Over the last fifteen years the Paga Hill Development Company (PHDC) and its CEO Gudmundur Fridriksson have hit the news for all the wrong reasons. Slammed by the Public Accounts Committee for acquiring a state lease over Paga Hill through ‘corrupt dealings’, condemned by the Auditor General for illegally seizing money from deceased estates, and rebuked by Sean Dorney for the embarrassing Destination Papua New Guinea saga that is etched in public service folklore.
But we were told, this time at Paga Hill it would be different, Paga Hill Development Company would relocate National Housing Corporation residents from Paga Hill to 6-mile, where they would join with customary landowners to produce a model community. On their website, PHDC boasts, ‘the master plan incorporates a shared 1,000m2 community centre, communal ablution, shower and kitchen facilities should households require them, along with market gardens, market stalls, along with sports grounds. In addition, many household plots will back onto common open/green space areas for play and gathering. Together, these elements foster a sense of community, creating opportunities for interaction and strengthening of community ties’.
But like Destination Papua New Guinea, the grand promises are failing to materialise. EMTV reports new allegations by customary landowner leader Sir Peter Bal that PHDC’s earthworks at 6-mile brought about a major landslide that has damaged properties and gardens. They also claim PHDC has failed to provide basic services to National Housing Corporation residents displaced from Paga Hill.
Once again the government, and the National Housing Corporation, has left hard-working Papua New Guinea citizens exposed to a company slammed as a foreign speculator by the public accounts committee.
Mr. Antonio I. Basilio
Director APEC Business Advisory Council
32/F, Zuellig Building
Makati Avenue Corner Paseo de Roxas
Makati City 1225 Philippines
Dr Alan Bollard
35 Heng Mui Keng Terrace
RE: APEC Business Advisory Council Member Mr. Matthew W.E. Tjoeng
Given the APEC Leaders strong stand on fighting corruption as evidenced in their recent Beijing Declaration on Fighting Corruption;
Given the APEC Leaders recognition that corruption impedes economic sustainability and development, threatens social security and fairness, undermines the rule of law, and erodes government accountability, as well as public trust;
Given the APEC Leaders continued commitments to combat corruption across all sectors, including public sector and private sector, in the Asia Pacific region;
We wish to bring to your attention the antecedents background of the APEC Business Advisory Council member for Papua New Guinea, Mr. Matthew W.E. Tjoeng.
Mr Tjoeng is a shareholder and director of the PNG registered company, Garamut Enterprises. Mr. Tjoeng holds 17.5% of the shares in the company. The other shareholders are all members of Mr. Tjoeng’s family. Mr. Matthew Tjoeng shares the Board with four other members of the Tjoeng family. Garamut Enterprises is a Tjoeng family owned and controlled company.
Garamut Enterprises has been exposed in official investigations and reports in Papua New Guinea as being involved in at least fives instances of illegal activity – two involving illegal payments and three illegal land transactions:
- ONE: Garamut received K28,000 illegally paid out of the government’s Cocoa Stabilization Fund without Ministerial approval.
Source: Report of the Auditor General 2010. Download as a pdf
- TWO: Garamut received K137, 797 illegally paid for ‘Pagui Ambunti District Treasury Office Building’. The payment did not follow procurement process. Information and accounting documentation was not available.
Source: Public Accounts Committee Report to Parliament on the Inquiry into the Sepik Highways, Roads and Bridges Maintenance and other Infrastructure Trust Account. Download as a pdf
- THREE: Garamut was granted a state lease over Portion 2399 by the Lands Department despite the fact this is substantially customary land situated at the top of Burns Peak. The lease was illegally exempted from advertisement which meant no competitive tender and no revenue to the State.
Source: Public Accounts Committee Report to Parliament on the Inquiry into the Department of Land and Physical Planning.
- FOUR: Garamut was granted a business commercial lease over Lot 23, Section 71, Hohola in 1999, which was originally zoned open space. The NCD Physical Planning Board had initially rejected the application, claiming it was too close to residents, and should be developed as a public park. The Minister for Lands overruled the Board and the lease was eventually granted. Judge Sheehan has stated:
“From the time Garamut’s application was lodged the processing of the application failed totally to follow the requirements of the Land Act. The breaches were gross, a travesty, to the extent that it can be said the Act was not followed at all. But further, to the extent that the Minister made a disposition of State land which was not open to scrutiny but removed from the public without the sanction of the Act, granted private access to State land, conferring an advantage, particularly a commercial advantage on a single applicant without reason, the grant clearly is not only outside the scope and purposes of the Act, unreasonable and unlawful, it is a fraud on the Act itself. The grant in fact was a nullity and no lease, no interest in land, no title was issued in accordance with the Act”.
