National Provident Fund Final Report [Part 19]
Below we continue the re-publication of the serialized edited version of the National Provident Fund Commission of Inquiry Final Report that first appeared in the Post Courier newspaper in 2002/3.
The Inquiry findings provide an unprecedented insight into the methods that are still being used today by the mobocracy that is routinely plundering our government finances. The inquiry uncovered for the first time how the Waigani mafia organise complex frauds using mate-networks, shelf companies, proxy shareholders, and a willing fraternity of lawyers, accountants, bankers and other expert professionals.
The Commission findings also reveal the one grand truth at the centre of all the corruption in Papua New Guinea: it is pure theft, no different from an ordinary bank robbery. However, if you steal the money by setting up, for instance, a bogus land transaction, the crude nature of the criminal enterprise is disguised to all but forensic experts, making it seem the perfect crime!
NPF Final Report
This is the 19th extract from the National Provident Fund (now known as NASFUND) Commission of Inquiry report. The inquiry was conducted by retired justice Tos Barnett and investigated widespread misuse of member funds. The report recommended action be taken against several high-profile leaders, including former NPF chairman Jimmy Maladina. The report was tabled in Parliament on November 20 by Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare.
Continued from Friday
The Commission has found that NPF certainly lacked power to borrow, pledge and guarantee.
It is possible that PNGBC is vulnerable should a class action be mounted on behalf of NPF members against the NPF Board and PNGBC for losses incurred as a result the various ultra vires loan arrangements entered into between NPF and PNGBC.
The decision to invest in the construction of the NPF Tower involved very major expenditure of borrowed funds.
It was driven by Messrs Copland and Wright and was riddled by gross failures of judgement by management, which failed to take basic steps to ensure the financial viability of the project and to address the inherent dangers in the loan agreement NPF entered into with PNGBC. Throughout the construction period, management repeatedly acted without Board approval to seek, enter and sign loan agreements and extensions.
The DoF failed to critically analyse proposals and make professionally competent recommendations to the Minister and the PNGBC failed to carry out competent due diligence about NPF’s power to borrow or to check that loan applications from NPF management had received NPF Board approval.
In the midst of this serial incompetency, the NPF Trustees completely failed to ensure that they received adequate briefs from management, based on independent professional advice.
Within the scope of its Terms of Reference, the Commission has accordingly found that the Trustees were in breach of their fiduciary duty to the members by not controlling management’s excessive zeal and in not seeking independent professional advice and that management was in breach of its duty to the Board, particularly Messrs Kaul and (later) Fabila, Mr Wright and Mr Leahy.
Worse still, by early 1999, a criminal conspiracy had evolved involving Chairman Maladina, Mr Leahy, Ms Sariman, Messrs Veraga and Lakae, Kumagai Gumi, Mr Ken Yapane, Messrs Barker, Sullivan and O’Neill and probably Mr Henry Fabila to cheat and defraud the NPF by means of excessive land valuations, a spurious acceleration claim, an inflated sale of 50 percent of the Tower to the PNGHB and inflated real estate commissions. These criminal matters are merely introduced in outline in this report, but are dealt with in detail in Schedule 6.
This report concludes with a description of what seems to have been a failed attempt by Pacific Finance to obtain access to NPF’s assets.
At the 108th NPF Board meeting on 27th August 1997, the Board “noted” that a K50 million loan would be secured
The National Provident Fund (“NPF”) borrowings from Bank of South Pacific Limited (“BSP”) commenced entirely as a management initiative without any Board involvement.
Throughout the period between January 1995 and December 1999, there was a continuing tendency for management, particularly Mr Wright, to act without the Board’s knowledge and authority. BSP seems to have condoned this by not insisting on evidence of Board approval before approving loan agreements and allowing drawdowns.
On the other hand, BSP was very insistent on sighting evidence of Ministerial approvals. This requirement became troublesome for Mr Wright when the Ministerial approvals were too narrow to encompass Mr Wright’s desired purposes. On some occasions, he solved this problem by framing the drawdown requests within the narrow terms of the Minister’s approval and then requesting BSP to pay the drawdowns into an NPF account with another bank. This enabled Mr Wright to withdraw the money for non-approved purposes.
The history of the borrowings from BSP, discloses misleading conduct by Mr Wright and false certification of Board minutes by Mr Leahy.
In 1998, as NPF descended into financial difficulties, BSP conferred with ANZ and both Banks began tightening up their credit arrangements with NPF. This led to BSP insisting that NPF repay its loan.
In paying off the outstanding balance in 1999, NPF management again acted outside the authority of the NPF Board.
