Yama Bribery Scandal Takes Another Twist

Peter Yama is a businessman, serial litigator, and a political heavyweight, currently serving as Governor for Madang Province.

Writing in The Australian, renowned PNG correspondent Rowan Callick describes Yama as the ‘policeman turned security godfather turned politician’ who appears ‘untouchable, capable of pulling strings in every quarter’.

Callick writes colorfully about Yama’s past business exploits:

Yama, thrives in the face of every legal obstacle, thanks to a brilliant formula for business success. He somehow persuades acquaintances, as they acquire senior roles in government agencies, to sign with his company, Yama Security, unusually lavish 10-year contracts that contain a clause requiring the whole contract to be paid out in the event of any breach. Sometimes the managements or boards insist, once they discover their dilemma, that they never approved the contracts in the first place. More often, the contract is dumped over claims that Yama Security has failed to meet its obligations. Then the state, through the Solicitor-General, agrees to a judgment by consent, and finance bureaucrats well inclined towards him ensure the payments are forthcoming. For others claiming from government agencies, this is often a tortuous process. Entities that he has persuaded to engage him on such extraordinary terms include Telikom, Post PNG, the National Capital District Commission government, Air Niugini, the Copra Marketing Board and Motor Vehicle Insurance Ltd.

Now the tables have turned. Yama is being pursued through the courts for his alleged role in a bribery scandal that has seen two electoral officials convicted.

The case centres on a complaint submitted by former Madang Governor, James Yali, to police on 19 July 2017. Yali alleges that Yama gave cash to two assistant returning officers, during the counting period. While police successfully convicted the two returning officers for receiving corrupt gratification from Peter Yama MP, Provincial Police Commander Ben Neneo ordered no further action be taken against Yama himself.

Yali initiated legal action against the Neneo, arguing this failure constituted a breach of his constitutional rights. Judge Canning agreed.

In a frank judgement Canning concluded that the Provincial Police Commander had ‘actively prevented’ any investigation of the complaint against Yama.

Justice Canning acknowledged the courts should only intervene in police matters, in rare and exceptional cases. This was deemed such a case:

This is an exceptional case. The plaintiff’s [Yali] complaint was specific in nature and on the face of it was so serious and sufficiently supported by evidence, as to give rise to an enforceable obligation on the part of the Police, including the first defendant, to investigate it. I consider that the first defendant has by his actions (including his failure to give reasons for not investigating the complaint) appeared to deny the plaintiff the full protection of the law (for purposes of Section 37(1) of the Constitution) and acted harshly, oppressively and in other proscribed ways (for purposes of Section 41(1) of the Constitution), giving rise to an apparent breach of human rights.

While by this stage Ben Neneo had been removed from his post, Canning ordered his successor to provide an account of what the police will do in response to Yali’s complaint.

This Court order, and Neneo’s departure, saw the wheels of justice slowly turn from their idle position.

Yama was called in for questioning.

But in traditional Yama style he has attempted to block the police.

Yama initiated court action in a bid to restrain the police from arresting him. Justice Kariko dismissed the case.

Following the dismissal Yama was served with an undated letter from the Commissioner of Police informing him to personally present himself at the Commissioner’s office by Friday 14th February 2020 at 10:30 am.

Yama appealed the National Court decision and sort an order which would ‘restrain the police from inviting, interviewing, arresting or attempting to arrest him pending the determination of the appeal’.

The Supreme Court dismissed Yama’s request.

Facing a closed door in the courts, Yama took his case to parliament launching a series of personal broadsides against the Police Minister.

Then a further bombshell hit the newspapers last week.

Following the Supreme Court dismissal, it is alleged Yama attempted to bribe Yali.

Yali told the Post-Courier: ‘I was contacted and picked up at my home by deputy administrator Joe amera and one Joe Jeffery, around 7pm in the evening. I was told by the two that Mr Yama wanted to talk with me and resolve the matter out of court as a brother’. Yali claims he was offered K10,000 by Yama as an inducement to drop his case against the Madang Governor.

News then dropped that the Madang Provincial Administrator Joe Kunda had been arrested on four counts of bribery, while a number of his colleagues are the subject of a police manhunt.

The question is will Yama’s Teflon coating survive this crisis?

He has survived scares before.

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.

Yama’s greatest vulnerability in the current case is that the two electoral officials he is said by the courts to have bribed, were convicted. It stands to reason that the provider of the bribe, should be tried, in addition to the recipients.

On the other hand, his main accuser is James Yali, a convicted rapist. Yali has also indicated he might be more ‘amicable’ if Yama ordered the provincial government to pay a K3 million bill Yali claims he is owed.

That muddies the water.

The only way this matter will be credibly concluded is if the police can mount a transparent investigation, where they clearly document to the public their chosen course of action. Anything less, will leave a thick air of suspicion.