Source: Steamships Trading Company Ltd v Minister For Lands and Physical Planning  PGNC 11. Available online
- FIVE: Garamut was granted a lease over customary land (Portion 2585) in 2008 through an Urban Development Lease. Judge Kandakasi has stated:
“Despite the lack of any acquisition by the State of Portion 2585, people in the Department of Lands facilitated and enable the grant of the UDL in favour of Garamut over Portion 2585. In so doing those who were responsible in my view, did so fraudulently against the traditional or customary owners of the land. Sitting in the National and Supreme Courts for a while now, I have come across more cases of possible fraud facilitated by the Registrar of Titles and other officers of the Department of Lands. This must stop and the only way to do that is to have proper investigations and those responsible being criminally charged and proceeded with. I would therefore strongly recommend (since I cannot direct the police) that the police take the relevant and necessary steps right away”.
Source: Loa v Kimas  PGNC 209. Available online
It is also noted that Garamut Enterprises is registered in PNG as a ‘local company’ despite 86.5% of its shares being held by Australian citizens.
In the light of the above facts Mr. Matthew W.E. Tjoeng is clearly not a fit and proper person to serve on the APEC Business Advisory Council. Further, by occupying that role Mr. Tjoeng undermines the APEC commitments to fighting corruption.
On behalf of The People of Papua New Guinea
There has still been NO ACTION to cancel the huge SABL land grab, revoke the unlawful leases or stop the illegal logging in Papua New Guinea.
It is now 630 days since Prime Minister Peter O’Neill was told that the SABL leases were unlawful and should be cancelled.
On June 24, 2013 O’Neill was given the reports of the SABL Commission Inquiry which detail the widespread fraud and mismanagement used by foreign logging companies to gain illegal access to over 5 million hectares of land.
O’Neill has REPEATEDLY STATED the leases will be canceled and illegal logging stopped.
In September 2013 O’Neill told Parliament:
“We will no longer watch on as foreign owned companies come in and con our landowners, chop down our forests and then take the proceeds offshore”
In June 2014, announcing an NEC decision cancelling the leases, O’Neill said
“We are taking these steps to reclaim our customary land illegally lost to foreigners with the help of corrupt public servants and leaders”
“As a responsible government we want to ensure that all citizens have access to the lands of their ancestors. We will not allow our land to be lost to unscrupulous people out to con our people”
But, WE ARE STILL WAITING for the leases to be cancelled and the logging stopped.
For 630 days O’Neill has failed to ensure the SABL leases are revoked and he has been complicit in the illegal logging of our forests by foreign logging companies.
Crucially he has failed to take any action to remove the corrupt public servants responsible for the land grab or distance himself from the politicians, including key Minister’s, complicit in the illegal deals and who are now blocking any positive action to revoke the leases and stop the logging.
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has aided and abetted the theft of logs worth hundreds of million of kina and the destruction of thousands of hectares of pristine forest.
Justice Kandakasi has slammed the widespread corruption in the Department of Lands and has called for police action against those public servants responsible for a long history of fraudulent leases and corrupt land deals.
In delivering his judgement in the case of Loa -v- Kimas, a case involving yet another fraudulent lease facilitated and enabled by people in the Department of Lands, the judge has stated:
Sitting in the National and Supreme Courts for a while now, I have come across more cases of possible fraud facilitated by the Registrar of Titles and other officers of the Department of Lands. This must stop and the only way to do that is to have proper investigations and those responsible being criminally charged and proceeded with. I would therefore strongly recommend (since I cannot direct the police) that the police take the relevant and necessary steps right away.
The judges comments come on the back of the SABL Commission of Inquiry which revealed more than 5 million hectares of customary land has been illegally leased to foreign companies by the Lands Department.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly called for the SABL leases to be revoked but as nobody has taken any action to remove the corrupt and incompetent officers responsible for issuing the leases – including acting Secretary Romilly Kila-Pat and Lands Title Registrar Ben Samson – nothing has been done to cancel the leases.
Even the Minister for Lands has described his own Department as corrupt and dysfunctional:
I have seen first hand the blatant abuse of due process thereby promoting corruption and high level of inefficiency within the Department of Lands and Physical Planning. The system of land administration is corrupt and dysfunctional.”
Blatant abuse of process facilitated by staff within the Department over the years has led to large areas of customary land being fraudulently leased to foreigners for as long as 99 years throughout the country.
In the interests of protecting Papua New Guinea land from being fraudulently transacted I will ensure that the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry into the issuance of SABL are fully implemented.
Address at NRI, 29 October 2012
But again, no action has been taken to remove, let alone punish, the public servants responsible for this miserable state of affairs.
Why are our politicians so weak and seemingly unable to take decisive action against those involved in illegal and corrupt activities? Is it because the politicians themselves are also complicit in the illegal deals?
National broadcaster EM TV has responded quickly to criticism it was covering up a corruption story embarrassing to the government by releasing on-line the news clip that it had been holding back since last Thursday.
Yesterday we revealed that EM TV had failed to publish on-line a news item from its flagship evening news program ctitical of the government’s failure to take any action against those responsible for the K780 million Finance Department fruad.
Within hours of the articles publication, the new item from last Thursday, the 5th, appeared on the EM TV website as a ‘Top Story‘ for Wednesday the 11th. There is no explanation of why the item was edited out of the 6pm news program posted on-line by EM TV or why it took six days for the story to appear on the EM TV website – but at least EM TV has demonstrated it does listen to what is being said on social media…