In an astonishing statement, Transparency International Chairman Lawrence Stephens has dismissed the findings of two Commissions of Inquiry as ‘unproven accusations’ and says they ‘are not sufficient for responsible people to treat as facts’.
Stephens remarkable comments, which he published on this blog and which are reprinted below, were made in response to questions raised over the role of Rex Paki on the Boards of the Civil Aviation Authority, Bank of PNG and PNG Sustainable Development Program.
Paki has been implicated in the findings of both the Finance Department and National provident Fund Commissions of Inquiry as well as two Public Account Committee investigations and has been labelled by the Supreme Court as “evasive and dishonest”.
But this it seems is all worthless gossip to the Transparency International chief despite the fact the Commissions of Inquiry are conducted by qualified judges, are established under Statute and make findings of fact based on a “strict adherence to principles of natural justice” and “giving all person with an interest in matters before the Commission an opportunity to be heard”.
Stephens is right to say that Rex Paki has never been found guilty on any criminal charges, but to say the findings of a Commission of Inquiry merely raise ‘questions that are of concern’ and that often the ‘accusations prove baseless‘ is very misleading and insulting to the Commissioners.
Stephens is an employee of the PNG Sustainable Development Program.
Statement by Lawrence Stephens
This discussion in relation to Rex Paki draws on some useful sources. It raises questions which are of concern to many people. Questions however are not sufficient for responsible people to treat as facts. People accused are surely entitled to be heard out before being convicted, particularly if the convicting is being done by people who do not even give their real names!
TI PNG views with concern the official and unofficial records of many people holding public office and the disappointing regularity of appointments of reputedly inappropriate individuals to important positions. We are also conscious of the times where accusations prove baseless. Our approach is generally to encourage transparent scrutiny of all public appointments.
We are a partner to government in seeking to improve the manner in which governance is practiced. We do not normally focus on unproven accusations against individuals. We do focus attention on idications that, as a result of corruption, systems are failing or not operating as they should. Often our work is conducted quietly, working with like-minded public office holders and other community organisations, to assist bring about change. Occasionally public comment appears necessary and we are not constrained by relationships with governments, companies and individuals in so responding.
Individual TI PNG directors over the years have had interests in organisations and activities which have been subject to public debate and challenges. This does present the organisation with challenges which need to be worked through. In my experience we have, as a group of concerned individuals encouraging better ethical standards in government and business, faced these challenges without being constrained by our wide network of personal associates across the community.
International State Crime Initiative
On 9 October 2012, the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) released a report, The Demolition of Paga Hill, documenting a forced eviction that took place in Papua New Guinea’s capital, Port Moresby, on 12 May this year. Dozens of homes in the area of Paga Hill were demolished by the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary. Those residents who resisted or photographed the forced eviction, were attacked with sticks, iron rods and machetes. At one stage police even fired live rounds at bystanders.
The demolition was conducted in order to make way for a luxury estate being spearheaded by the Paga Hill Development Company (PHDC) – a company largely run from Australia. PHDC’s Chairman and Secretary is Gudmundur Fridriksson, an executive who heads the North Queensland, Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership.
Since the publication of our report, Gudmundur Fridriksson, along with PHDC Director, George Hallit, have made a number of serious allegations on Radio Australia, SBS World News, The Australian and the Post-Courier. These allegations were also reproduced in a recent PHDC press-release. In the interests of clarifying the public record, ISCI has compiled the following response paper:
Eoin Blackwell | AAP
Papua New Guinea’s opposition is demanding answers on why an Indonesian fugitive wanted by Interpol was granted citizenship in June.
Djoko Tjandra has been on the run from Indonesian authorities since 2009 after allegedly embezzling millions in bailout funds from the now defunct Bank of Bali.
Tjandra reportedly fled Indonesia a day before the nation’s supreme court sentenced the now 62 year old in absentia to two years jail.
Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill told Parliament on Friday he had been advised by the secretary to the Attorney General there were irregularities in the granting of citizenship to Mr Tjandra.
“I know there is a lot of speculation in the press that this guy is a fugitive and needs to be repatriated, (but) I have not received one single request from the Indonesian government,” Mr O’Neill told parliament on Friday.
“I am advised … there are some irregularities in respect to the issuing of citizenship.
“Once we have a detailed report from that investigation we will be in some position to make decisions.”
Mr O’Neill said he would raise the issue with Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at a scheduled meeting in late November.
Opposition Leader Belden Namah urged the government to come clean on why Tjandra was granted citizenship in the first place.
“They have to declare why they are defensive of this particular person who is a fugitive to our nearest neighbour, whom we have a very good diplomatic and bilateral relationship with,” he said.
“What has happened to Djoko Tjandra’s Indonesian passport when we issued him the citizenship of this country? What criteria was used in awarding Mr Tjandra the citizenship of Papua New Guinea?”
According to PNG’s Department of Immigration website, a person can only apply for citizenship if they have lived “continuously in the country for at least eight years.”
An applicant must also make a full statement of assets, liabilities, investments, business interests and savings accounts both within and outside PNG indicating their values and locations.
Former foreign minister Ano Pala, who is reported in the local press to have overseen Mr Tjandra’s citizenship application, said the Interpol fugitive was being defamed.
“Raising serious allegations is beyond the dignity and decorum of this parliament,” he said.
“The person is a citizen and enjoys the same privileges that you should enjoy and every person in PNG should enjoy.”
From Radio Australia
Members of Parliament in Papua New Guinea have criticised the government for granting citizenship to an Indonesian fugitive.
Djoko Tjandra fled to PNG before Indonesia’s Supreme Court sentenced him to two years jail for fraud over the misuse of Bank Indonesia funds.
Despite being on the run, he was granted PNG citizenship earlier this year.
Governor Gary Juffa asked the Immigration Minister, Rimbink Pato, in parliament to review the decision.
“Why are we accommodating this person? It’s an embarrassment. He should be immediately deported,” Mr Juffa said.
Ano Pala, the former immigration minister who granted Mr Tjandra citizenship, tried to have the question ruled out of order but the Speaker allowed it.
Mr Pato says the proper processes have been followed.
Mr Tjandra is alleged to have been involved in a banking scandal in Indonesia where billions of dollars were allegedly laundered or transferred to his businesses and companies.
He reportedly left Indonesia on a chartered flight from Halim Perdanakusumah Airport in Jakarta to Port Moresby on June 10 2010, just one day before the Supreme Court issued a verdict in his case.
Kristian Lasslett | International State Crime Initiative
Some people feel the international media is treating Gummi Fridriksson unfairly over his involvement in the Paga Hill forced evictions in Port Moresby and various other alleged corruption scandals in PNG. For example, see Bonip Panuta’s response to Natasha Robinson’s article in The Australian.
Well let’s have a look at the hard evidence.
Fridriksson’s companies have been censured in two Auditor General reports and four Public Account Committee reports.
Concerned Papua New Guineans should read about Mr Fridriksson’s company CCS Anvil.
PNG’s Auditor General and Public Accounts Committee, allege that when improperly contracted by the Public Curator’s Office (the PCO administers deceased estates) “Anvil …withheld a significant amount of monies it has received from the proceeds of the realisation of assets of deceased estates, including sale of properties, shares and investment and rent…The AGO can find no evidence that any money realised by Anvil on behalf of estates has been paid into the Estate Trust Account”.
You can read their findings here: http://statecrime.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Appendix-G.pdf
Of course, many people in Papua New Guinea also remember another one of Mr Fridriksson’s ventures, the Destination PNG book. Sean Dorney provided some interesting coverage.
Now with respect to the other points raised by those defending Mr Fridriksson.
1. “The rights of ‘Illegal’ settlers versus the rights of legal owners”: The Public Accounts Committee suggest PHDC’s lease over Paga Hill was acquired through “corrupt dealings”. You can read about it here: http://statecrime.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Appendix-H.pdf . Moreover, we should also keep in mind that many of the properties demolished were on Section 26 Lots 16-20: http://statecrime.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Appendix-A.pdf PHDC do not own this land.
2. “Human rights abuse” versus the need to uphold the law: Police certainly should enforce the law. No one denies that. But using live ammunition on unarmed civilians, cutting young men with machetes, and punching women, this was not proportionate or warranted. Nor should they have moved in on a community when their case was before the National Court.
3. “Development and progress versus the rights of ‘illegal’ squatters” The people at Paga Hill have been there since the 1960s. They were given permission to live there by the traditional landowners, who deny having alienated the land to the state. It is a complex situation. See: http://statecrime.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Appendix-I.pdf . I am sorry to hear some landowners in Port Moresby have had their land damaged by gamblers and blackmarket alcohol sales (see Bonip Panuta response). Paga Hill is nothing like this. 54% of the working population are employed in the formal economy, while 45% work in the informal economy, like many Papua New Guineans.
Of course, some people seem confident that PHDC will achieve great things. Fair enough. Indeed, the developer told the public Hilton Hotels were going to help run the proposed 5-star hotel (see their 20/4/12 press release). Sadly, it is not true: http://www.rnzi.com/pages/news.php?op=read&id=69568
Finally, you might ask, if all this evidence exists why is Mr Fridriksson still a member of such prestigious organisations like the PNG Institute of Directors (see his CV here)? Well, according to the PNG Institute of Directors’ Executive Officer, “we have never heard or come across anyone of that name”. You can consult their membership list here.
It is always wise to verify claims, before accepting them.
People can read the International State Crime Initiative’s report on the forced eviction here: http://statecrime.org/online_article/the-demolition-of-paga-hill-a-report-by-the-international-state-crime-initiative/