SYMBOLIC SLEEZEBAG OF THE CORRUPT PETER O'NEILL REGIME - RIMBINK PATO OF WAPENAMANDA

by SAMSON LENKI WALO

The recently published photo of "The Duck" at Jackson's airport, in all his glorious obesity, doing some kind of deal on his mobile phone, may go down in history as a classic, symbolic picture of what Peter O'Neill's government has come to be known for: corruption sleeze and greed.
It's not just The Duck's image of uncontrollable gluttony. Examine his history and you will discover that even the harshest interpretations of what that big fat belly represents behind the scenes are no exaggeration.
The story of Rimbink Pato is a story that covers more than 20 years. It intertwines in an intriguing way with other notables, including Paul Paraka and former MP Peter Yama of Madang.

INTRIGUING INTERRELATED TECHNIQUES OF PATO, YAMA AND PARAKA

Let's start with the basics. Rimbink Pato is a lawyer. Not a particularly good lawyer, but one who was determined to get rich.
The way Pato got rich, and the way Madang Businessman Peter Yama (later a corrupt Dept. Works Minister) got rich set the foundation for the massive money sucking operation of Paul Paraka, who combined the best of Pato and Yama.
From Pato's side, he built up his law practice and income by specialising in kickback legal service contracts. Back then, most government departments had in-house legal staff who were perfectly capable of handling most needs. Pato would go up to a higher level in different Waigani Ministeries (later he would expand to Provincial Departments, and had a deal worked out with Luther Wenge when Wenge was Morobe Provincial Governor). Pato would offer his firm's legal services to the Ministry or Province in return for fat kickbacks into the private bank account of whoever in government would arrange the deal. The corrupt government liaison would usually argue that the in-house legal staff were not capable of handling the legal requirements of the department. The fees charged by Pato were outrageous, however. This not only covered a huge profit for Pato, but also plenty of money to deliver the secret kickback.

Peter Yama of Madang was involved in cheating the government of revenue in a very similar way, operating his scam at the same time Pato did, during the latter 1990s and early 2000s. Yama was always a failed businessman who was a millionaire. He initially kept his business afloat by threatening potential clients into hiring his subperforming Security company, saying that if they used competing security operations that something very bad might happen. Paul Paraka, also operating in Madang during that time, used the same thuggery techniques to establish his legal practice. Paraka would have witnesses in court cases beat up using hired thugs in the 1980s, while Yama was threatening and intimidating clients into hiring his security firm.

Later, Peter Yama got into politics, became Minister of Works, set up his own road works companies, and drained public funds into his companies, and possibly operated kickback schemes with contracts given to road work companies owned by cronies or other cooperatives. He still ran his Yama Security, by then conspicuously expanded to Port Moresby. Yama's scam with Waigani government departments was the same kickback scheme as what Pato was doing with his legal services. Yama took things one step further than Pato, however. Too lazy to put the energy it took to arrange kickback contracts whose services he had to fulfill, and also finding the the doors were beginning to shut on his scam, Yama saw the brilliance of getting departmental heads and others in authority to sign illegally arranged contracts for Yama Security services.

Soon enough, government higher ups would find out about the contract and cancel them. However, the contracts themselves were prepared in a legal fashion. This gave Yama the opportunity to take the government to court for breach of contract, demanding an outrageous sum of compensation money. He managed to get friendly judges (Peter Yama has always been a very personable individual, easy to get along with) or coerced judges to find in his favour. He then would march to the Department of Finance with his claims. Once paid, he would kick back a handsome sum of money to the person within government who had, without authorisation, signed the original contract with Yama security .
Paul Paraka became the King of the Krooks by building upon yet also outdoing the techinques of Pato and Yama. Paraka was a thug like Yama, an unethical lawyer like Pato, and as determined as Pato to become filthy rich. Paraka used the "illegally signed contracts" trick of Peter Yama to get court judgments for breach of contract during the past 15 years. Once he got the court judgment, he would do like Yama did and bring the judgment to the Department of Finance for payment. He would kickback at least 10% into the pockets of the Secretary of Finance (all the details are in the Commission of Inquiry Report on the Department of Finance, which can be accessed on the PNG Exposed blog site). But Paraka took things to a higher level than Yama. Paraka stopped even going to court. Instead he began to forge court orders, brought the forged papers to the Dept. of Finance, paid his usual kickbacks, and received the contract award in turn.

These scams started in the 1980s. They became ever more sophisticated and spread to involve many more individuals (the Dept. Finance legal scams alone involved at least 19 different lawyers, and also corrupt individuals such as Isaac Lupari). This industrial size growth in corruption occurred because even though the scams themselves became well known through PNG's coconut wireless and lots of leaky lips, the government never investigated, the perpetrators were never prosecuted, and obviously none of them ever went to jail. That included Rimbink Pato as the kickback arranger, and government bureaucrats and leaders such as Morobe Governor Luther Wenge.

In August 2012, several Wenge scams blew up when Provincial Treasurer Andrew Namuesh became a whistleblower, providing documents to substantiate mis-use of over K6 million in public funds. This revealed yet another Pato-Wenge collaboration. Wenge had been a Lutheran Church elder long before he was became a loudmouth politician. Pato at the time owned Steeles Lawyers. Wenge had Pato appointed the chair of the Establishment Committee for the forever delayed construction of a Lutheran University at Ambo, Lae. Wenge took Morobe Provincial government money in the sum of K4 million and deposited it into an interest bearing account. This money itself was not touched (except perhaps the accrued interest which is often corruptly withdrawn and pocketed for government trust accounts). Howeve, it was then used as collateral for the Lutheran Church to obtain a loan to fund construction of the university. The loan money disappeared.

