PNG: High Level Corruption
18 April 2016
Corruption trouble has been brewing in PNG since June 2014 when Anti-corruption police sought to question the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Peter O’Neill over an alleged payment of legal fees amounting to $30 million to law firm Paul Paraka Lawyers.
The director of PNG’s Fraud and Anti-Corruption Taskforce, Matthew Damaru is leading the charges against the Prime Minister, Attorney-General Ano Pala, Supreme Court judge Bernard Sakora and the Prime Minister’s lawyer Tiffany Twivey Nonggorr. Charges levelled against Ano Pala is that he had put the funds allocated for his electorate into his own pocket. From this it would appear that Attorney-General in PNG is an elected office. This is not a good democratic practise in developing economies because there is plenty of room for corruption.
Prime Minister and Finance Minister James Marape sought court orders to prevent the Anti-Corruption Police Commissioner and Attorney General from arresting or questioning them with regard to the allegations.
The Prime Minister removed the Attorney-General and Police Commissioner from their respective positions and disbanded the anti-corruption task force. This was just like what Prime Minister Najib of Malaysia did when he faced a similar situation in connection with 1MDB, the state investment arm. Abdulla Yameen, President of the Maldives also did the same thing. All these people seem to be taking a leaf from each other’s book.
Three judges of the Supreme court dismissed al orders prohibiting anti-corruption officers from investigating the allegations. This shows that there is some integrity in the judiciary.
Supreme Court judge Bernard Sakora is alleged to have accepted a $45,000 payment in 2009 from a company linked to Paraka Lawyers. This law firm is very close to the Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and is alleged to have defrauded the PNG Government of millions of dollars through inflated legal bills. Bernard Sakora was arrested and charged with legal corruption. In 2010 Sakora issued an injunction in favour of Paul Paraka and former solicitor-general Zacchary Gelu stopping the implementation and publication of the report of a Commission of Inquiry into inflated legal bills charged to the Government. In February 2016, he issued a stay order preventing anti-corruption officers from arresting the Prime Minister Peter O’Neill for authorising the payment of inflated $30 million legal fees to Paul Paraka Lawyers.
One cannot rule out the possibility that Matthew Damaru may be politically motivated in going after the Prime Minister and his colleagues. The Prime Minister and his aids should give a clean image to the public and set an example to public officials.