A group of landholders from the Southern Highlands have been waiting for four years for a judge to decide on the amount of compensation they are owed by Rimbunan Hijau for illegally logging on 3,000 hectares of their land.
In 2008, the National Court ruled that logging by Rimbunan Hijau on land owned by the Sekusi-Sisapi people from Yanguli village was illegal, as the villagers had never given their consent to the operations.
In 2013, a further court hearing was held before Justice Ere Kariko to assess the amount of compensation owed by RH to the villagers for the environmental damage to their forests. Two Australian expert witness Tom ‘Diwai’ Vigus and Dr Ian Curtis, gave evidence on behalf of the landowners.
But the judge has completely failed to ever give his decision.
In the intervening years the landholders have written many time to the judge, to the Chief Justice and the courts administrators, calling for the judge to release his findings, but still they are waiting.
The landholders are now questioning why justice is being denied to them as simple, powerless and vulnerable grassroots people while the logging company, with its massive resources is allowed to further build and extend its huge empire in Port Moresby and beyond.
Obviously, when the courts cannot be relied upon to do their job it sends a strong signal to all overseas companies operating in PNG and to the logging industry in particular, that they are free to do whatever they like and they will never be punished.
Piers Akerman: PNG waste stretches neighbourly concern
PIERS AKERMAN, The Sunday Telegraph
GLOBE-trotting fashionista Foreign Minister Julie Bishop needs to explain why Australian taxpayers are bankrolling Papua New Guinea’s vanity projects when that nation is economically febrile — if it has not already fallen into the pit — and our own economy is wallowing.
Numerous companies doing business with the PNG government have not been paid monies owed, the government itself has not met bills for its own instrumentalities, and we are picking up the cheque.
Last week both the PNG Parliament House and the Governor-General’s residency had their electricity cut off because of more than $320,000 in unpaid bills.
A former prime minister, Sir Mekere Morauta, who retired five years ago, said he may re-enter politics at the election due in July-August to fight what he says is “the growing web of corruption, abuse, and poverty the country is trapped in” and deal with growing levels of public debt — more than 33.5 per cent of GDP, on conservative IMF figures.
He detailed a growing list of other concerns, including the mortgaging of future income to debt repayment, depriving basic services such as health and education of proper funding, the recession in the non-mining sector, with people losing jobs daily and businesses cutting expenditure to the bone, and poor job prospects for school leavers.
He said the government is not paying businesses for services provided, which in turn leaves companies struggling to pay their own bills and staff, the value of the kina is declining and prices rising and that there is nothing to show from LNG, oil, gas, gold and copper wealth, apart from glamour projects in Port Moresby.
“Where is all the money, people wonder,” he said.
Sir Mekere said there had been severe budget cuts to health and education, that teachers, doctors, health workers and policemen were not being paid properly or on time and that universities — UPNG, Unitech, Goroka and Vudal — were being starved of resources, yet the government is building a new one in Ialibu, where only the principal building contractors will benefit.
He said there had been a breakdown of the machinery and system of government, and a weakening, destruction and politicisation of institutions of state.
He accused Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s government of dictatorship-type rule which threatened democratic principles and practice, with the PNG parliament being used as a rubber stamp and said there was a lack of respect for the rule of law with heavy interference in law and justice agencies, threats to media personnel and suppression of media freedom and a crushing of dissent and violent treatment of student protesters.
“People see no sign of the root problems being addressed. People are afraid that the situation will get worse if the roots are allowed to rot further.
“People are telling me that they want a new government after the election, with a new leader,” he said.
“I chose to retire from politics five years ago. I am enjoying my retirement.
“I am enjoying spending time with family and friends, boating, fishing, reading, travelling, maintaining a continuing oversight of PNGSDP (Papua New Guinea Sustainable Development Program) and contributing to society in other ways.
“But I feel the concern of people. I hear what they are saying. I share their fears.
