Chaotic PNG election scene in Moresby with cancelled polling, 4 ‘arrests’

Voting in Abau district in Papua New Guinea's Central Province, near Port Moresby. Image: Belinda Kora/PNGFM

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

Papua New Guinea’s general election has been rocked with many disruptions, the cancellation of the capital Port Moresby’s one-day polling, and the arrest of four senior election officers for carrying K185,000 (NZ$80,000) in cash and “suspicious” documents.

Electoral Commissioner Patalias Gamato vowed he would not resign in the face of a barrage of criticism, Loop PNG reports.

The National newspaper reports that the four were questioned but later released because police had to first obtain arrest warrants from the court.

National Capital District-Central police commander Assistant Commissioner Sylvester Kalaut was quoted by the newspaper as saying they have not been charged but may be re-arrested.

The drama began around dawn on Tuesday when election workers, who had been “camping” all night to prepare for the one-day polling in the three electorates in the National Capital District (NCD), decided to stage a protest strike because they had not been paid their “camping” allowance.

Commissioner Gamato, after consulting NCD Election Manager Terence Hetinu and police, deferred polling until tomorrow.

People who had arrived early at the various polling stations were told to return on Friday.

Cash for the workers
Then Hetinu, according to Gamato, who was bringing the cash to pay the workers, was brought in by police to brief them on the polling cancellation.

Officers became suspicious and arrested him when they found the large amount of cash in his vehicle.

In an unrelated event later, according to Kalaut, police officers arrested three other election officials in front of the Boroko Electoral Commission office allegedly trying to transport election-related materials in an official vehicle but without any official police escort.

“We have questioned and released them. We have to obtain a warrant of arrest to charge them for the relevant offences under the Criminal Code,” Kalaut said.

Kalaut said Hetinu would be questioned later on “correspondence” police allegedly found between him and a candidate.

Gamato said he would consider disciplinary action against Hetinu if he was found to be in contact with NCD candidates, The National reports.

On the cash Hetinu was carrying around, Gamato said: “We had made arrangements to organise payments for camping allowances. He was carrying that cash around when police picked him up.

3000 Port Moresby election workers
“Police also questioned me and I said I was aware of that.”

More than 3000 election workers had been engaged by the commission for polling and counting in Port Moresby.

Gamato agreed that it was “not normal” for someone to be carrying such a large amount of money around Port Moresby but “that cash was made available as soon as possible in the morning”.

Gamato said there was a system in place for election managers to pay election workers, based on the list of names provided.

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