By SUSAN MERRELL
THE private member’s bill of newly-elected MP Robert Atiyafa, if passed,will represent an unparalleled travesty of justice in PNG on a massive scale.
Tomorrow, at the first sitting of the 9th PNG parliament, the member for Henganofi will propose that all inquiries, investigations and tribunals that implicate PNG’s leaders and prominent persons be closed.
Those holding a privileged position in PNG society who are suspected of committing criminal acts, and those for whom prosecutions have already been recommended, will be “let off” if they publicly apologise.
Given that many of the people named in the inquiries are members of parliament, past and present, or persons on the periphery of government, voting on the bill creates a conflict of interest of the most self-serving kind.
And if the people of PNG are expecting those in the current opposition to oppose this bill, they could be disappointed.
Currently, commissioned inquiries and tribunals are responsible for investigations into the theft of hundreds of millions of kina, deaths of hundreds of PNG nationals and the exploitation of the PNG environment for enormous personal gain. In other words, major crime.
The question has been begged in PNG’s social media pages of why leaders and prominent people should be exonerated while lesser mortals, with lesser sins, feel the full force of the law? It is a good question.
Leaders have a moral and ethical responsibility to be more answerable for aberrant behaviour, not less.
Atiyafa argues that it is to do with the inefficiency of the inquiries making them a waste of time – he does have a point.
The NPF Inquiry involving millions of missing kina, implicated Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and the high-profile Jimmy Maladina. Although both were referred to the commissioner of police, their cases were dropped through lack of evidence.
Well not for the nation of PNG who, dissatisfied with the outcome, continue to raise the matter to the point where, last week, the prime minister promised to re-open the case if fresh evidence emerges.
Relying on precedent – it will not.
Even if it did, it would be stymied if the proposed bill were to become law.
The NPF saga refuses to die because justice has not been done, nor seen to be done.
Such cases call for more rigour on the part of the investigating authorities, it’s not appropriate to throw ones hands in the air and say, “it is too hard, let us just forget it,” – because the nation will not.
The cost of tribunals and inquiries also worried Atiyafa – and there is no doubt, they are expensive.
A standout in this category it is the Commission of Inquiry into the Finance Department that cost K30 million – around three times the norm.
Instigated by the then prime minister Sir Michael Somare to investigate fraudulent compensation claims, some believe that Sir Michael was actually motivated by a need to neutralise a leadership challenge from Bart Philemon who had been minister for treasury and finance before Sir Michael sacked him.
It was really an inquiry designed to cast aspersions on Philemon’s competency.
Sir Michael missed his mark, if it were indeed Philemon, but the inquiry uncovered a can of worms involving a sizeable number of people and a 780 million kina fraud, making the cost of the inquiry appear insignificant.
What’s more, as blunt an instrument as many inquiries have proved to be, to give unconditional amnesty to the alleged perpetrators is showing gross disrespect to the victims of the crime – especially in cases like the sinking of the Rabaul Queen that has cost upwards of 200 lives.
Someone’s head needs to roll, and as Jo Chandler (Sydney Morning Herald) wrote, the victims were “casualties of Papua New Guinea’s failing systems”, systems overseen by the PNG government and its officers.
Let Atiyafa explain to the victims’ families that their loved ones are not worth the cost of an explanation.
Yet, in spite of the acknowledged deficiencies in many tribunals and inquiries, the honourable member’s solution is no solution at all.
The proposed bill both vindicates and encourages further corruption. It proposes an unequal and unfair administration of justice dressed up as pragmatism.
The fight against corruption will not be assisted by a lack of governmental will to prosecute its own offending peers.
No. Let the judiciary do its job, give investigators more teeth, pursue justice with more vigour, that’s the real answer.
This self-serving proposed legislation makes a mockery of the most overused phrase in the PNG parliament “no one is above the law”.