“More and more I find it difficult to ignore the growing chorus everywhere I go — in markets, shops, offices, restaurants, from academics, business leaders, public servants, professionals, market sellers, policemen, former MPs, current MPs, intending candidates, men and women I pass in the street,” he said.
Australians should care, too, because despite PNG’s frequent claims of economic and political independence it is always begging for more Australian aid.
Most recently, Australia pledged an extra $100 million to underwrite a continuing Australian Federal Police presence in PNG during next year’s Port Moresby-based APEC conference.
Last week New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully, the man who gave NZ’s backing to last year’s anti-Israeli resolution at the UN in December, pledged his country’s support to PNG for next year’s APEC summit.
Both Australia and New Zealand would claim that they are providing support to PNG to head off the massive inroads China is making into the economy of our nearest neighbour but neither government seems interested in addressing the problem of corruption.
Earlier this month two senior ministers were suspended after they were accused of benefiting from the purchase of land by a government corporation. The land, 10km from the sea, was bought for a naval base.
Both the Minister for State Enterprise William Duma and the Defence Minister Fabian Pok are being investigated by the police and the Ombudsman Commission.
Duma is the minister responsible for the government corporation which purchased the land but is alleged to also own or have a proxy interest in a parcel of land owned by the corporation.
Pok is accused of appointing his brother-in-law as the Secretary of Defence and of being inappropriately involved in directing the department to purchase the land. Both men deny the allegations.
Corruption claims in PNG are nothing new but Australian and New Zealand companies are complaining that their bills aren’t being paid while their respective governments are handing even more money to PNG.
As the number of PNG ministers investing in homes in Australia continues to grow, an investigation by Australia into the manner in which grant money is being spent is long overdue.
Fifty two thousand square kilometres of customary land has been stolen in the SABL land grab.
52,000 square kilometres is the same as 5.2 million hectares – but what does that amount of land really look like?
Well, 52,000 square kilometres is the same as the whole of Central and Northern (Oro) Provinces put together – imagine that: land equivalent to two whole Provinces illegally given to foreign companies!
It is also the same as 7 million rugby fields.
Yup, you could create 7,000,000 rugby fields from the land stolen in the SABL land grab – and if we laid those rugby fields end to end they would reach all the way to the moon and almost all the way back!
Just imagine that, you could walk all the way to the moon on the land stolen in the SABL land grab!
In June 2013, almost four years ago, a Commission of Inquiry found the SABL leases had been illegally issued and recommended they be cancelled and land given back to customary landholders.
But what has been the government’s response to this huge illegal theft of customary land?
Zip, nothing, nill. Not one lease has been cancelled by the government.
Who is our government working for? For us, the people of PNG, or the foreign companies who have stolen our land?
Minister Justin Tkatchenko has this week called for a Commission of Inquiry into the murky deals behind acquisition of Paga Hill land and the abuse suffered by its former residents at the hands of Gummy Fredriksson and the Paga Hill Development Company.
Meanwhile, PHDC has issued a defence, claiming it ‘has indefeasible title over Paga Hill, winning every legal challenge in District, National and Supreme Courts’.
We think we need to look again at the facts, and republish here an article from May 2016:
Peter O’Neill, Michael Nali, Gudmundur Fridriksson, Rex Paki, Jimmy Maladina, Dame Carol Kidu, Labi Amaiu, Tom Amaiu, these are just some of the names uncovered through an extensive probe that looks into the power players behind Port Moresby’s controversial Paga Hill Estate development, and their business partners.
The investigation was conducted by a senior criminologist Dr Kristian Lasslett, who began forensic research into the real-estate venture during 2012.
In the post, which first appeared on statecrime.org, Dr Lasslett raises new questions over the shareholders and executives standing behind the luxury real-estate development on Port Moresby’s harbour foreshores, and their connection not only to some of the biggest names in Southern Highlands politics, but numerous major corruption scandals.
