Dec 18, 2017 Last Updated 3:31 AM, Dec 18, 2017

O’Neill survives for now

Financial woes, legal wrangles, public protests mount against PNG leader

IT has been a turbulent month in Papua New Guinea as students from four universities boycotted class and demanded for the Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, to step down over corruption allegations and handling of the economy. Chief among the two key concerns has been the protection of the integrity of the Prime Minister’s office.

Students echoed general public concerns that the Prime Minister, who still has a pending warrant of arrest, related to alleged authorisation of payments to a PNG law firm, should step down and turn himself in for questioning.

The unrest began a month ago, after a series of high-profile arrests by the country’s Police Fraud and anti Corruption squad headed by veteran detective, Mathew Damaru. A senior member of the PNG judiciary, Justice Sir Bernard Sakora, was arrested followed by the Prime Minister’s lawyer, Tiffany Twivey.

A day later, Justice Minister, Ano Pala was arrested and brought in for questioning. Within days of the arrests, a chain of events occurred drawing public outrage particularly on social media. Police Commissioner, Gary Baki, suspended Mathew Damaru and members of the Fraud Squad. Then, members of the Police Special Services Division (SSD) barricaded the office and prevented the media from taking pictures at the Fraud Squad office.

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AUSTRALIAN voters go to the polls on 2 July, after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called a double dissolution of both Houses of Parliament on 8 May. Halfway through the lengthy 55-day electoral campaign, Australia’s relations with its Pacific neighbours have not been a feature of the election.

Despite this, the final result will have important implications for the region, as Australia remains the key aid, trade and military power in the islands, despite anger over Canberra’s climate policy. Current polling suggests a close result, after Australian Labor Party (ALP) leader Bill Shorten has improved his party’s standing following a disastrous election defeat in 2013.

Shorten, a former trade union leader, has advanced popular policies on taxation, health and education, but must overcome criticism of the record of ALP governments between 2007-13. Leading a Coalition government of Liberal and National parties, Turnbull took office in a leadership spill last September, defeating his more conservative rival Tony Abbott.

The Abbott government’s climate policies were widely condemned around the region, and Turnbull is hoping his foreign affairs team can improve Australia’s international standing (look out for yet another post-election Cabinet reshuffle affecting Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Trade Minister Steve Ciobo and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Concetta Fierravanti-Wells).

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NEW Zealand has been quite restrained in how it has publicly approached the issue of China’s provocative territorial expansion in the South China Sea. Although Australia hasn’t been shy about taking what is being seen as a pro-America and anti-China stance, New Zealand has tried to stay neutral.

In other words, taking what is from its perspective a more practical and less idealistic position. Consider Australia’s consistent endorsement of America’s freedom of navigation operations, where heavily armed vessels and aircraft sail and fly close to disputed territory in the South China Sea.

Then there is Australia’s uncompromising approach to China’s increasing assertiveness in its 2016 Defence White Paper. From the other side of the Tasman, the most robust statement so far on the heightened tension in the South China Sea has come from New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully. “A particular cause of that heightened tension has been reclamation and construction activity and deployment of military assets in disputed areas,”

McCully said in a speech at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore in March. “We regard all of these activities as unhelpful, regardless of the party responsible.” McCully said New Zealand strongly promoted a “rules-based system that employs diplomacy to support regional stability”.

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Tuvalu court jails former PM

Japan, Taiwan interests named in abuse of office trial

FOR the first time in Tuvalu’s 38 years as an independent nation, a former prime minister currently sitting as an opposition member-of- parliament has been convicted and jailed on corruption and abuse of office charges. Apisai Ielemia, Tuvalu’s Prime Minister for four years from August 2006 to September 2010, was last month jailed for 12 months by Chief Magistrate Simon Kofe after finding him guilty on four counts of abuse of office.

However, in a rare departure from the norm, Chief Magistrate Kofe further ruled that the 12 month jail term should only be served during weekends. This frees Ielemia to continue to live with his family in Funafuti, the capital, during the week. And Islands Business has also been advised that he will be able to continue to serve as an MP.

The charges stemmed from the final year of Ielemia’s term, where on four occasions starting in November 2009, the former leader received a total of AU$21,506.07 (US$15,524.52) from two foreign interests.

The money was deposited into his National Bank of Tuvalu personal account, which he admitted in his cautioned interview with the Tuvalu Police and again at trial. Ielemia said he used the money for the benefit of others.

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Indonesia is not Melanesia

LATE last week, the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement rejecting the Solomon Islands Prime Minister’s comments on the issue of West Papua and the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG). In his statement, Manasseh Sogavare proposes that the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) be given full membership to the MSG.

He asserts that the Indonesian President’s refusal to meet him, as Chair of the MSG, demonstrates Jakarta’s aim in joining the MSG was merely to “protect its own interest other than engage in dialogue about the serious human rights issues in West Papua”. In response, Indonesia’s newly appointed Director General for Asia Pacific and Africa, Ambassador Desra Percaya, described Sogavare’s statement as a violation of “the basic principles of sovereignty and non-interference as enshrined in the Agreement Establishing the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) in 2007”.

He went on to say, “it is . . . myopic for Prime Minister Sogavare to speculate that Indonesia’s agenda in the Pacific, let alone in the MSG, is solely Papua driven”. While I respect Indonesia’s right to respond, it is vital that Melanesian and other Pacific Island countries do not allow Jakarta to dictate what we believe, say and do, especially when it comes to the defence of human rights.

Indonesia has persistently committed human rights violations, including atrocities, against Melanesians in West Papua for over 50 years. That is not a myth. It is the truth. 

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