Interview: Sam Koim of anti-corruption agency, Task Force Sweep


Corruption is often singled out as a key issue facing business in Papua New Guinea. How is it being addressed? Business Advantage PNG asked the man leading PNG’s fighting against corruption, lawyer Sam Koim—the Chairman of Task Force Sweep.

Sam Koim, Chairman of Task Force Sweep.

Sam Koim, Chairman of Task Force Sweep.

Business Advantage PNG (BAPNG): What is Task Force Sweep’s mission?

Sam Koim (SK): On 12th August 2011, the Government created this multi-agency task force and they appointed me to be the Chairman. Our initial task was to investigate allegations of misuse of the K7.5 billion (US$3.24 billion) development budget for 2009–2011 in the Department of National Planning. Subsequently, as our work gained momentum, there were a lot of other areas that the Government wanted us to address and they directed more and more cases to us. Eventually, the Government had to extend the time for us to investigate corruption until a permanent standing authority [an Independent Commission Against Corruption] could be created.

BAPNG: What resources do you have at your disposal?

SK: The most important resource we have is our multi-agency structure. You have all the agencies of government now collaborating and sharing their resources to combat corruption. In the absence of a legislative or institutional arrangement specifically for this Task Force, we are making use of the existing enabling legislations of these agencies. This is a very key issue. In the past, you had a case and the Auditor-General could investigate it and refer it to our Fraud Squad or Ombudsman Commission. Now, we have the Auditor-General, the Police and the Ombudsman Commission all working together. So, there’s no momentum lost, no extra costs, no time wasted.

Apart from this, the Government has resourced us with the political will and funding. In any fight against corruption, you need a strong, genuine political will. Without political will, your actions would be undermined.

BAPNG: At what stage in a case does your involvement finish?

SK: We collect and collate evidence, investigate and assess the case, and then we make the arrests. After the arrests, we take the case through the committal hearing stages at the District Court. After the case passes the committal stages, it goes to the National Court and that’s where the State Prosecutor comes in, and the National Court takes over.

Even at this stage, we have a big interest in trying to assist, so we can see these cases go finally through to verdicts. That’s why we’re working closely with the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

One thing I have to say is the institutions of government need to be aligned to fight corruption. We’re finding one or two cases here and there, but to really, really combat corruption, you need institutional alignment—a whole-of-government approach.

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BAPNG: Based on your work so far, what kinds of corruption have you found?

SK: The most common form is fraud: embezzlement and stealing of public funds, people applying for and receiving public funds but not using them for the purpose to which those funds were appropriated. People get the money and walk away—they don’t do the job at all. There are some instances of bribery of public officers as well. Mostly, it’s related to material gain.

BAPNG: And what would you count as your principal achievements in the short time that you’ve been in operation?

SK: The principal achievement is the amount of deterrence, which is immeasurable. It’s put people on their toes. They at least know somebody is watching over them. Also, Australia is taking some positive steps to help us, and that’s also an achievement for me. People must no longer feel Australia is an easy place to take corrupt money. Apart from that, we’ve arrested more than 50 people and we’ve recouped more than K60 million (US$27.8 million). We’ve had a number of public servants dismissed, and we’ve got a lot more of cases to come.

BAPNG: If a businessperson encounters corruption, what should they be doing?

SK: Government processes are frustrating, even a routine service that should take a day can take a month to get executed. Somebody will give all the reasons why it’s taking time until you say ‘Can I take you for lunch?’. It’s unfortunate that it has become a culture. If all businesses come in and start doing the right thing, then it will have an exponential effect. Some of the corporations I know of, they even bribe government ministers and officers to get contracts. The people with the connections, even bogus companies, float to the top of the list for projects, whilst the genuine ones are weighed down at the bottom. It is really an environment that’s endangering business.

BAPNG: Can they report any corruption to your organisation?

SK: That I would encourage. We need to stop corruption. Of course, it’s big, but if we tackle it, we can. Some businesses, like those based in Australia and the United States, have their own anti-corruption regulations which mean that even if they do business offshore, they can be prosecuted on their own soil. We have already arrested two Australians and an Indian. They must not think that they can get away with it in PNG. We are zeroing in on all of those things.