Dame Carol Kidu and the Paga Hill documentary
Last week numerous articles appeared in the Australian and PNG press on Carol Kidu’s legal action against filmmaker, Hollie Fifer.
We are informed Kidu is furious at Fifer for a feature length documentary – The Opposition – which she made on the brutal series of demolitions at Paga Hill and the illegal land transactions underpinning this human rights abuse.
Kidu has also made serious accusations against the central protagonist in this film, Port Moresby human rights advocate Joe Moses.
Working with local communities, the national museum and other stakeholders, for the past five years Moses has tried to save Port Moresby’s historic Paga Hill from the developer’s knife through the Paga Heritage Foundation.
For his efforts Moses has suffered police harassment, character assassinations and anonymous death threats.
It is unclear who is behind this campaign of intimidation. However, the movement led by Moses has annoyed a number of powerful figures in Port Moresby’s expatriate elite, and their political allies in government.
At the heart of this struggle is Icelandic-Australian businessman Gudmundur Fridriksson. Based out of his sizable home in Cairns, Fridriksson has been at the centre of numerous corruption scandals uncovered by the Auditor General, Public Accounts Committee and the Commission of Inquiry into the Department of Finance.
Fridriksson is also the CEO of the Paga Hill Development Company (PHDC), which has been working with Chinese investors to erect a luxury development at Paga Hill. Despite the efforts of Joe Moses and other conservationists, residents’ homes, a school, a church, and historic relics were destroyed in a series of demolition exercises between 2012-2014. PHDC has only acknowledged involvement in the first demolition.
When this issue originally erupted on the national stage four years ago it was Carol Kidu who became the figurehead of the struggle to save Paga Hill from PHDC. She was appalled that an area once reserved as a national park would be entrusted to someone slammed in numerous corruption inquiries. Kidu rallied behind Joe Moses and became the political face of the campaign to save Paga Hill.
This is what she wrote in the Post-Courier during 2012:
‘the media have continually portrayed me as an emotional woman, protecting settlers, and anti-development. Yes I am emotional about the blatant corruption, greed and land theft in “modern” PNG and I am emotional when I personally witness gross abuse of human rights’.
‘there was no tender process for the land and the company owes the State of Papua New Guinea millions of kina in unpaid land tax. They have paid nothing for this land and their so called relocation scheme [of existing residents] was laughable’.
A more detailed criticism of the company was provided in a press statement released by Kidu, where she details the flagrant violations of the Land Act 1996 committed by PHDC, all of which was tabled to parliament in 2012.
Yet no apparent attempt was made by the O’Neill government to investigate. To the contrary, the government has give the developer tax breaks and offered its full support for the luxury real estate development.
Behind Gudmundur Fridriksson and PHDC stand some powerful business figures. One PHDC shareholder, is Michael Nali. A former Deputy Prime Minister, Nali was the first to sponsor the Paga Hill Estate as one of “national significance” when Tourism Minister. He then acquired a stake in the company, when he lost office.
Nali remains a major Southern Highlands powerbroker, who is a close business partner of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.
Another important player is PHDC’s lawyer, Stanley Liria, who now holds a majority stake in PHDC which he evidently acquired from Fridriksson. Liria is known to have ties with the Prime Minister, and the Southern Highlands Governor, William Powi.
There is no evidence on the public record Prime Minister O’Neill or other politicians connected with PHDC have broken the law. But clearly the company’s local collaborators enjoy access to some the most influential political networks in the country.
Despite the controversy over the project in 2012, PHDC survived the initial public outcry. Then in 2013 there was another major twist.
Much to the surprise of those trying to save Paga Hill, Kidu announced she was now working under contract with PHDC, after she was personally approached by Gudmundur Fridriksson, and offered a consultancy deal.
The contract with PHDC is facilitated through a company fully owned by Kidu, C K Consultancy Limited.
This is not the first time Kidu has angered friends and colleagues fighting against companies involved in serious human rights abuses.
Take the example of Australian miner, Bougainville Copper Limited, who had been implicated in atrocities committed on Bougainville by government security forces.
In a bid to clean its public image, BCL appointed Kidu non-executive Director. For this role Kidu was paid K150,000 in 2014, and K135,000 in 2015.
Kidu has also worked for Canadian miner, Barrick Gold, after it was discovered the company’s security forces at its Porgera mine were involved in rapes and gang rapes against local women. In a bid to avoid a costly legal case and potentially sizable court awarded damages, Barrick Gold successfully reached out of court agreements with victims.
Most of the victims were evidently given less than USD 6,000 in compensation, and offered counselling services.
The Barrick package was heavily criticised in a 129-page report released by legal experts at the Columbia and Harvard law school, who referred to it as ‘deeply flawed’. One of the lead authors of the report claims:
‘These are some of the most vicious assaults I have ever investigated. The women and local communities had to struggle for years just to get the company to admit what happened. They had been suffering for far too long, and deserved much more’.
Much to the surprise of many in the human rights community, it was Carol Kidu who rallied behind Barrick Gold, and agreed to oversee their ‘deeply flawed’ remediation process. She even defended the company when complaints were lodged with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
There is nothing illegal about working for, or providing services to, foreign companies implicated in rapes, killings and home demolitions, that clearly comes down to an individual’s moral code. However, clearly there are ethical dilemmas involved, especially for those who proclaim to uphold the highest social standards.
Peter O’Neill recently claimed that many retired politicians leave parliament destitute, which might help explain Kidu’s consultancy contracts with companies implicated in serious human rights abuses.
However, according to Queensland property records Dame Kidu purchased a home at the Machans Beach on 19 April 2011, for approximately K822,368. The property is a few streets away from a second home registered in the name od Dame Kidu’s daughter, which was purchased for approximately K690,000 on 10 June 2009.
If these property records are accurate, it would appear that these decisions cannot have been motivated by matters of economic survival.
We live in a free country. Kidu is welcome to do what she wants, make money how ever she wants, and work with whoever she wants, no matter what those foreign companies have done.
But why is she attacking and endangering the life of human rights defenders, she once supported?
Although no doubt unintentional, since Kidu went to the press, those close to him report report Joe Moses’ life has been put in danger by angry supporters of the Dame. He is now scared to walk the streets.
In addition to this a filmmaker who has captured one of Papua New Guinea’s most inspiring stories, is facing litigation in the NSW Supreme Court.
It has not been a good week for Papua New Guinea’s human rights community.
What hope do human rights defenders like Joe Moses have when they are under assault from PNG’s most powerful and influential political figures?
Can a little person ever truly stand up to a revered politician and the expatriate business elite? And if they do what will it cost them?
Ask Joe Moses, he is paying the price.