MARAPE SETS THE FOUNDATION FOR PNG'S GREATNESS
O'Neill was referred to as a controversial Prime Minister when he was returned in 2017. There are laudatory comments on his tenure of office, but overall it has been mired in criticism because of governance issues. These issues predate his appointment as Prime Minister. His supporters point to his success in business before entering politics as qualification for leadership. Opponents argue that his business success is permeated with influence in government and that his directorships in government enterprises prior to his success in politics are significant.
The commission of inquiry in the National Provident Fund of 2003 recommended to prosecute O’Neill for extorting money in return for revaluing a contract to build a high-rise. A rise in the contract price was given because of rising costs as a consequence of currency devaluation and O’Neill was said to obtain a cut from this increase. O’Neill appeared for a committal court in 2005 but the charges were dropped due to insufficient evidence. O’Neill had no objection to reopening the case.
O'Neill's name was involved in an enquiry into the irregular disbursement of massive legal fees to the law firm of Paul Paraka. Paraka was arrested in December 2013 because of fraudulent payments up to 30 million Australian dollars. Opposition leader Belden Namah mentioned O’Neill as responsible because he was Minister of Finance at the time of the payment. Another irregular payment of 31 million Australian dollars occurred after the government had apparently cut ties with Paraka lawyers, when O’Neill was Prime Minister.
There were attempts by Investigation Task Force Sweep, an anti-corruption watchdog, and police officers from the Anti Corruption Unit to question O’Neill. He refused to be questioned and dismissed the Task Force Sweep and the police officers involved. O’Neill challenged an arrest warrant against him before the courts, and the Supreme Court voided the warrant in December 2017 as defective. This was on formal grounds, as officers did not follow the regulations, information was missing and there were spelling mistakes.
O’Neill nationalized the Ok Tedi Mine owned by the PNG Sustainable Development Fund (PNGSDF) without compensation. The O’Neill government had stated after taking power in 2012 the intention to obtain a bigger share of dividends from the mine, but nationalisation without compensation came as a surprise. He mentioned environmental damage as the main reason. BHP Biliton was the owner of the mine when it was opened, but they wanted to close the mine as a consequence of major environmental damage due to negligence.
The Government was faced with a great loss of revenue and a formula was found to continue mining. BHP transferred its shares to a trust fund for the local community, and BHP was in return granted immunity from claims because of environmental damages, while BHP continued to manage the mine. O’Neill considered that a mistake and revoked the immunity. One concern was that proceeds from the mine were disappearing abroad instead of staying within PNG.
This is connected to a political rivalry with former Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta, whose political base is in that part of the country. Morauta, as chairman of PNGSDF, challenged the nationalisation without compensation and refused access to the externalised PNGSDF in Singapore which is meant as a Social Wealth Fund for when the mine is exhausted. The case is continuing in the Singaporean courts. The government has gained the right to inspect the books of PNGSDP as it is a shareholder, but the issue of ownership is still undecided. An arbitration attempt in Singapore failed as there was no written consent to arbitration from the PNG governmentMorauta brought a case before the courts in PNG as well. However, the Supreme Court decided that Morauta had no standing as a private person to bring the case and the court was also not admissible as the case was before a court in a foreign jurisdiction.
However Morauta won in Singapore. It was a disappointment for O’Neill that the Singaporean High Court decided against his claim on PNGSDP. He immediately announced an appeal and a Commission of Enquiry.
He also faced an alleged disregard for regulatory control and political procedure in arranging a loan from the Swiss banking firm UBS, to obtain shares in Oil Search. The intention of this loan was to become a part shareholder in the group developing the Elk Antelope Oil Field. O’Neill ignored such procedures in obtaining this loan. Don Polye, his Minister for Treasury, refused to sign. O’Neill then appointed himself as Minister for Treasury. These issues led to an investigation by the Ombudsman Commission who recommended to bring O’Neill before a leadership tribunal. O’Neil welcomed the chance to clear his name. However, he delayed the appointment of a new Chief Ombudsman and appointed a controversial Acting Chief Ombudsman. O’Neill’s lawyers challenged the powers of the Ombudsman to investigate the Prime Minister as well as publish and distribute resulting information.