Dr Lasslett connects Paga Hill executives and shareholders to major players into the Commission of Inquiry into the National Provident Fund, the Commission of Inquiry into the Department of Finance and the joint special inquiry into the Public Curator’s Office conducted by the Auditor General and Public Accounts Committee.
He also provides evidence documenting potentially illegal land transactions lying at the foundations of the luxury real-estate project.
And this couldn’t come at a more important time. It was recently revealed that the Paga Hill Development Company – under the leadership of Icelandic businessman Gudmundur Fridriksson – is bankrolling Dame Carol Kidu’s legal case to shutdown a film that documents the real-estate venture and the valiant efforts by our own justice fighters to save a historic national park from the developer’s knife.
Back in 2006 the Public Accounts Committee alleged the Paga Hill Estate was spearheaded by ‘foreign speculators’, who secured the title through ‘corrupt dealings’. A decade later it seems the controversy is still well and truly alive.
The Paga Hill Estate – A vision for a ‘progressive’ future
Once designated a national park, the majestic surrounds of Paga Hill have been eyed by numerous real-estate developers over the years. However, it is the Paga Hill Development Company (PHDC) which succeeded in clearing the land of its residents and national park status.
This paved the way for a development that will evidently include luxury hotels, 800+ residential apartments, sporting facilities, marina precinct, and multi-use commercial precinct.
PHDC boasts, ‘with tourists and visitors staying at the Hilton Hotel, residents of the site, together with city visitors enjoying the waterfront retail, restaurants and marina complex, the area will be a buzzing melting pot, creating a new image for a progressive Papua New Guinea’ (Hilton Hotels strongly denies any involvement in the project).
Even among the rubble produced by a brutal demolition exercise in 2012, the site’s development value is readily apparent.
Of course it is always important to ask, who in particular will benefit from the proposed real-estate venture? Rarely are such projects universally beneficial.
We at least know one core clientele. It was recently announced that the estate ‘will be the venue for the Leaders’ meetings at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Port Moresby’ slated to take place in 2018.
This is one of the most important multilateral forums in the Asia-Pacific region. If this announcement is true – unlike the partnership with Hilton Hotels – this gives the venture a special strategic importance for the summit’s principal sponsors the PNG and Australian governments.
Although the construction timeframe looks tight, PHDC has announced that the Shenzhen based, Zhongtai company, will collaborate in the development, with Chinese government backing.
The project also evidently has the support of the National Capital District Commission and PNG’s national government. According to PHDC’s website the ‘PNG Government will provide the support through relaxation of import duties and taxes’.
However, over its twenty year lifespan what is perhaps most striking about the Paga Hill Estate is the project’s ability to weather controversy. In 2007 the Public Accounts Committee accused PHDC of acquiring the land through ‘corrupt dealings’.
Five years later the project hit the headlines again after residents faced a brutal demolition exercise, executed by the Royal PNG Constabulary, allegedly at the behest of the company. This event became iconic when the opposition leader, Dame Carol Kidu, was frogmarched from the scene by police officers who had used live ammunition on residents. She argued PHDC was not an appropriate company to be entrusted with Paga Hill (Kidu later retracted her statement, and entered into a consultancy contract with PHDC).
In October 2012 matters got worse when it was reveal that PHDC’s CEO, Gudmundur Fridriksson, has managed or owned businesses censured in investigations conducted by the Public Accounts Committee, the Auditor General’s Office and the Commission of Inquiry into the Department of Finance – seven in total.
The details were covered extensively by the Australian media, although sadly little of the controversy made its way into PNG’s muzzled press. That said, PNG citizens have created a vibrant social media alternative, which became a vital hub for circulating information on Paga Hill.
A month after this expose Fridriksson took leave from an Australian government funded think-tank where he was CEO, evidently to pursue business interests in PNG. His presence has now been wiped entirely from their website.
