THE TOKAUT BLOG

Wheels of justice turn slowly for Philip Siaguru

Corruption, as we all know, is a huge problem in Papua New Guinea, draining billions of Kina from the government purse and depriving basic services of vital funding. While there have been some heartening instances of high-profile public figures being brought to justice in recent times, Eremas Wartoto and Paul Tiensten are obvious examples, these cases are all too few and far between and represent nothing but a tiny needle in a giant haystack. There are still far to many high profile figures who seem to be beyond the law, think Michael Somare and his role in the Singapore bribery scandal for example, while for others, the wheels of justice seem to roll all too slowly.

Philip Siaguru is one who seems to fit this latter category. It has recently been announced the former high-profile Vice Chancellor for the University of Natural Resources and Environment (UNRE) in East New Britain, has been arrested and charged with fraud.

According to media reports, Siaguru was arrested on October 9 and has been charged with 12 counts of abuse of office under section 92 of the Criminal Code.

The alleged offences are claimed to have been committed by Siaguru in his role as Vice Chancellor between 2009 and 2014, when it is alleged he exceeded his authority and awarded 12 contracts for various building projects ranging between K800,000 to K16 million in value. The total sum involved is alleged to be K41.8 million.

But these allegations are hardly new. On February 12, 2015, the Post Courier newspaper reported on concerns raised in Parliament by Rabaul MP Allan Marat accusing Philip Siaguru of high levels of nepotism. According to PNG Blogs,the revelations came after a student revolt against Siaguru’s ‘fine living while the university went to the dogs’ and ‘years of suspicious activities’.

It appears from a National Court decision, those allegations led swiftly to the suspension of the the Vice Chancellor by the University administration, on February 20, 2015, pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

That investigation led to a report in April 2015 that found Siaguru to have prima facie breached the Leadership Code and Public Service General Orders. Firstly, in the appointment of his spouse as Acting Registrar. Secondly, in the purchase of a motor vehicle from an unapproved dealer at considerable extra cost to the University. Thirdly, in failing to follow proper procurement processes in breach of the Public Finance (Management) Act. The following month, May, the plaintiff was sent a letter inviting him to show cause why his appointment should not be terminated

Twelve months then elapsed before, in April 2016, the Department of Education confirmed the termination of Philip Siaguru as the Vice Chancellor for the UNRE, as shown in this EMTV news clip:

The Department said it had conducted its own twelve-month investigation into ten allegations of mismanagement of funds and ‘had found a lot of incriminating material’ relating to two of those allegations. Higher Education Minister, Malakai Tabar, said all the documents had been handed to the fraud squad.

According to this time line, it took more than 12 months from the allegations against Siaguru first being raised on the floor of Parliament, in February 2015, before documents were handed to the police in April 2016. It has now taken a further eighteen months for the police investigation to reach the point of arresting and charging the former Vice Chancellor.

More than two and half years have now passed, and yet Philip Siaguru has not yet had his day in court and we are no closer to knowing the truth of the allegations against him.

Whether the charges are ultimately found proven or not, Siaguru’s current predicament is a far cry from the heady days of 2010, when it was announced his Membership of the British Empire (MBE) had been upgraded to Commander status (CBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. An upgrade which prompted a fawning biography from the journalist Malum Nalu.