March, and will continue for 4 weeks, with a finishing date of 28 March. Ahem, that’s actually 3 weeks!
For this 3 week work period, the commission will have a budget of K666,666 – perhaps an appropriate enough sum! Even if the entire commission team furiously shovelled kina into an open fire, they couldn’t physically burn this sum of cash in three weeks.
If we assume Griffin QC is paid K85,000 per week – the sort of sum a QC fetches – that gets us through K255,000 over the three week period. You would need a team of 8 QCs working around the clock to expend this K2 million budget.
We assume in the interests of ‘accountability and transparency’, to quote the PM, he will publish the inquiry’s budget in full?
As we watch O’Neill’s stance over Manumanu dilute on a daily basis, it must be asked – did the PM overplay his original hand against Duma and Pok, and are we now seeing all parties backtrack so they can resume cordial relations at the top of the trough following this year’s national elections?
When evidence was made public on 1 February this year, linking the State Enterprises Minister, Defence Minister and Chair of the Central Supply and Tender Board, to a major land swindle, Prime Minister O’Neill swiftly announced a Commission of Inquiry.
He appeared to have his ducks lined up. The ABC reported just five days later that a retired judge was to be appointed head of the COI.
Two names were thrown around in the social media, Warwick Andrews and Graham Ellis.
Odds are it was the latter who had been approached by O’Neill.
After all, Ellis had previously been asked by the NEC to Chair the Interim Anti-Corruption Office. However, this appointment has been blocked by a court injunction, which wont be heard until April.
This has left Ellis in limbo. Cue the role as head of the Commission of Inquiry.
However, evidence coming from within the NEC indicates that Minister for Public Services, Puka Temu, among others, have deep reservations over O’Neill’s choice.
If the appointment is Ellis, this makes sense.
When he was a National Court Judge from 1990-1992, and 2009-2011, he had a reputation for effectively clearing out case backlogs and swiftly getting the wheels of justice into gear. The Poreporena Freeway Commission of Inquiry he chaired in 1992 was completed within 8 weeks and under budget. He also Chaired a 1991 Leadership Tribunal that led to the famous resignation of Ted Diro.
For a Minister such as Puka Temu, whose own connections with William Duma’s sticky fingers, has been documented by the National Court – the news that a no-nonsense judge, with a reputation of being fiercely independent, may not have come as welcomed news.
It is not clear how the struggle within NEC will turn out. But it stands to reason if the retired Judge already appointed to head the country’s premiere anti-corruption office is selected, it is a sign that substance has trumped expediency. On the other hand, if we see hands ruffle down to the bottom of the barrel, we can safely assume a certain Prime Minister is being held over it – and is prepared to set up a COI, that will be little more than a whitewash.