Courting trouble in Papua New Guinea
Joseph Kabui & his leadership of Bougainville

Namah: Feathers fly as the point man weighs in


Belden Namah by Jeffry FeegerPAPUA NEW GUINEA HAS SEEN plenty of political wild men - like the late prime minister Bill Skate with his Albanian-Australian political adviser and connections to Port Moresby's raskol gangs. But has there been anything like Belden Namah, the present deputy prime minister?

This year alone he's made the headlines a lot. In March, the Herald reported he had been in Sydney's Star casino at 7am one day last year, drunk and propositioning the male croupier, with $800,000 to blow. Not him, Namah said.

On Thursday this week he turned up at the Supreme Court in Port Moresby at the head of a band of police, demanding the chief justice, Sir Salamo Injia, turn himself in to be charged with sedition. After a long stand-off, that seems to have happened.

Namah has been the point man in the government of the prime minister, Peter O'Neill, in its extended skirmishing with the country's highest court over the legality of the ousting in August of the independence leader Sir Michael Somare's government.

Twice, in December and again this week, benches of the court including Injia have ruled that the rules had not been followed to the letter and ordered that Sir Michael be reinstated. In December, O'Neill quickly got a big majority in the parliament to reaffirm his support.

The ailing Sir Michael has twice tried to meet the governor-general to get sworn back into office, but has been turned away at the gate by police following O'Neill's orders. In December, Sir Michael appointed his own police and military commanders, getting a small group of soldiers to come out for him, but the initiative soon faltered.

This week, Sir Michael also failed to get into Government House, while O'Neill struggled to get parliament recalled. But Namah decided to go for the judges, ordering Injia and the two others on the bench for the latest ruling to resign within 24 hours for alleged bias against the O'Neill government.

Before being charged, the chief justice appealed to police and military personal to abide by the court's ruling. Asking their chiefs to ''take your oath seriously and stand up for the constitution'', Injia said: ''This country is being run by men who are happy to use force rather than the rule of law.''

It is a nasty stand-off, and the only blessing is that writs have already been issued for a general election to start on 23 June. Within a couple of months, a new hand of political cards will be dealt and the Somare-O'Neill legal contest will be a matter of history.

But it will be a very tense time until the voting starts. Namah was also leader of the drive to postpone the elections for six months, in violation of the constitution's very explicit limits of leeway from the five-year parliament term.

O'Neill has managed to overrule him and election preparations are well under way. But PNG is always a land of surprises, good and bad.

The big question is who will be left standing after the election. Normally 60-80% of sitting MPs are voted out, having been identified as disappointing rogues by the voters. The ''big men'' usually get back, thanks to largesse.

But as the PNG Post-Courier's Yutok column noted this week, voters are better educated and more savvy: ''They will drink the candidate's Coke, eat his lamb flaps, chew his buai [betel nut] and accept his 50 kina and vote for another candidate.''

Indeed, the prevailing mood among the 4.8 million eligible voters is undoubtedly disillusionment with the political class, after decades of decline in education, health and infrastructure despite sizeable growth in government revenues.

They can see the wealth from the big liquefied natural gas project, which will add 20% or more to gross domestic product when fully on stream in three years, getting siphoned away by politicians of the same stripe as before.

With the population growing at 3% a year, hitting 22 million by mid-century as Australia's PNG-born high commissioner Ian Kemish points out, it's a critical moment for the country's long-term success.

But with large amounts of grassroots funding already distributed by local MPs, and the honeypot set to get much bigger during the next parliament, it's not hard to see why more than 3,000 candidates are jostling for the 111 seats.

In its brief eight months in office, O'Neill's government has begun reforms, extending free education to higher grades, cleaning up state-run pension funds and other institutions, setting up a sovereign wealth fund and improving capacities in the rundown public service.

But O'Neill may well have had his own moment in the sun. It looks too early to write off the big men and their style of politicking. Namah could well be among them.

