Peter O’Neill, Jubilee University and Thaddeus Kambanei: A match made in heaven
Sometimes life delivers up moments of sublime parody, moments so incredible you have to laugh. No more exquisite moment has been served up in recent years – yes years – than when Prime Minister O’Neill received an award recognising his financial management skills from Chancellor of Jubilee University (sometimes also spelt Jubillee), Thaddeus Kambanei. The award has been issued by Australia’s Institute of Certified Management Accountants (ICMA), under the leadership of Emeritus Professor Janek Ratnatunga, who has found fine friends among Jubilee, its Chancellor and the PM.
Dr Kambanei claims, ‘I put together a very detailed nomination and forwarded it to the nomination committee at ICMA-Australia. The nomination then went through a rigorous process before he was accepted for the award’.
Should we have any reason to doubt Dr Kambanei? According to the Commission of Inquiry into the Department of Finance, yes. During his infamous period as Finance Secretary between 2001-2006, the Inquiry found:
Mr. Kambanei tried his level best to disassociate himself from many questionable and fraudulent payments processed during his tenure in office. He stated that Deputy Secretary Gabriel Yer would have been responsible for these claims. The Commission finds Mr. Kambanei’s evidence to be misleading, evasive and not credible. At all material times he was responsible for directing his staff to process settlement of claims against State. The Commission further noted that he pooled funds improperly and illegally to settle these claims and it was evident that he was in control and knew exactly what he was doing contrary to the PFMA and the Appropriation Act … Mr. Thaddeus Kambanei abused his position as Secretary for Finance to access funds illegally from monies legally set aside for other purposes.
And what of this fine higher education institution Dr Kambanei leads? It was born under rather interesting conditions so says the Commission!
The Commission of Inquiry found that Dr William Taggis, Director of the Office of Higher Education had ‘advised the National Executive Council that the submission done by Mr. Kambanei who was also Finance Secretary at the time was not a convincing one because of factual errors and weaknesses in other areas including the Finances of the University and how exactly it would source funds to run its programmes’. The commission notes, while ‘no Financial commitment was ever made by the Government’, nevertheless, ‘a total of three (3) payments aggregating K3 million were made [to Jubilee University] from three (3) different Trust Accounts that were never intended for AOG Jubilee University, thus breaching Sections 14 and 17 (a) of the PFMA Act’. It was concluded, ‘Mr. Thadeus Kambanei abused his position as Secretary for Finance to access funds illegally from monies legally set aside for other purposes’.
Another K4 million was pumped into Jubilee University from the 2015 budget, but needless to say that would not have effected the integrity of Dr Kambanei’s vetting process.
After all, Peter O’Neill’s credentials as a financial manager speak for themselves. The Commission of Inquiry into the NPF scandal, gave a glowing review of Mr O’Neill’s creative accounting abilities. ‘Mr O’Neill had definitely benefitted from the proceeds of the NPF Tower Fraud’, this Commission concluded. Special ‘praise’ was reserved for the efforts that O’Neill and his partners had allegedly gone to, to ‘hide’ their role from the Commission through ‘fabricating’ evidence.
Mr O’Neill’s economic credentials have again been brought into focus, through such achievements as the US$1.2 billion loan which was taken out from USB Bank, allegedly without necessary approvals, in addition to another alleged US$24 million payment to Paraka Lawyers for unauthorized invoices.
All of which takes place as O’Neill’s gamble on permanent blue skies in the resource sector has proven a catastrophic blunder. Each day new stories emerge of PNG’s slip into economic crisis.
So perhaps there is some poetry here, the most infamous Finance Secretary in PNG’s history, who now heads a University built on a foundation of illegal payments, felt it proper to recognise Peter O’Neill’s economic credentials.