The wife of prominent Australian indigenous lawyer Noel Pearson – the latter is a key figure behind the think-tank – then disinvested of her shares in PHDC during January 2013.
Despite the turbulence, Papua New Guinea’s O’Neill Government has time and time again rallied behind the venture. Ministers have issued supportive press statements, the government real-estate firm NHEL agreed to partner in the project on a 50/50 basis, and the development is now receiving generous tax breaks.
This is nothing new, from the project’s very inception in 1996 the executives pushing this luxury estate have proven adept at garnering support from some of PNG’s most powerful political forces.
A rejected planning application and Michael Nali MP
The first major challenge to getting the project off the ground was rezoning the land at Paga Hill and obtaining an Urban Development Lease. Back then it was the Paga Hill Land Holding Company (PHLHC) – a precursor to the Paga Hill Development Company – which led the way.
According to Investment Promotion Authority records – Papua New Guinea’s corporate registry – its shareholders included Rex Paki, Felix Leyagon, and the Western Australian company, Fidelity Management Pty Ltd. Its Directors were Rex Paki and Gudmundur Fridriksson.
Fridriksson used the same Perth address as Fidelity Management Pty Ltd in records he submitted to the Investment Promotion Authority for Asigau (PNG) Holdings Limited, a company he owned with his wife, Tau Fridriksson. Initially the landholding company’s Secretary was Tau Fridriksson, according to Investment Promotion Authority records she was replaced on 1 July 1998 by Rex Paki.
Clearly a key player during the project’s start-up period was the Shareholder-Director-Secretary, Rex Paki, who was also the principal of Port Moresby firm Ram Business Consultants. Ram would go on to collect its own share of official condemnation from the Commission of Inquiry into the National Provident Fund, in addition to Public Accounts Committee and Auditor Generals Office investigations.
Despite having up and coming executives at the helm, PHLHC’s initial proposal for a luxury estate at Paga Hill was rejected by the Physical Planning Board in late 1996. The board noted, ‘proper procedures in relation to the processing of Planning applications were not followed’. This seemingly put an onion in the ointment, unless the application was approved, and the land rezoned, the Land Board could not lawfully issue an Urban Development Lease.
However, the company received a major boost in 1997, when its proposal obtained the backing of Michael Nali, the Minister for Civil Aviation, Culture and Tourism. On 27 February 1997 he wrote to PHLHC stating: ‘It give [sic] me pleasure to confirm my full support to your proposed comprehensive mixed use development of Paga Hill … I am prepared to sponsor a submission to the National Executive Council [Cabinet] next month to have the project endorsed as a property of National Significance. It deserves the full support of Papua New Guinea’.
Subsequently, Michael Nali acquired a 9% stake in PHLHC’s successor vehicle the Paga Hill Development Company (PHDC) through Kwadi Inn Limited, which Nali is the sole owner of. However, it should be underlined this occurred in December 2011. By then Nali had lost office.
Yet the importance of Nali’s involvement in 2011 can’t be underestimated. A towering figure from Papua New Guinea’s Southern Highlands, Nali is in business with some of the nation’s most powerful individuals.
Take the example of NIU Finance Limited. According to Investment Promotion Authority records [PDF], Nali’s company Kwadi Inn obtained a significant stake in this company during 2009, joining a select cast of executives and investors.
According to its last Annual Return, the company’s Managing Director is Peter O’Neill, Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister. Peter O’Neill again appears as the largest shareholder in NIU, through his companies LBJ Investments Limited, and Paddy’s Hotel & Apartments Limited. Another notable shareholder in this enterprise is Piskulic Limited, a company wholly owned by Ken Fairweather, Member of Parliament for Sumkar.
There is no evidence on the public record to suggest either O’Neill or Fairweather have been involved in the Paga Hill Estate. Nevertheless, it is clear Nali circulates in powerful business circles.
And it goes further than this. It appears that Nali had direct business links with PHLHC’s Rex Paki and Felix Leyagon dating back to 1996-1997, the period when he agreed to sponsor the Paga Hill development as a project of national significance in Cabinet.
