WHY THE SECRECY IN PNG PROBE OF MOTI ESCAPE?

Editorial

The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Dec. 18) - Last Thursday, a Papua New Guinea Defence Force Board of Inquiry got under way to investigate the circumstances involving the October 10 flight of one Julian Moti from PNG shores.

In particular, the inquiry is tasked to investigate the involvement of PNG Defence Force personnel and equipment, and what laws were broken if at all.

This indicates a dramatic change of heart by our Prime Minister, the Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare.

We make the observation because when his just appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Paul Tiensten tried a fortnight back to re-open the investigations into the Moti Affair, he received a not-too-subtle Prime Ministerial slap on the wrist.

Sir Michael said then that the minister (Tiensten) had been misinformed and that there would be "no more inquiries" into the Moti affair.

He was most emphatic: "No more inquiries!"

The PNG Defence Force Board of Inquiry, announced by Defence Minister Martin Aini, however, appears to have the full blessing of the National Executive Council of which the Prime Minister is head.

A budget of PGK1 million [US$358,796] has been approved for the inquiry and judge, Mr Justice Gibbs Salika has been relieved of his court duties to head the inquiry.

The terms of reference (TOR) of this inquiry is omni-directional, that is, it will only inquire into the involvement of the PNG Defence Force in the flight of Moti.

If TOR is followed to the letter, which we have no doubt Justice Salika will do, PNG should know the full extent of the involvement of the PNG Defence Force officers within the eight weeks specified for the inquiry.

Yet in it being omni-directional, the inquiry is sure to leave certain other important questions unanswered.

For instance, questions pertaining to the involvement or otherwise of agencies and individuals outside the ambit of the PNGDF.

We also raise the concern about public interest and public information in this matter as well.

So far, the whole thing, from the clandestine operation itself to the hushed up investigation into it, has been kept from the public. Why is that?

The Board of Inquiry would not allow media to cover the proceedings presumably for national security interests and to allow for witnesses and others to come forth and speak without fear of exposure.

That is very well but it is hoped that this same excuse is not used to suppress publication of the final report when the board of inquiry has concluded its work.

This whole messy affair is a public concern. Laws of PNG might have been broken. They are a matter of public concern. There might have been a lapse in security. That is a public concern.

State equipment and state funded instrumentalities and individuals might have been involved in an illegal act. That is a matter of public interest.

Without pre-empting the inquiry’s findings, the feeling that others in the conspiracy might be left out gives the whole thing a conspiratorial feel about it.

The public is mystified still, for instance, what the grounds were for the removal of the Chief Secretary Joshua Kalinoe, Defence Commander Commodore Peter Ilau, and acting Police Commissioner Tom Kulunga.

The reasons given at the time of their removal was that the decision was related to their roles in the Moti case.

Last week we learnt, however, that the earlier investigation report done by Mr Kalinoe was rejected by the cabinet.

So upon what findings were the three gentlemen removed?

There must exist another super secret report on the entire drawn out case by some other competent authority which the NEC relied upon to make the decision terminating the employment of those three very senior officers.

If it does not, then the individual cases of the officers before the courts now claiming unfair dismissal will gain credence and the State’s case weakens correspondingly.

The whole thing would have been so much clearer and the approach wholesome and overarching to come all possible aspects, had Mr Tiensten’s investigation gone ahead.

As it stands, the PNG Defence Force personnel involved will be brought out into the open but those others who might have been involved will remain forever hidden.

That smacks of selective revelation and reeks of unfairness.

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