I KNOW how hard it is in Papua New Guinea to resist the power of the State. The democratic tradition has shallow roots and the clout of money is strong.
This often leads to an unhappy trade-off between the right thing to do for country and personal benefit. Altruism is in short supply.
But this is a critical time for Papua New Guineans. The country is sliding towards rule by oligarchs and people of strength and integrity need to stand up and be counted.
What good and decent Papua New Guineans don't seem to be able to count on any more is the support and influence of the Australian government.
Let's catch up with where this saga got to following a dramatic weekend.
On Saturday, after strong public hints from prime minister Peter O’Neill, and who knows what verbal instructions, police commissioner Gary Baki suspended police fraud directorate chief Matthew Damaru and stood down his team, accusing them of undermining his authority and of being corrupt.
An O’Neill appointee, Commissioner Baki said he had learned of the high-profile arrests through the media, which he considered an act of insubordination in total defiance of his office.
“The established practice and procedure is that all high profile cases are briefed up through the chain of command and ultimately to the office of the Commissioner,” Baki said.
But prominent commentator and analyst Martyn Namorong advised people not to believe “public relations spin that the fraud squad should have warned Baki about the arrests.
“If investigating officers believe reporting a particular case to superiors may undermine investigations, should the investigating officers advice their superior about an impending arrest?” Namorong asked.
“The fraud squad has been in situations where police commissioners have sided in court with the high profile people they wanted to arrest. Naturally the fraud squad would be wary of informing the Commissioner of impending high profile arrests.”
Meanwhile, outspoken Oro governor, Gary Juffa, has predicted that Papua New Guinea is “marching towards certain chaos”.
“We see factions in the police force developing into what can only become a dangerous stand-off. A population grows anxious and restless. The justice system must move and move with as much haste as practicable. Failure to do so will lead to certain anarchy.”
Elder statesman and former prime minister Sir Mekere Morauta was also alarmed at these developments.
“Mr O’Neill knows well that the Office of the Prime Minister is not a personal possession,” Sir Mekere said in a media statement. “It is a Constitutional office, the highest in the land, and it belongs to the people and the State. It does not belong to Peter O’Neill. It is there to serve the people and the nation; it is not there to serve the interests of the incumbent.’
Sir Mekere pointed out that the power of the prime minister “should not be used as a weapon to protect the incumbent from due process, or to cause due process to be thwarted.
“A shadow has been cast over the Office of the Prime Minister by the activities of Mr O’Neill in relation to the exercise of the warrant for his arrest, and the police investigation of the Paraka case from which the criminal charges he faces derive,” he said.
In a direct comment on the suspension of fraud squad, Sir Mekere said that police officers, judges, magistrates, lawyers and other authorities must be free to do their jobs without fear of official retribution or political interference.
“No person should be suspended from duty for doing his or her duty, much less when that duty involves an investigation into the prime minister himself,” he observed.
“That is political interference of the worst sort. It has added to the cloud of oppression and intimidation that hangs over Papua New Guineans, heightened by physical violence and threats of physical violence.
“Papua New Guineans rightly expect the Fraud Squad officers to be reinstated immediately and be allowed to get on with the job.”
Sir Mekere said the same considerations applied to Mr O’Neill.
“If he is innocent, has nothing to be afraid of,” he said.
But then Sir Mekere stepped up the rhetoric.
“The Prime Minister has lost touch with reality. He is talking to himself, fooling himself, and believing his own stories. He is listening only to a small clique of advisers and cronies.
“Instead Mr O’Neill should listen instead to what concerned citizens are saying. For a start he should hand himself in to the police and tell them what he knows about the Paraka case, and what his involvement was.
“Mr O’Neill has stated publicly that he knows ‘who are the real financial beneficiaries of the Paraka transactions’ and that he ‘looks forward to the facts seeing the light of day on this issue’. Now is the time, prime minister. Now is the time. Not through the media, but through the police and the courts."