According to company records kept by the Investment Promotion Authority, on 11 November 1996, a company Waim No.54 Limited, was incorporated. Its two Directors were Rex Paki and Felix Leyagon. The company also had two equal shareholders, the Tourism Minister, Michael Nali and Mary Nali.
In addition to this, Waim No.54 Limited’s registered address was Ram Business Consultants, ADF Haus, Ground Floor, Musgrave Street, Port Moresby, National Capital District, Papua New Guinea. This is the same registered address employed by PHLHC.
If accurate, IPA records suggest Rex Paki and Felix Leyagon were Directors at a company owned by Michael and Mary Nali. Furthermore, Michael Nali’s company, Waim No.54, also shared PHLHC’s registered address.
During this same period, Michael Nali, in his Ministerial capacity agreed to sponsor PHLHC’s proposed Paga Hill property development in Cabinet as a project of national significance, a venture in which Rex Paki and Felix Leyagon were shareholders, with executive involvement from Gudmundur Fridriksson and Paki.
Public Accounts Committee alleges ‘corrupt dealings’
Of course, it cannot be deduced from these facts that the above parties were involved in any wrongdoing. However, in light of a subsequent Public Accounts Committee inquiry, which alleged that the land at Paga Hill was secured by PHLHC through ‘corrupt dealings’, this new link raises questions.
Underpinning the Public Accounts Committee’s concern was the circumstances under which the lease was obtained. For instance the Urban Development Lease was awarded to PHLHC when the land was still zoned open space. Before she recanted, Dame Carol Kidu observed this was in violation of the Land Act 1996, section 67, which declares, ‘a State lease shall not be granted for a purpose that would be in contravention of zoning requirements under the Physical Planning Act 1989, any other law relating to physical planning, or any law relating to the use, construction or occupation of buildings or land’.
Subsequently, PHDC was awarded a full 99 year Business Lease, despite the fact the improvement covenant set out in the Urban Development Lease was not completed as required.
The Public Accounts Committee claimed it was not surprised this covenant remained unactioned. It observed, ‘the Lessee cannot pay the Land Rental and has sought relief from that obligation, much less fund a development of the magnitude required’.
However, apparently this is not the only occasion that a company connected with Ram Business Consultants is alleged to have been involved in illegal land dealings. Those familiar with the Commission of Inquiry into the National Provident Fund Chaired by Judge Tos Barnett, may have had a touch of déjà vu when the name Waim was mentioned.
Ram Business Consultants, Waim No.92 and the NPF Commission of Inquiry
It was another holding company, Waim No.92 Pty Ltd, that was allegedly used to defraud the National Provident Fund – a transaction that saw one conspirator sentenced to six years imprisonment with hard labour. According to the Commission of Inquiry, controversial PNG businessman Jimmy Maladina was the ‘secret owner of Waim No.92 Pty Ltd the shares of which he initially owned through his wife Janet Karl, and an accountant Phillip Eludeme. Ms Karl’s share was later transferred to Phillip Mamando who resided at the Mr Maladina’s residence’.
The Commission of Inquiry alleges that ‘Mr Maladina was responsible for bribing Land Board chairman Ralph Guise and Lands Minister Viviso Seravo, to ensure Waim No.92 was granted the lease of the Waigani Land on very favourable terms’. It continues: ‘The records of the Land Board indicate it notified Waim No. 92 that it had been recommended as the successful applicant and on September 28, 1998, Waim No. 92 received notice that a corruptly reduced purchase price of K1,724,726.10 was payable before title would issue, with annual rent to be K17,000 (instead of the legally correct amounts of K2,866,000 and K143,000 respectively)’.