SHORT TERM K7 MILLION LOAN
NPF first borrowed from the BSP in December 1995 by accepting a loan of K7 million. The loan was sought, agreed, executed, received and repaid entirely by management, specifically Messrs Kaul and Wright, without the knowledge or approval of the NPF Board.
The funds were almost certainly used to purchase Government Inscribed Stocks and were repaid in less than one week. The cost in interest (22 percent) and stamp duty aggregated K24,806.13, far exceeding the coupon rate on the stock, of 11.625 percent.
(a) BSP did not undertake any due diligence to ascertain whether NPF had the power to borrow or to pledge assets, and it did not determine whether this loan was NPF Board approved or whether Ministerial approval was granted.
(b) Mr. Noel Wright and Ms. Salome Dopeke acted beyond their authority in accepting the terms of the borrowing from the BSP.
(c) Mr. Wright and Ms. Dopeke failed to provide any adequate information to the Board and the Board and managing director failed to question the loan arrangements.
(d) Mr. Wright and Ms. Dopeke failed to seek Ministerial approval and without the Board’s authority or the Ministers approval, both of which were required, entered into these loan arrangements with BSP.
(e) Mr. Wright and Ms. Dopeke failed to seek or obtain the Board’s and the Minister’s approval to pledge NPF assets as security for this loan.
(f) Mr. Wright and Ms. Dopeke are personally liable for any loss suffered by NPF as a consequence of this loan venture and neither would, in the Commission’s view, have the “good faith” defence available to them.
K30 MILLION LOAN FACILITY
Hidden purpose not disclosed to BSP or the Minister
In October 1996, NPF applied for and obtained a BSP loan facility for K30 million. NPF management advised the BSP, Bank of Papua New Guinea (“BPNG”) and the Minister, that the purpose of the facility was to fund NPF’s on-lending to the State for local projects, such as the Poreporena Freeway project and approvals were granted on that basis. Mr Wright’s additional purpose, stated only to the NPF Board, was to purchase shares in Orogen Minerals Limited (“Orogen”).
After mix-ups over the Ministerial approvals, the facility was put in place and drawdowns were to be utilised to on-lend to Curtain Burns Peak for the Freeway project.
(a) BSP did not carry out any due diligence regarding NPF’s power to borrow or to grant security over the K30 million in term deposits, which were to constitute security for the loan.
(b) NPF management did not give adequate advice to the NPF Board about the danger inherent in entering arrangements where NPF was borrowing funds at a variable interest rate (ILR) to on-lend at a fixed interest rate for the Freeway, NCD Water & Sewerage and Eda Ranu projects.
(c) Clearly, both BSP and the Minister were told by NPF that the proceeds of the K30 million facility were to be used for local infrastructure projects – specifically the Freeway, NCD Water & Sewerage and Eda Ranu. Neither was told, as Mr. Wright told the NPF Board, that it was envisaged that the facility would be used to fund the purchasing of Orogen shares.
(d) The application for Ministerial approval was not made by NPF but by BSP. This was not clearly pointed out to the Minister and the Minister was also not advised of the inherent risk in borrowing at a variable interest rate and on-lending at a fixed rate of interest. The Minister’s letter of approval was sent, however, to NPF.
(e) The letter from BSP to the Minister sought approval under Sections 56 and 61 of the PF(M) Act and the letter from the Minister to NPF granted approval under Sections 55 and 61 of the PF(M) Act. No one appears to have considered and concluded, as is the case, that neither Section 55 or Section 56 apply to NPF as it is not a public body “to which this (PF(M)) Act applies”.
Mr. Wright directs drawdown be paid into NPF’s ANZ account to enable funds to be spent on purpose not approved by BSP
In November 1996, NPF sought to drawdown K3 million for on-lending to NCD Water & Sewerage pursuant to the Ministerial approval of 7th November 1996, which limited the use of funds to local projects. This limited approval was an impediment when NPF management sought to drawdown K11.6 million on 20th November, of which K9.6 million was to be used to purchase Orogen shares. BSP refused the drawdown as it was not in accordance with the Ministerial approval.
Mr. Wright overcame this set back by altering the wording of his draw down request so as to comply with the more limited scope of the Minister’s approval. He then directed BSP to remit K9.6 million of the drawdown to NPF’s ANZ account, which was then used to purchase K9.6 million Orogen shares.
(a) In the process of considering the approval of the BSP K30 million facility for NPF, none of the advisors in the Bank, Department of Finance (“DoF”) or NPF considered NPF’s power to borrow or to pledge assets.
(b) There was considerable confusion surrounding the 20th November 1996 drawdown of K11.6 million, caused by Mr Wright’s attempt to use the drawdown to purchase Orogen shares which was outside the Ministerially approved purposes of the K30 million facility.
