Corruption: Sir Michael Somare’s Legacy

By PNG Echo

The Grand Chief
The Grand Chief

Revered as the founding father of Papua New Guinea, Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare’s political career pre-dates national independence by 8 years.

First elected to Papua New Guinea’s pre-independence parliament in 1967, he has had an unbroken run of almost 49 years as an elected Member of Parliament, 17 of those as Prime Minister of the independent state of Papua New Guinea.

On independence, Sir Michael had already done his political apprenticeship under Australia’s watchful eye and he’d had a full 8 years to learn the ropes (even as Chief Minister in the pre-independence, self governing parliament) before he became PNGs first Prime Minister.

If anyone was poised at the crossroads of history, with an opportunity to leave his indelible mark, Sir Michael was.

And he has – but it is not one of which to be proud and it could have been.

His was the unique opportunity to steer Papua New Guinea in any direction he wanted. He chose the path most travelled – self-interest.

An opportunity squandered

Dubai. Is this what Port Moresby could be like now?
Dubai. Is this what Port Moresby could be like now?

By now, PNG should be counted among other great, modern nations like Singapore and Dubai, it certainly had all of the potential.

And to a large extent, the future destiny of PNG had been trustingly placed in the hands of Sir Michael on independence. He had led the nation to that point and the people were confident he would lead them into a prosperous independent future.

They were disappointed.

Instead, Sir Michael spent his post-independence parliamentary life as the leading architect of Papua New Guinea’s shameful and ignoble political culture where precious little functions and only money talks.

And so, Sir Michael bows out of politics at a time when the social indicators in Papua New Guinea are abysmal (I needn’t expand on this as they are only too well known).

Indeed, according to leaked diplomatic cables, Sir Michael is the founding father of

…a dysfunctional blob.

On the possibility of Sir Michael coming back into power after the 2011 political coup, a diplomatic source (Wikileaks) called the Somare regime:

…a cesspit of corruption, incompetence and mediocrity.

Entrenching an aberrant Modus Operandi

PNGs Hous Tambaran (parliament)
PNGs Hous Tambaran (parliament)

Remember. It was the Somare government who enshrined such manipulative tactics as controlling parliamentary procedures by sheer weight of numbers, together with the convenient adjournment of parliament to avoid adverse parliamentary votes, according to a paper on the DevPolicy blog by the well-credentialed, Ronald May.

For example, the Somare government had its own self-interested at heart when in November 2010 – it adjourned the parliament to 10 May 2011. The long recess was to avoid the opposition moving a motion of no confidence in the government.

It was during Somare’s Prime Ministership that “executive dominance’ started to be remarked upon in the media.

What’s more, the sacking of Gari Baki and appointment of Tony Wagambie as acting commissioner in 2010 was then seen as a political act that left a divided police force.

Sounding familiar? But wait, there’s more:

For several years prior to his options running out, Sir Michael had been taking court action to prevent the Ombudsman Commission from investigating violation of the leadership code for his failure to lodge complete financial returns for fifteen years beginning in 1992–93.

When he was finally found guilty, one of the three judges, Sir Robin Auld, thought the offense should result in Somare’s dismissal because he’d shown

…a disregard bordering on disdain for his constitutional obligations.

In the end Somare was suspended for two weeks without pay.

But the irony of this should not be lost when Somare evoked the sacred nature of the PNGs ‘Mama Lo’ (the constitution) to rail against his own overthrow in the political coup of 2011 – craven hypocritical pragmatism?M

I would moot, that the methodology pioneered by Sir Michael, owing to his political dominance and its efficacy, has left a legacy where it is almost impossible to survive politically without employing the same tactics – they’ve become entrenched and seemingly impossible to bypass.

Nepotism and the art of corruption

Neither has Sir Michael ever been averse to employing a bit of nepotism –I mean, it’s so much easier to control the political environment, and the flow of anticipated largesse, when you have your cronies on the inside – better still if they’re family… and Sir Michael’s family has benefited in spades with government jobs and lucrative board appointments.

If you want to be sure of commissions (also known as kickbacks), it’s handy to have a son on the board of the trust that awards the contract (with the proviso of the said commission) and decides the beneficiaries.

Sir Michael, the family man.
Sir Michael, the family man.

And so Michael Somare Jnr (also known as Moox), became the Deputy Chairman of a trust that administered a multi-million dollar governmental loan from the Chinese Exim bank to build community colleges (variously reported – but around $US36 million)

In regard to this fund, and the subsequent awarding of contracts, both Somares – father and son – are embroiled and implicated in corruption allegations in the Singapore courts that involve substantial kickbacks to them and charges of conspiracy to falsify a document, wilfully and with intent to defraud – levelled against another trustee of the same trust of which Moox is the Deputy Chairman together with the company that was eventually awarded the contract.

In a sworn statement to the police, one of the accused Lim Ai Wah when asked whether she understood/knew that money she had had deposited into an account to pay “commissions” was proceeds of crime, she answered:

I wish to say yes but wish to say that if you don’t pay to the PM PNG you will not be able to get business from Papua New Guinea.

She was speaking of Grand Chief, Sir Michael Somare who had, at the time, been Prime Minister for the previous eight years.