The Ombudsman should first inform the Former Prime Minister in such cases. The Supreme Court ruled that the Ombudsman commission was under no obligation to inform the Prime Minister in such instances. The report that O’Neill wanted to suppress came into the open in May 2019. It did not only indicate O’Neill but among others also his successor, James Marape. He was Minister of Finance when the deal was concluded; Preceding this information from the Ombudsman there was news that Swiss financial regulators would look into the matterPrime minister Marape has installed a Commission of inquiry under the leadership of the chief justice and with the head of the anti corruption Task force Sweep as council. Its brief is limited to the legality of the events and it has to report within three months.
The opposition to O’Neill when he was a PM on these issues was intense. University students went on strike demanding his resignation, which resulted in violent confrontations with the police and closure of the University of Papua New Guinea for the academic year iws one of the Vicinity .
Three former Prime Ministers, Sir Michael Somare, Sir Julius Chan, and Sir Mekere Morauta supported a motion of no confidence and urged O’Neill to resign.
When Peter O’Neill resigned he was therefore on siege from several sides : not only his parliamentary majority that was at stake. He was also under threat from the Ombudsman Commission and a Leadership Tribunal may have resulted from the report. Despite these issues, there was also praise for O’Neill after his resignation. Instead of facing a vote of no confidence, he was praised by James Marape, his successor. William Duma who had made the definite move against his premiership praised him as well.
Sir Mekere, our former Prime Minister, likened corruption to cancer, presumably the malignant type. Sam Koim, Current Commissioner for Internal Revenue Commission as former head of Task Force Sweep once described the rising tide of corruption using the boiling frog tale – descriptive but a parable nonetheless as it is scientifically incorrect. But if we focus on the point being made, which is that unless we are alert to the slow and gradual threat of diminishing governance and the growing scale of corruption these can go unnoticed and become accepted as the new norm threatening democracy and our country’s development we cry everyday .
These concerns seem apt when we consider the performance of the last term of Parliament and the Executive Government. The swept into power on a wave of optimism and promises that it would tackle the problem of corruption and restore good governance but didn’t deliver but has forecast on Development in terms of infrastructures which changes the face of PNG for eight years .
The Alotau Accord captured the commitments made by O’Neill’s Government to the people of PNG of the initiatives it would undertake. There were pledges to “continuing the fight against Corruption by proper funding and institutionalization of the inter-agency committee against corruption in particularly Task Force Sweep.
Further, the Government will introduce the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) Bill.” O’Neill has failed to table the ICAC law in Parliament but MARAPE_ Implemented and passed which is good news for PNG now because it’s the stone wall and legacy Marape set behind his leadership.
There were also promises to “review the powers, roles and responsibilities of the Ombudsman Commission” as well as to abolish the Department of Personnel Management and to restructure the “Public Service Commission … [by giving it] the Constitutional powers and responsibility to oversee the efficiency of the public service.” There was also to be a shakeup of sub-national governance with “the transfers of powers of appointment of Provincial Administrators to the Provincial Executive Council“. All these have not been done and indeed the Government has gone in the reverse direction but Marape embassies lots on this to deliverer.
Corruption is the abuse of public office for private gain. Corruption should not only be thought of willful abuse but also if one is aware of it and does nothing to bring it to the attention of appropriate authorities then there is a crime of complicity. It has been a sad trait that the more stakeholders like the private sector especially has not done more to play a more active and stronger coordinated collective role in demanding better public governance.
There are many forms of governance and this article is focused on public governance, which relates to how power and authority is distributed amongst different agents, the processes and mechanisms through which these are exercised and how the rules are enforced. Good governance is an imprecisely defined term but can be thought of as being secured when good development outcomes are achieved with adherence to key principles of voice, accountability, fairness, legitimacy, participation and rule of law.
Rule of law is the principle that all institutions and people are subject to and accountable to law, which must be fairly and equally applied or enforced.
The manner in which O’Neill first took the office of the Prime Minister was not legitimate – one of the three arms of Government, the judiciary declared this. This offence should not be lightly forgotten. It is ironic to see that the chief perpetrators of this siege on Executive Government in the last Parliament term are now rattling their sabers on opposing sides in the National General Elections so Waigani voted Marape in for changes and nation is still waiting because its short term Marape in power .
By almost any measure there is fault with all governments. It isn’t an easy task pleasing all stakeholders and with this in mind we can restrict an assessment of the O’Neill Government’s governance performance in relation to promises it made itself and to conformance with our laws.
There are three key messages.
The first is that the O’Neill Government has not fulfilled the promises it made in relation to good governance. The second takeaway message is that there has been a dismal performance in relation to compliance with rule of law and with legislation around financial governance. The third broad outcome is that there has been profound erosion in the quality of governance and performance of our public institutions.
Parliamentarians are elected representatives of people but they are not beyond reproach nor are they above the law. Indeed as public officials they are subject to greater scrutiny and accountability, this is embedded in our Constitution through the Leadership Code. The application of the rule of law does not recognize your position only the person.
In the financial governance space, we have seen public debt ratio being willfully breached and then O’Neill and his party members boasting they will borrow more and indebt our nation more. Such taunts are based on fanciful claims it will be for infrastructure spending but we see suggestive evidence that the cost of road infrastructure is excessive, that the scale of infrastructure itself is not in the national interest and the net returns from the investments may be less than other infrastructure investment opportunities outside the capital city. Spending vast sums of money on contracts that raise doubts is hardly a euphemism for inclusive development and good governance.
We have seen the O’Neill Government claim that it has managed public finances well and made necessary adjustments to the budget in years of stress. However, these adjustments have been hidden both from the Parliament and our people until the end of the financial year. The release of regular reports on public finances have been delayed or avoided completely, despite requirements in our laws for this.
For instance, the practice of issuing quarterly reports on warrants, effectively the quarterly cashflow, has ceased. A pillar of good governance is transparency and O’Neill and his government has steadfastly refused to provide information. Our people have the right to demand accountability from our Government and from our public officials. We have a right to understand how scarce public funds are been allocated and spent. We have a right to know if these are extracting the maximum value for our people from these limited funds. We have right to demand accountability in relation to procurement and the award of contracts.
We have seen continued erosion in the quality of our public institutions. Our over sighting agencies continue to be deprived of required funding or legally disempowered and political patronage perhaps influences agency heads to flout their agency’s independence. We have seen the O’Neill Government make legislative changes that strip the Public Service Commission of its powers to ensure a merit-based appointment process and to transfer their powers to a committee of Ministers. This politicization of the civil service is already working to erode the quality of our government institutions. For instance, the Bank of PNG an independent institution by law has breached its mandate by expanding the money supply by funding O’Neill’s budget by K1.8 billion in 2016 alone. Without this funding the Government would have stopped functioning if it had failed to adjust the budget. The Bank of PNG shockingly paid a dividend of K102 million in 2014 when it was technically bankrupt and this was done at the direction of O’Neill and his cabinet of ministers.
So what are pathways forward to combat the scourge of corruption? Let me share my good governance platform, which is summarized in the figure at the top of the page. The new Parliament should act decisively to institute various measures to rebuild our public institutions that can guard against any abuse of executive power. We need public institutions which are a bastion for integrity, professionalism and high standards of ethics so that fundamentally the country can rely on institutions to independently act to ensure good governance prevails. The powers of the Public Service Commission must be restored. We need laws to protect whistler-blowers that step forward to expose corruption and for freedom of information to be enacted. The Police Force must be free from political influence and the Ombudsman Commission must be supported with adequate funding and additional legal powers as required. The ICAC should be established or its proposed functions and powers should be embedded within an existing body like the Ombudsman Commission, if this is sensible.
It is time to consider an Unexplained Wealth Legislation where people that have wealth that is at variance with their declared income are required to justify it or face confiscation of those assets and prosecution under other laws. The new Government can demonstrate its commitment by allowing a phased introduction where this is applied to public leadership positions first.
Corporate governance of our public bodies needs to be strengthened. Requirements for directors of boards to satisfy strong fit and proper test must be satisfied and I want the removal of all legal provisions that allow Cabinet to be shadow directors. Statutory agency heads should be accountable solely to Boards of Directors, which should have the power to hire and fire them.
