By Dr. Joseph Ketan
IRC Commissioner Sam Koim has a reputation for going after the big crooks in Papua New Guinea. After serving his legal apprenticeship at Justice Department, Mr Koim was handpicked by former prime minister Peter O’Neill to investigate and prosecute corrupt politicians and their foreign cronies. Mr Koim demonstrated diligence in his work by prosecuting crooked public office holders. He took a step further by investigating his political boss, the prime minister, which ultimately cost him his job as head of Task Force Sweep.
Now, after being appointed IRC Commissioner by the current prime minister James Marape, Mr Koim promises us that he is going after the Malaysian timber cartel, an obnoxious gang of tax evaders, who have been corrupting PNG politicians and public servants over the last 40 years to steal billions of dollars through transfer pricing and false declarations on the value of logs for exporting.
The IRC must be thorough and ruthless in its approach to weeding out corruption with the forest industry. A 1980s inquiry into the forest industry by Justice Tos Barnett uncovered widespread corruption involving a deputy prime minister, parliamentarians, and departmental heads working in partnership with the Sia brothers and other Malaysians to steal money from the country.
All corrupt PNG politicians and public servants were named in the reports by Tos Barnett. Veteran PNG journalist Harlyne Joku and the Times newspaper editor Anna Solomon published a series of reports on corruption within the forest industry. I have published the names of crooked PNG government officials in a chapter of a book edited by Michael Rynkiewich of the Melanesian Institute.
Papua New Guineans tend to have collective amnesia on corrupt officials, so we need to constantly remind readers of the past sins of our leaders.
Sam Koim knows that state agencies and the officials who work within them have aided and abetted the work of crooked foreign businessmen. The Malaysian loggers were brought into this country by Michael Somare and other politicians. RH is at the forefront of destructive logging in this country. It owns the Vision City Mall as well as the Stanley Hotel, in addition to other companies. It will require the most skilled and imaginative of auditors to trace the trail of transfers of funds from one company to another through a series of Holding companies and offshore accounts.
We need to set an example to deter crooks from robbing us in future. Lock up the big foreign crooks, including facilitators within PNG, and nationalize all assets acquired through fraud. The logging companies must now pay for their crimes against our environment, our country, and our people.