This case was still being decided in the Singapore courts until recently and I am in the process of finding out more details which will follow in a separate article.

However, not in dispute and listed in the prosecutions submission to the court under “Undisputed background facts” is that both Somare’s received six figure sums (in US $) as commissions/kickbacks. This notwithstanding there is still no sign of the colleges – just commission payments.

The younger Somares Betha and Arthur.
The younger Somares Betha and Arthur.

Other Somare children have been similarly blessed with son, Sana Somare’s appointment to the board of PNG Power in 2005, while daughter Betha earned her keep by looking after public and media relations for her father.

Betha would brook no criticism of her father and was known to respond to difficult and probing questions like those from The Australian with a three-word reply, “Go to Hell.” Not a usual tactic for a public relations professional but not many have a doting Daddy as the boss.

Then there was Arthur who was awarded prestigious Ministries when he became an MP, up to and including Minister for Public Enterprises, where he was instrumental in setting up the Arab loan that preceded this government’s refinancing and restructuring through the controversial UBS loan.

It was a lemon handed to this government by Somare junior on attaining power – whether the O’Neill government will go on to succeed in making lemonade is yet to be determined – but make no mistake, the present government was forced to act because of the legacy that the Somare government had left them thanks to the Junior Somare, Arthur.

What’s left to posterity from this greatest of opportunities?

…precious little really, certainly not another Singapore or Dubai. If the Hippocratic oath tells us to “firstly, do no harm,” no one told the Somares, led by the patriarch of the clan, that it was an oath worth subscribing to.

A hideous political culture had life breathed into it by Papua New Guinea’s founding father, Sir Michael Somare – a good father does not leave such a millstone around the neck of his children.

If corruption, as so widely quoted, is systemic and systematic – it’s the Somare legacy.  Hail the Grand Chief!

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24 thoughts on “Corruption: Sir Michael Somare’s Legacy

  1. The ominous signs were already apparent even before independence when Somare as Chief Minister was strongly rumoured to have instructed investigating expatriate police not to prosecute a fellow Sepik ( Maprik area) MP ( later Knighted) who had been accused of the rape of a grossly underaged girl.

    Numerous brazen financial irregularities have ensued and none of the various political leaders including Chan, Wingti and Skate can avoid responsibility for what PNG has become.

    A number of close observers have opined to me that the premature death of Mathias Toliman was a national tragedy as he was regarded to be a politician of the utmost integrity and honesty who could have guided the country along a more correct path.

    On another tack there is a strong body of opinion that other seeds of future political and ethical chaos were sown when it was decided to introduce provincial government into the new Constitution. I recall attending in Mt Hagen a Constitutional development meeting and when the senior Provincial Commissioners present predicted disaster should provincial government be introduced they were largely put down by a couple of ANU academics who members of the committee.

    Few observers would question that provincial government has resulted in the development of a very unhealthy oligarchic and rapacious class of politicians with the losers being the poor men women and children in the villages.

  2. It all comes clear at the end. Somare, power hungry, greedy and served his own interest. Hope they die with no regrets as the final judgement awaits them.

  3. Very Interesting reading and it all makes a lot of sense. I am sure PNG Echo has more to expose on our Grand Chief and his Legacy constructively as it has done so far.

    I would also like some Legacy write up on the Father of our PNG Constitution who is now the President of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville as the region heads for its Referendum. Personally I believe that our President will leave NO Legacy on what he has achieved for Bougainville apart for the “Provincial Government” system. Are you able to have a try for Bougainville’s benefit?

  4. So much research resulting in this informative article about how “corruption” may have allegedly taken root in PNG as elsewhere throughout the world. But the question remain … do we, the new generation of leaders continue with this legacy or take remedial action to minimise and eradicate. Susan, this should be a hint for your next research … attempts by agencies of government to stopbeb corruption against all odds. It should be helpful.

  5. Do you have any knowledge into the said Papuan Territory, The Australian government at the time of Indepence and the cry of the Papuan people to be free of New Guinea?
    The Queen’s letter to Sir Michael Ohio who handed a letter regarding Papua late last year who has failed to honour HRH and is now hospitalized. Twas handed to Acting GG Zurenouc.

  6. And finally, we recognise the true ‘messenger’!
    As a nation we still cannot distinguish morality from religion.
    Well done, Susan.

  7. Excellent article!

    What the country is going through is a result of his actions and influence throughout his time as the PM.

    We would have been more developed by now if he had great vision. Unfortunately today is a reflection of his influence and leadership since Independence.

  8. Say what you can say, but thank God he got the independent so we won’t have to leave like the Abos in Australia.. And at least the economy didn’t drop badly like now!!

  9. What about the Somare family’s investment in real estate properties in Australia??I read from an Australian newspaper article of the purchase of properties worth millions somewhere in Cairns or Townsville..Money was thought to have come from public coffers!!

  10. Thank you for the well done research. That’s true corruption is Somare’s legacy. The was keeping PNG in darkness for a long time, we have been broke and starving. O’ Neil came and moved this country forward. Keep telling the truth and exposing lies, you’re doing a good job!

  11. What are great article!! We appreciated you Susan for bringing to us the real source of corruption to light. Please provide us more and let the world know them. may they rot in hell forever, curse be fall onto their families and generations to come.

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