A former forestry minister in the Somare government until his defection to the opposition in 2009, Namah has been a wealthy businessman in his own right.

In 2009, he was identified as a buyer of properties worth some $1.5 million in Samoa. He initially denied it, and threatened to ''fix'' a fellow MP who queried it, but then said he had just been an ''intermediary'' in a transaction by a business associate.

Adding to the mix is Namah's background as an army officer in the PNG Defence Force. In 1997, he and fellow officers made a political intervention following the Sandline mercenary affair, which earned him more than five years in prison for sedition.

When Sir Michael got his small group of army supporters to launch a takeover attempt in December, Namah was instrumental in talking them into surrendering - partly, it emerged, by offering full amnesties and some pay-offs, according to the Australian National University specialist Nicole Harvey.

Now there is concern Namah will be able to hand-pick the army security personnel assigned to his own Vanimo-Green electorate.

It's going to be a long month, with no certainty the best candidates will emerge. But what's the alternative?


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Moais Gabuar

Harry & KJ - Belden Namah and his two co-accused were imprisoned after a military Court Martial found them guilty for the commission of a military defined offence of Mutiny - an offence related to the military organisation and defined within the Code of Military Discipline.

It has been wrongly assumed that they were penalised for comitting 'sedition' or 'treason'. I sat in throughout their trial at Murray Barracks - when their case was presided over by the then Defence Force Judge, Mark Sevua.

As such the three were confined as military prisoners as opposed to common prisoners who were tried by the established judicial system and convicted.

The only reason they were held at the Bomana penitentiory was because the military does not have such facilities to accomodate its offenders who are required to serve extended sentences in confinement.

They remained as military officers until they were pardoned by the state.

Thanks to Moais for this well informed clarification and correction - KJ

Harry Topham

Sedition is very old charge which in most western countries has never been invoked as, apart from being out of date, is an offence which is very difficult to prove.

There was a very famous case of an Australian Co-Op officer charged with sedition in PNG circa 1950/60s which was later dismissed.

Immaterial of course as the offence of sedition as outlined in the Criminal Code as an indictable offence and is also very similar in most legal elements to the more commonly used preferred charge of treason.

For more on the fascinating Brian Cooper case of 1960 go to - KJ

Ross Wilkinson

Parolled does not excuse a record of an indictable offence.

If he was pardoned then his record would be expunged and he would be a "cleanskin" with no impediment to stand.

Perhaps there is a different interpretation of parole in PNG these days.

Harry Topham

If my memory serves me correctly, the gentleman concerned was charged and found guilty of treason and subsequently imprisoned for his crime.

The crime of treason is from my memory of the Criminal code is an indictable offense carrying imprisonment terms greater than 12 years.

I also recall that under terms of the Electoral Act any person found guilty of an indictable offense was not eligible to nominate for election to Parliament.

If such is correct how did this person ever become eligible to be elected to Parliament?

In late 1997 Namah and other officers were tried gaoled on a charge of sedition for approaching prime minister Bill Skate, apparently to obtain a pardon from the government for military personnel involved in the near coup surrounding the Sandline affair. He was parolled in 2003 - KJ with help from Wikipedia

David Kitchnoge

Someone's got to rein in Namah's rogue behaviour.

I agree with Moais that Namah's continued antics reflect badly on his boss and his other minders including the one he succeeded at the party level.

Ross Wilkinson

The concern would be over the timing of his wealth "creation" and whether or not it constitutes a conflict of interests with his public duties.

If he has acquired this Power of Attorney role whilst a serving politician then it is a conflict of interests.

If he gains his commissions whilst a serving member of parliament it is a conflict of interest.

If he gains from investing the commissions obtained from a conflict of interest it is illegal.

If he uses this wealth to unduly influence voters in the forthcoming election it is unethical and illegal.

Colin Huggins

Moais- Many thanks for your reply, much appreciated.

