WEWAK - By April 2019 prime minister Peter O’Neill was clueless about the depth of opposition to his leadership of Papua New Guinea.
He genuinely believed he would win a vote of no confidence hands down.
In the 3 May 2019 issue of The National newspaper, the title of one of the leading articles had O’Neill saying, “I’m Safe”.
The article quoted him saying that the opposition had “no hope of being successful with a vote of no confidence.” One month later he was out of office and sitting on the back bench.
O’Neill had badly miscalculated the level of support within his own party as well as the backing of his broader coalition.
One of the earliest MP’s to abandon O’Neill was Governor Philip Undialu. In the 28 April 2019 issue of PNG Attitude, Undialu says, “Since the first shipment of gas [LNG] in 2014, over K70 billion has been earned but O’Neill is not telling the country where the money was parked.” K70 billion!
New prime minister James Marape needs a quick win with an investigation to secure evidence of O’Neill’s corruption.
Currently the United Bank of Switzerland (UBS) loan arrangement is being investigated as possible proof. The problem, however, is that it will be an involved, drawn-out investigation, complicated by the fact that the world price of oil dropped from approximately $US100 per barrel to about $US50 a barrel during a key time in the loan negotiations.
In addition, the UBS is not bringing any accusations of corruption against Peter O’Neill.
But a clear-cut example of corruption is the contract between Asia Development Bank (ADB) and Wild Cat Developments Ltd. The deal was signed in 2014 but reporting on the corruption did not come to light until November 2018. O’Neill was the sole proprietor of Wild Cat Developments.
In 2014 ADB and Wild Cat agreed to a $32.86 million contract in which Wild Cat would build 12 bridges in West New Britain. In February 2015 construction began.
In March the following year, the ADBs Office of Anticorruption and Integrity visited the project and learned that only 10% was completed even though 60% of the money had been spent.
That 60% amounted to K33 million in PNG currency. If we deduct 10% for the work completed, it means that O’Neill could have walked away with as much as K29.7 million.
Neither The National or the Post Courier ever reported this. Thankfully The Guardian and PNG Attitude did the work to bring this fraud to the light of day.
And we could expect the ADB Office of Anticorruption and Integrity to be witnesses since it had initially uncovered the fraudulent activity.
On 14 November 2018, PNG Attitude quoted an expert criminologist as saying:
“[The] PM’s conflicts of interest are legion, but there has never been anything like this ADB report before,” said Kristian Lasslett, an investigative criminologist who has been researching corruption in PNG for more than a decade.
“O’Neill is PNG’s Mr Teflon, while others around him have crashed against the rocks, he seems to escape unscathed. This ADB investigation is a bone-shaking exception to the rule. An international body has uncovered activity by a company he owns which appears to fit within the dictionary definition of fraud.”
The prime minister has managed to keep this matter under wraps for more than three years.
Papua New Guinea allowed Wild Cat free for seven years. Now it is time for something to be done.