The Commission of Inquiry claims that Waim No.92 frontman Philip Eludeme acted as a key fixer, ‘prior to the Land Board hearing, Mr Eludeme had approached Minister Seravo seeking favourable consideration for Waim No. 92’s application and, at Mr Seravo’s request, had performed, free of charge, accountancy services for Minister Seravo valued at K100,000′.
According to the company’s annual returns for 1998, Waim No.92’s registered office during this period was Ram Business Consultants, ADF House. While its two shareholders cited above, Philip Eludeme and Phillip Mamando, similarly list their registered office as Ram Business Consultants, ADF House.
During 1998 Maladina’s alleged fixer, Philip Eludeme, was a director of the company Sulawei Limited, along with PHLHC shareholder, Felix Leyagon. Sulawei Limited’s registered address was again Ram Business Consultants, ADF House.
It would thus appear there were multiple links between two networks alleged to have been involved in similar style illicit land deals by the Public Accounts Committee and the Commission of Inquiry into the National Provident Fund, respectively.
The Paki Fridriksson split and the Inquiry into the Office of the Public Curator
The original development vehicle was of course the PHLHC. However, the Auditor General notes in early 2000 its two Directors apparently part ways [PDF], with Gudmundur Fridriksson evidently leaving Ram Business Consultants where he was alleged to have been employed (Fridriksson is PHDC’s current CEO).
Fridriksson was then involved in setting up a number of companies including Anvil Legal Services Limited, Anvil Project Services (PNG) Limited, Anvil Commodities and Trading Limited, Anvil Marine Limited, Anvil Marketing Consultants Limited, and CCS Anvil Limited.
Anvil Project Services (PNG) Limited and CCS Anvil Limited have been censured in the course of inquiries conducted by the Auditor General, Public Accounts Committee and the Commission of Inquiry into the Department of Finance. Perhaps the most controversial of these companies is Anvil Project Services (PNG) Limited, which was awarded lucrative consultancy contracts with the Public Curator’s Office (shortly after Ram Business Consultants lost its contract with the same office).
This award wade made despite the fact the arrangement had been rejected by the Central Supply and Tender Board owing to no public tender – a procedure which is in violation of Papua New Guinea’s Public Finances (Management) Act1995.
The contract went ahead anyway, although it is alleged [PDF] by the Public Accounts Committee and Auditor General, that payments were made out of private estates held on trust by the Public Curator.
According to company records kept at the Investment Promotion Authority, Gomoga Jack Nouairi, the Acting Public Curator at the time which the Public Curator and Anvil began working together, had a 30% stake in Anvil Project Services (PNG) Limited – the remaining 70% was owned by Gudmundur Fridriksson and his wife through the company Asigau (PNG) Holdings Limited.
Nouairi was also Director of Anvil Commodities and Trading Limited, in which Anvil Project Services (PNG) Limited had a 50% stake, and was a 50% owner of Anvil Legal Services Limited, along with Gudmundur and Tau Fridriksson.
Another company implicated in the inquiry into the Public Curator’s Office was Jac’o Business Consultants Limited, a concern owned by its principal Jack Naiyep. Despite being paid K1.5 million by the Public Curator’s Office, the Public Accounts Committee claims ‘there was no evidence that any formal procurement had ever taken place, nor was there any evidence of any formal contract’.
Naiyep and the Fridrikssons were business partners in a separate company they co-owned together, Anvil Business Services Limited. Naiyep also had a stake in Mamaku Mai No.3 Limited. Before the latter company was deregistered it was connected to the family of former Prime Minister Bill Skate. Also of significance is one of the company’s Directors, Paul Wagun.
It was a Paul Wagun who replaced Gomoga Jack Nouairi as Public Curator, and submitted evidence to the Public Accounts Committee and Taskforce Sweep contesting any wrongdoing by his office or Anvil (PNG) Project Services Limited. It cannot be confirmed this is the same Paul Wagun, however, given Jac’o Consultant’s role in the Public Curator’s Office, the overlap is concerning.
