Former PNG cop who probed PM appointed to provincial role

8:22 pm on 8 November 2017

A former senior police officer who investigated Papua New Guinea's prime minister over alleged fraud has been appointed a provincial administrator.

Thomas Eluh

Thomas Eluh Photo: RNZI

Thomas Eluh, who had been assistant police commissioner for crimes, is now acting provincial administrator of Southern Highlands province.

Southern Highlands is the province of prime minister Peter O'Neill, whose arrest Mr Eluh and colleagues in the anti-fraud squad had sought until recently.

The case divided the police force since 2014, and while the arrest warrant was not executed, a challenge to the warrant's legality remains in the court system.

This week, in a statement confirming his new appointment, Mr O'Neill said Mr Eluh had the depth of experience to help build efficiency in the Highlands province's public service.

The prime minister also mentioned the unrest and violence which had plagued Southern Highlands since the back end of the recent general election. He said Mr Eluh would work closely with the provincial police command to restore public order.

Sidelined from probe of PM

Two years ago, Mr Eluh had been sidelined from the force by police commissioner Gary Baki over his probe of the fraud case, for which Mr O'Neill was wanted for questioning.

Suspended by Mr Baki, Mr Eluh took the matter to court. His dismissal was recently quashed by the national court. But Mr Eluh was not reinstated to the constabulary, having been cited as a possibile destabilising factor in the force.

"I accepted the decision... and I'm no longer in control of the cases against the prime minister or anyone else, because I'm no longer a policeman, so I have no control over the investigations," said Mr Eluh.

He said that when the new job offer arose, he sat back and reflected on it as an unattached public servant.

"I came out with the conclusion that I'm no longer a policeman and I have no more control over those cases any more, even though my heart is still strong and I would still continue to fight corruption at every level," he explained.

The Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea Peter O'Neill

The Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea Peter O'neil Photo: Supplied

Southern Highlands public service out of control

For now, Thomas Eluh is focussed on trying to restore both public order and a functional public service amid lingering lawlessness in Southern Highlands.

Unrest and deadly violence has plagued the province, particularly its capital Mendi, since the recent general election, as basic services ground to a halt.

According to Mr Eluh, the conduct of local public servants had lapsed over a number of years.

But he says that during the election, in which fighting between supporters of rival candidates surged, many public servants took sides.

"The situation is still tense. The law and order situation is still very much not on the ground, and other government institutions like teachers, health services and public servants unfortunately are all over the place. There is no control now in the province."

The prime minister said that Mr Eluh had the experience in the public sector, particularly in the Highlands, to take on the provincial job.

"As an assistant commissioner of police, Mr Eluh has demonstrated sound judgement and effective leadership," said Mr O'Neill.

Meanwhile, Mr Eluh said "I'm someone who loves challenges, and this would be a very challenging experience for me, so I will try my utmost best to try and help the province and the people there."

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