AMONG the pieces of legislation prime minister Peter O’Neill is contemplating introducing at the next sitting of parliament in a few weeks is the much desired and talked about corruption watchdog, the Independent Commission against Corruption - ICAC.
Given the deteriorating amount of corruption in this country, particularly worsening white collar crime, legislation to fight fraud, theft and bribery should be a paramount responsibility of any government.
While Mr O’Neill has announced he will table an ICAC bill in parliament (a promise made many times before), it does raise questions about his motives.
This is especially so given his failure to adequately deal with corruption in the past, his own reluctance to be called to account over police matters involving himself, and his disrespect for corruption fighting and law enforcement agencies that venture too close to his office.
The ICAC bill, as I mentioned, is no new idea that Peter O’Neill or his government have just conceived. It’s has been around a long time and the necessary legislative changes were passed by parliament under the previous O’Neill government.
But the tabling and passing of the actual ICAC Bill was stalled by the same government.
And there were serious questions raised about the integrity of the bill, particularly the inclusion of the office of the prime minister in the proposed commission.
In the eyes of many learned people, this would compromise the independence of the commission.
When all this was being worked on, Mr O’Neill’s ruling coalition had a comfortable majority of over 100 members in the 111 member parliament – easily exceeding the two-thirds majority of 74 required for passing such a bill.
If Mr O’Neill was serious about fighting corruption, he could have allowed the changes to guarantee the independence and transparency of the commission and proceeded with the establishment of ICAC.
But he did not. He stalled the process. Stopped it stone dead. There was only one conclusion that could be reached.
Peter O’Neill and his government were not serious about fighting corruption.
Nothing illustrated this more than his vindictive destruction Investigative Task Force Sweep; a corruption fighting entity he established when first elected in 2012 and which, under Sam Koim’s leadership, developed into a very effective corruption-busting entity.
The similarly effective police fraud squad was also given the O’Neill treatment, with divisive and damaging effects that continue to affect the personnel and operations of the police force.
The message seemed to be: if you get to close to O’Neill; you’ll be done away with.
In this new parliament, Mr O’Neill knows full well that his government does not have the two-thirds majority to successfully pass the ICAC bill.
So what is Peter O’Neill trying to prove in saying, once again, that the ICAC bill will go before parliament?
To me, it is a psychological game that will have no tangible outcome.
Like a carrot on a stick, ICAC will always dangle just out of reach of the donkey.
If Mr O’Neill is genuine about fighting corruption in Papua New Guinea, there is a simple way in which he can demonstrate this to the people and to our international friends.
He can humbly comply with the national court ruling and surrender himself to police for questioning on the alleged corrupt practices he has been implicated with.
Mr O’Neill and police commissioner Gary Baki must allow the law of the land to take its course without further interference from them in the course of justice.
Only then will the people of Papua New Guinea have trust in O’Neill and appreciate his authenticity. And surely, at that point, a suspicious opposition will support an ICAC bill.