Peter Yama dodges electoral bribery charge

Unprecedented violence, fraud and intimidation “hijacked” the 2017 national election. There was ‘widespread fraud and malpractice, and extensive vote rigging’ says Nicole Haley, an associate professor at the Australian National University and the lead author of an in depth study into the election.

It is against this backdrop that on 3 October 2018 two election officials were convicted by the National Court, after they failed to report a corrupt gratification they had received from a candidate during the vote count for the Madang Provincial Seat.

John Tumaing confessed to receiving K50 from the candidate, and Nixon Kavo, admitted to receiving K500.

Under the Criminal Code both men were duty bound to report this corrupt gratification to a law enforcement officer. They failed in this duty. As a result they were convicted under s97C(1) of the Criminal Code, and each was sentenced to 9 months imprisonment.

However, the candidate named by the National Court as having provided this corrupt gratification, has not been charged by police. The candidate is the Madang Governor Mr Peter Yama.

It is highly irregular that two men who received the corrupt payments have been arrested, charged and convicted, while the man alleged to have made those corrupt payments, has not been arrested and charged?

This it particularly galling when, according to the judge, it was the candidate who was responsible for initiating the payments and who put the two election officials ‘in a difficult position’. ‘There is an appearance that they are scapegoats’ said the judge.

Mr Yama is a serial litigator whose murky past has previously featured in a five-part investigation published by PNGi.

In that exposé we revealed that Yama has seemingly evaded police investigation and criminal charges on a number of occasions. Indeed, in 2010, the senior Australian journalist Rowan Callick described Yama as the ‘policeman turned security godfather turned politician’ who appears ‘untouchable, capable of pulling strings in every quarter’.

In 2004, when the Supreme Court found company records produced in a court case filed by Peter Yama were forged, it recommended the matter be referred to the police for further investigation.

Similarly, in 2009, the Commission of Inquiry into the Department of Finance recommended Peter Yama be referred to the police for making ‘an unlawful claim’. 

There is no evidence on the public record the police ever followed up on either matter.

This stands in stark contrast to events in 2013, when Peter Yama was convicted for threatening to kill police officers in a fracas outside the Madang court house (which, incidentally, was also related to a election vote count).

At his trial in this matter, several police officers gave evidence that Yama had threatened to kill them. One of them testified that Peter Yama had said ‘if anything goes wrong, you Ramu Police will be the first guys to be held responsible. I got some high-powered firearms, which I will use to shoot you’.  Yama did not deny the accusations and was sentenced to six months jail.

So, the RPNGC has shown before it can, when it wishes, stand up to powerful men like Mr Yama, so why have they not done so in the current case of electoral corruption?

It is time for the police to demonstrate they themselves have not been corrupted and are committed to upholding the rule of law and treating everyone equally.  Mr Yama must be arrested and charged.

At stake is not only the reputation of the police force but also any faint hope that in 2022 we might see a free and fair election.