Sadly in a subsequent inquiry into this affair by Papua New Guinea’s anti-corruption agency, Investigation Taskforce Sweep, none of these crucial links between Fridriksson, Nouairi, Naiyep and Wagun were acknowledged in its case report, despite being freely obtainable from the Investment Promotion Authority company registry. When these flaws were noted by this author in a report published last year, Investigation Taskforce Sweep threatened to sue for defamation.
Another interesting company set up during this period under the Anvil stable, was Anvil Marine Limited. During its period of operation 2002-2005, the company was owned by Gudmundur and Tau Fridriksson, along with the father and son team, Tom Amaiu and Labi Alex Amaiu. Tom Amaiu is a former Member of Parliament, who was sentenced to five years prison for theft.
His son Labi Amaiu is the current Member of Parliament for Moresby North East, and has patronised PHDC, featuring prominently in the company’s promotional material. He can be seen in this video published by PHDC lauding Gudmundur Fridriksson. Amaiu states he would like to ‘congratulate and thank the CEO of Paga Hill development for a successful venture, this is what we call legacy, and I am proud to be part of that legacy’.
Fridriksson’s companies featured in a number of other inquiries during this contentious period, including the Commission of Inquiry into the Department of Finance. Nevertheless, public condemnation from Papua New Guinea’s anti-corruption agencies has not significantly impacted on PHDC’s grip over the land at Paga Hill.
Paga Hill Development Company’s Southern Highlands Connection
Part of PHDC’s success appears to be linked to its influential stakeholders. It will be recalled that the Urban Development Lease was originally awarded to PHLHC, a company jointly owned by Rex Paki, Felix Leyagon and Fidelity Management Pty Ltd. When the lease was converted into a 99 year Business Lease in 2000, the owner was a new corporate vehicle, PHDC.
The Public Accounts Committee in its inquiry drew attention to this – the recipient of any converted lease, it argued, should have been the initial owner PHLHC. At the time, PHDC was owned by Fidelity Management Ltd Pty, a holding company which shared a registered address in Perth, Australia with Gudmundur Fridriksson. But unlike PHLHC, Rex Paki and Felix Leyagon were not on the share register.
In 2005 ownership of the company changed hands, as Fidelity Management Ltd Pty’s shares were transferred to another vehicle, Anvil Holding Limited. At this time Anvil Holdings Limited was owned by George Hallit, along with Gudmundur and Tau Fridriksson. However, between 2008 and 2011 there were a series of further changes to PHDC’s ownership structure. By the end of it, the Fridrikssons’ apparently divested all their shares in the company. It was PHDC’s lawyer, Stanley Liria, who became the majority shareholder.
Originally from the Southern Highlands, Liria has published a number of legal texts. The first was launched in 2005 by Southern Highlands political heavyweight Peter O’Neill who informed the Post-Courier he would recommend to his ‘parliament colleagues that they buy the newly published book’.
Liria is also commercially linked to a number of high profile Southern Highland politicians. For instance, Liria is Director of Southern Highlands Holding Limited, along with former Minister, Michael Nali, who is also a PHDC shareholder via Kwadi Inn Limited. The sole shareholder of the holding company is the Southern Highlands Provincial Government.
In addition, there is Sharp Hills Investment Limited, a company fully owned by Southern Highlands Governor William Tipi, who entered parliament as an MP for Peter O’Neill’s People’s National Congress party. According to Sharp Hill’s company records, its registered office is Liria Lawyers, a firm which Stanley Liria is the principal of. William Tipi was also formerly a shareholder in Southern Highlands Holding Limited, presumably as a trustee for the provincial government.
Alongside Liria at PHDC is Michael Nali, who through Kwadi Inn, has acquired a 9% stake in the company – although this was reduced to 2% during April 2016. As we have already observed, Nali is in business with Papua New Guinea’s most powerful political players including Prime Minister O’Neill.
Curiously absent though is Gudmundur Fridriksson. