By PNG Echo
As I put pen to paper, some Papua New Guineans, this morning, will march on the PNG Parliament in protest against the Prime Minister’s refusal to step aside from his post and submit to the arrest warrant taken out last week.
It is their right to do so and I hope the protest goes well.
As far as timing goes, the march coincides with a sitting of parliament – meaning that the police have more powers under laws that protect MPs to ensure that parliament is not interfered with.
It makes the situation more potentially volatile than it would have been had it been organized for another time.
Dirty deeds…done dirt cheap
Unfortunately, in PNG, the ‘anti-corruption’ movement has a strong taint of political influence and the timing of this crisis is a testament to that.
Neither has the Prime Minister been slow to use some deft political moves to prevent his downfall, including the sacking of dissenting ministers and public servants and the disbanding of Independent Task Force Sweep (ITFS) – the leading agency in the investigation of the Paraka matter for which the Prime Minister is implicated.
What’s more, the head of ITFS, Sam Koim, has been accused, by the Prime Minister, of improper political manoeuvrings and an inquiry has been ordered.
Mr Koim claims he has always “followed the evidence,” and events, so far, have borne this out.
Mr Koim steadfastly refused to entertain prosecuting the Prime Minister on charges relating to the 80 million kina fraud that is the Paraka matter, until now, when he says that new evidence warrants it.
This was in spite of considerable pressure in PNG’s noisy social media pages where he was branded a tool of the O’Neill government, himself corrupt and other names too disgusting to publish.
But people move from a rooster to feather duster (and vice versa) very rapidly in PNG – and Koim, by this arrest warrant, has progressed from social media’s Bête Noire to it’s darling – the hero of the hour.
But, Koim turning up in Australia (yesterday) to lobby the Australian government to intervene to have the Prime Minister prosecuted, is a step too far. He has seriously overstepped his authority in a move that smacks of political and diplomatic naivety and considerable arrogance.
Australian Interests vs those of PNG (and vice versa)
It was said in the Australian press, in what the Fairfax newspapers have called a “high stakes move,” that Mr Koim will be in Canberra today for talks with Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop and other parliamentarians from the other parties.
This is highly improper.
Papua New Guinea is a sovereign nation state. Diplomatic talks have correct diplomatic channels – none of which have been observed.
Koim has no mandate to speak on behalf of PNG.
What’s more, in the aforementioned PNG social media, a strong vein of xenophobia is being aired with racist slurs against the Prime Minister, in particular (who has a Caucasian father and a PNG mother) and also his lawyer who is “waite” and female.
These same people are those that are heralding Sam Koim as the Saviour of PNG. There’ll be an internal conflict of interests there as he asks Australia to solve the problems of PNG according to his specifications
As far as Australia goes, entertaining Koim will also create a conflict of interests for them.
Australia’s main concern will be the future of the Manus Island Detention Centre and let’s be realistic – when Australia went into partnership with PNG, Australia was well aware that there are elements high up in the PNG government that are corrupt.
It didn’t stop them.
It’s said that Koim will ask the Australian government to cut aid to PNG unless O’Neill steps down and faces the charges against him.
Sir Julius Chan was faced with such an ultimatum during the Bougainville crisis – and it worked.
However, the major ingredient in the Bougainville crisis is missing in PNG at the moment – and that’s violence or armed conflict and egregious human rights’ abuses. Life goes on unabated in PNG – with just the proposed protest march (imminent) as a minor disruption.
What’s more, with Bougainville, one Australian government refused to engage with what was considered an ‘internal conflict’ until such time that the war had escalated to the point of becoming a ‘regional’ problem (which coincided with a change of Australian government).
Another crisis that was considered ‘regional’ was the RAMSI intervention in the Solomon Islands.
But this was also a mission that Australia didn’t embrace happily or readily. The tensions in the Solomon Islands had had many attempted solutions before RAMSI was deployed.
However, quite differently to what Mr Koim is attempting, RAMSI was deployed after the elected Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, Sir Allan Kamakeza, sent an urgent request.
Sir Trevor Garland, former Honorary Consul-General of the Solomon Islands in Sydney commented that diplomatic requests for assistance only work through constitutionally elected governments and further added that he found Koim’s actions improper.
Australia has learned a few lessons from these regional interventions with the Lowy Institute, after the recent scaling back of RAMSI, seriously questioning what the intervention achieved and opined that the exercise had been a waste of money (and probably effort too) for Australia.
Mr Koim, your efforts in fighting corruption have been stellar – but this is beyond the pale – now you are politicking and you have no mandate.