PATO AND PETER O'NEILL

We won't see Rimbink Pato move over to the Opposition ranks in the upcoming Vote of No Confidence. The reason is that just like Defence Minister Fabian Pok (who now leads a secret Pangianisation of the PNGDF) and Mao Zeming (who received free rent from Peter O'Neill in a side scam related to NPF), Pato was part of the NPF fraud racket of the late 1990s that nearly snared Jimmy Maladina and Peter O'Neill. Maladina and O'Neill, of course, have largely legally squirmed out of their cases the same way as O'Neill is now attempting to squirm out of the multiple corruption charges currently pending against him.
Pato was appointed as the first Executive Chairman of Finance Pacific. Finance Pacific was a devious restructuring of government financial institutions by PM Bill Skate, the principle assets being PNG Banking Corporation, Motor Vehicle Insurance Trust, Agriculture Bank, National Investment Corporation and the Resources & Investment Finance Ltd. That created a giant cash cow at the time (little different than O'Neill-Micah's creation of Kumul Consolidated Holdings to hide the finances of all State Owned Enterprises in 2015).
Finance Pacific was also the primary creditor of the National Provident Fund (NPF). Pato tried to implement a scheme to purposely destabilise NPF so as to gain control over NPF's assets, which would have represented yet another giant cash cow for corrupt administrators to milk. Pato ultimately failed and his actions should have been referred to the Ombudsman for breaches of the leadership code. The evidence was clearly detailed in the NPF Commission of Inquiry. Nothing was ever done.
While Chairman of Finance Pacific, Rimbink Pato also awarded himself with an employment contract worth K300,000 per month.
Note that Peter O'Neill replaced Pato as Executive Chairman of Finance Pacific. Later Pato served as Peter O'Neill's lawyer when O'Neill was being prosecuted for his involvement in the NPF fraud.
Rimbink Pato was also implicated as one of two former chairmen of the PNG Banking Corporation who corruptly wrote off K50 million in bad loan debts that had been made to companies in which the two chairmen had had personal financial interests in. Such actions helped spell the end of "The People's Bank" which resulted in its privatisation and takeover by BSP.

PATO THE FAILED POLITICIAN 

It has long been known that getting into elected office and particularly being appointed a Minister is the pathway to the feeding trough and the key to the treasure chest. Yama supported his failing Madang businesses for years by diverting funds from the Department of Works.
Pato wanted to get into the same game of using his public servant's position to expand his business empire. However, he had become too much a Moresby person, not particularly well known or respected in Wapenamanda, despite his periodic publicity in Moresby. He relied heavily on local leader Nick Andake to try to get him elected. In 1997, 2002, and 2007 he contested the Wapenamanda seat. He lost every time. No one in the electorate seemed to want a duck as their representative.
Until 2012, the election that nationwide was characterised by the most amazing corruption of the voter rolls, only a year after Peter O'Neill had taken power. Rimbunk Pato this time ran for the Wapanamenda Open seat under the United Party and remarkably this time he won! ;-)
 
PATO THE FOREIGN MINISTER

Not all Ministeries offer the same potential for making side money in bribes, kickbacks, and other 'income'. However, being PNG's Foreign Minister has lots of potential,as Pato's predecessor Ano Pala aptly displayed through the selling of PNG citizenship to international criminal fugitives such as Indonesian business tycoon Djoko Tjandra (now as PNG citizen, legally known as Joe Chan).
Pato has managed to keep his activities as Foreign Minister under cover for the most part. During 2012-2013, however, he showed the most amazing inability to straighten out the blacklisting of the exiled PNG University of Technology Vice Chancellor Dr Albert Schram, which certainly would have occurred at the instructions of Peter O'Neill.

RESURRECTION OF THE OLD PATO LEGAL FEE OVERCHARGING SCAM 

The Duck still owns Steeles Lawyers (a very fitting name for the Pato law firm, if you stop to think about it). The compound in which Steeles is located is a beehive of activity of Pato's various businesses which of course he spends time managing when he is supposed to be looking after the affairs of the Nation.
Steeles Lawyers has no legal contract to provide services to the Government of Papua New Guinea, as at least Paul Paraka lawers did. Nevertheless Steeles Lawyers provided legal services for fellow Engan and (briefly) Acting Prime Minster Sam Abal while Michael Somare was in the hospital in Singapore and then charged the state an astronomical K12.5 million, which was paid as soon as Peter O'Neill came to power.

RIMBINK PATO, ERSTWHILE BROTHER IN CRIME WITH PETER O'NEILL 

The tight Peter O'Neill mafia began in the 1990's with the NPF fraud. The inability of the PNG justice system to successfully prosecute and imprison the perpetrators not only led to them continuing their life of crime, but applying old tricks in ever more sophisticated ways. Peter O'Neill, Rimbink Pato, Mao Zeming, and Fabian Pok's collaborations go back to the NPF days. They will likely sink or swim together. Their continued ability to get away with their crimes ultimately will strengthen their interest in scamming Papua New Guinea out of ever increasing amounts of money, whether or not they remain politicians.
We reap what we sow and PNG's disinterest in making crime pay for those at the top has now created the sad national disaster we can call O'Neillgate or O'Neill Saga 2016.