(c) Mr. Wright misled the NPF Board in earlier stating the facility could be used to purchase Orogen shares.
(d) Mr. Wright and Mr. Kaul did not advise the Board of the changing circumstances of the drawdown and how the Orogen purchase was actually financed.
(e) Mr. Wright used the K9.6 million drawdown to purchase Orogen shares, outside the terms of the applicable Ministerial approval of 7th November 1996.
Further unauthorised drawdown for Freeway project
On 9th December 1996, NPF resolved to on-lend a further K15 million for the Freeway project as the Public Officers Superannuation Fund (“POSF”) had backed out of its promised support.
K2 million of this was funded from a maturing Interest Bearing Deposit (“IBD”) held by BSP. The remaining K13 million was funded from the ANZ Facility. There seems to have been a further drawing of K3 million for the same purpose, which the NPF Board was not notified about).
By the end of December 1996, the BSP K30 million facility was drawn to K17.678 million.
Further unauthorised K12 million drawdown for Freeway project
In March 1997, Mr. Kaul drew down a further K12 million to finance the Freeway project but this left the facility overdrawn by K88,242.67, with interest therefore accruing at double rate. The Board was not advised of this problem.
BPNG caps BSP’s exposure to NPF at K22 million
In July 1997, Mr. Wright exceeded his authority by negotiating with BSP to redeem K18.8 million worth of IBD’s and substituting Orogen shares as security.
During the negotiations, BPNG imposed a limit on BSP’s exposure to NPF, which resulted in the facility limit being capped at K22 million. None of this was disclosed to the NPF Board.
After BPNG’s imposed prudential guidelines effectively reduced NPF’s BSP facility limit to K18 million, Mr. Wright pledged more Orogen shares, in order to increase the limit.
Again, this was done without consulting the NPF Board or obtaining their approval.
Mr. Leahy certifies false Board resolution
In early October 1997, NPF was under pressure from the State to obtain a further drawdown on its BSP facility for the Freeway project.
Ministerial approval was urgently obtained from Vice Minister for Finance, Mr. Ganarafo (as Finance Minister Lasaro was out of Port Moresby). Mr. Wright applied to drawdown K5 million from the BSP facility but BSP required evidence of a NPF Board resolution approving the loan agreement between NPF and Curtain Burns Peak, as this was a condition of the drawdown under clause 3.1(b) of the agreement.
As there had been no such NPF Board resolution, Mr. Leahy solved the situation by certifying a false resolution (see paragraphs 4.2.12).
This may be short of criminal conduct but it certainly amounted to professional misconduct and improper conduct within the terms of his contract. The Commission recommends to the constituting authority that Mr Leahy’s conduct in this regard be referred to the President of the Law Society of Papua New Guinea.
Unauthorised activities of Mr. Wright and breaches of fiduciary duty by Mr. Kaul and the NPF Board of Trustees
Throughout 1997 there was a great deal of interaction between Mr Wright (and to a lesser extent, Mr Kaul) and the BSP managers in which various transactions and agreements were entered into or discussed.
Very, very little of this was communicated to the NPF Board. From the documents available to the Commission, it appears that Mr Wright was making decisions for NPF as though it was his own personal Fund. These matters are discussed in paragraphs 4.2.1 to 4.2.14 of the report.
BSP was having difficultly reconciling NPF’s drawdown requests with the wording of the Ministerial approvals. BSP’s insistence on strict compliance with Ministerial approvals was impeding Mr Wright’s intentions. This required urgent action in order to obtain amended Ministerial approvals to match up with Mr Wright’s drawdown requests to BSP.
Much of the problem related to Mr Wright’s desire to use the funds approved for other purposes – mainly to acquire Orogen shares. There was much juggling with share scrip to patch up security requirements.
In August 1997, BPNG intervened to limit BSP’s exposure to NPF (paragraph 4.2.7). In fact, BPNG refused to approve BSP’s proposed K30 million line of credit to NPF.
There are records of Mr Wright seeking a K1 million drawdown by telephone to fund a payment to Kumagai Gumi but hanging up the phone when the approval was made subject to compliance with the terms of the Ministerial approval.
There were large transactions involving millions of Kina and large quantities of share scrip, which were all handled by Mr Wright (well beyond his authority) without reference to the NPF Board.
Paragraph 4.2.11 discloses details of the unauthorised pledging of Orogen shares by Mr Wright as security for an K8 million drawdown of the Freeway project. This strategy obliged Mr Wright to obtain urgent approval from Minister Ganarafo on 9th October 1997.
TO BE CONTINUED