Public procurement needs to be reformed. The removal of certain public officials, like the State Solicitor, from the tender’s board is necessary to avoid conflict of interests. I advocate that a probity auditor for procurement be established. This can be housed within another agency such as ICAC or as a new independent office. This function will ensure that disputes are promptly heard but also investigate any allegations of malfeasance or to simply verify costing’s are reasonable and robust.
I believe that fiscal transparency must be strengthened by publishing key details of major project including estimated rates of return, estimated and final project costs, contractor and its gender impact. We have seen too many reports of excessive legal costs and it is time to ensure that there is legal compliance of the engagement of lawyers for public purposes through a procurement process that results in panel selection of firms and ensures value for money.
The publicity of Parliamentarians on signage of public works or assets purchased with public funds and the deception that Parliamentarians alone deliver must stop. It is time for anti-signage provisions in law. Finally, Parliament, an important arm of government must be strengthened to provide oversight of executive government.
The challenge of curtailing the corrosive culture of corruption and instilling good governance is the ultimate leadership challenge. In the Alotau Accord the O’Neill Government promised that it would “be remembered … as the most decisive, action packed, transparent and accountable Government the nation has ever had”. Sadly, it seems the O’Neill Government will be remembered instead for the slow but devastating erosion in good governance and poor development outcomes.
Therefore, O’Neil must stay not criticize or entice Marape government has Mr. Perfect, Marape is cleaning your mass in mismanaging the economy and holes you create over the last seven years as CEO of this country.
So the PANGU PARTY vs PNC PARTY leadership is what the nation would like to see lead PNG from either side of the house! The nation wants to see PNC PROVIDE STRONG LEADERSHIP in the OPPOSITION. The RULING PANGU PARTY must LEAD CONFIDENTLY AND STRONGLY THE NATION. PNG must be led by the strength of balanced parliamentary democracy and leadership! The country depends on PMJM to show overall Quality leadership as the Executive arm of Government. The nation believes that PMJM will deliver his convictions!
2. The nation is very much expecting Prime Minister James Marape and his Deputy Prime Minister Davis Steven to illustrate how they are cleansing the country of corruption. For instance, the ICAC law, the WHISTLEBLOWERS law, and REFORM laws must be enacted before the 2022 elections. Electoral law and election processes must be strengthened to have genuine leaders elected in 2022 .The nation expects to see wrongs done to the people corrected by way of arresting corrupt decisions and practices. THOROUGH and SWIFT INVESTIGATIONS or STUDIES MUST be conducted on the following:
I). PORGERA GOLD MINE IMPACTS ON SOCIAL LIVES OF THE PEOPLE OF THE SML AREA AND PORGERA LAGAIP DISTRICT OVER THE 30 YEARS.
II). INCOMPLETE 2015 SOUTH PACIFIC GAMES INFRASTRUCTURES LIKE THE GRANDSTAND IN SIR JOHN GUISE STADIUM, SIR HUBERT MURRAY STADIUM AND OTHER STADIUMS IN THE CITY,
III). THE PURCHASE OF MOTUKEA WHARF FACILITIES, THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE SOCCER STADIUM. THE PRESENT STATUS OF OLD PORTS PNG WHARF AT THE WATERFRONT.
IV). CONTROVERSIAL INFRASTRUCTURE, ROADS AND BRIDGES CONSTRUCTION IN THE COUNTRY.
V). THE DELIVERY OF DRUGS, PHARMACEUTICALS AND ESSENTIAL MEDICINES TO THE RURAL AID POSTS AND RURAL HEALTH CENTERS IN PNG.
VI) SPEEDING UP OF THE UBS LOANS ENQUIRY.
VII) OTHER INVESTIGATIONS DONE IN THE PAST RECALLED AND NEED TO HAVE THEIR RECOMMENDATIONS IMPLEMENTED.
The state institutions and good governance stands less chance of survival as the politican is forced to..or decides to become everything! Good governance, transparency and accountability erode into oblivion in order to serve political interests and power & authority greed becomes the public servant, law, businessman, department, board chairman, judge, policeman, soldier, clerk, cheque printer, finance controller, requisition officer, Department secretary, SOE CEO, tea boy, provincial administrator , district manager etc etc etc. The politician when awakens to the reality that the public service is not delivering, he criticizes it and creates parallel systems escalating costs of operations that will work out for PNG.