Moais Gabuar

Colin, let me from the outset invalidate your implied assertion that I am a supporter of either of these two pollies.

Just like millions of other well intentioned PNGeans, it is equally my prayer that none of the current MP’s are returned to Parliament, God willing.

Now to answer your questions.

First, with regards to Namah’s wealth. There has been much speculation about how he acquired such wealth within a short span of time.

For a start, let us be very clear here that he did not acquire it through corruption, theft or via other dubious means. He was just smart when going about gaining the support of the timber resource owners in the Bewani district of the Sandaun Province, who accorded him the Power of Attorney to act for and on their behalf.

It was from here that as he is paid his commission, he did some wise investments and his wealth accumulated into what he has today. A self made millionaire who simply used his God given brain. Nothing wrong with that one.

If he so desires to buy off the Gold Coast Titans or buy off half of Cairns with his own money I would be last to whinge and envy him.

On the contrary, Somare and clan may be just as wealthy, but their acquired wealth may not have been gained through ‘money trees’ as was the case with Namah.

To the rest of your questions.

The Falcon Jet issue over Indon airspace and the nature of that trip? The Sydney casino sexual harassment allegation? His storming of the Supreme Court and arrest of the CJ?

I too have pondered over the same but concluded that these are questions that only O’Neill can and should answer (because Namah won’t whilst Somare will continue to add more speculation).

After all, isn’t O’Neill the CEO as opposed to Namah who is only the deputy? Isn’t it the duty of the CEO to ensure that a minimum standard of ethical conduct by his cabinet ministers is adhered to? Shouldn’t the buck stop with O’Neill as the CEO?

As it is, O’Neill lacks the courage, conviction and leadership to pull Namah into line. Namah’s outrageous conduct to date is only demonstrative and is further confirmation of O’Neill’s weakness and indecisiveness. So there you have it.

Colin Huggins

Well Moais, we can disagree. Seems though from your comment, one can see what side of the fence you sit on.

I am quite sure that the good people of either area - the Somare clan or B Namah's region - work hard to make a living with "no money trees" available.

So, rather than go on an attack, just answer my questions.

Moais Gabuar

Colin Huggins - If Belden Namah has gone "stark raving mad with power" then you have gone "stark raving stupid with your senseless insinuation" in generalising and involving the Sepiks in your branding of Somare and Namah.

For your record, Namah is from the Sandaun Province and not Sepik Province. And as for Somare, the majority of hard working Sepiks who tend to their 'money trees' in the form of coffee,coconuts and cocoa are just as disillusioned about Somare as most other PNGeans.

Yes, the majority of Sepiks believe in 'money trees', but only through the sweat of our labour and not in freebies as can be seen in most other resource-rich provinces.

Colin Huggins

Is this Belden Namah a man who has gone "stark raving mad" with power?

First we have a Falcon 900 jet in Indonesian airspace, flying back from KL. That hasn't been answered, or why the trip to Kuala Lumpur was for. And he has a shot then at Indonesia, wasted time. Jakarta would have just laughed at this "up-start"!

Next we find that in his area of the Sepik money appears to grow on trees for his overseas investments.

Somare and now this fellow - wow, go to the Sepik and you will all find "money trees".

Followed by an alleged incident in a casino in Sydney in the early hours of the morning.

Then he may be the saviour of a "football" club on the Gold Coast. Thankfully seems to have come to nothing.

Then the arrest of the CJ of PNG and him using "KGB antics".

Now he wants elections delayed. What next?

This "man" is beginning to make the Idi Amins, Robert Mugabes etc of African and other leaders of ex-colonial controlled countries look like rank amateurs.

Just Google his name.

One can only hope that the good citizens of PNG will not take the bribes of Belden Namah.

Otherwise you may end up like what happened when Mount Vesuvius erupted in way back, AD 79. All blown up whilst the new version of a Emperor Nero plays his harp!

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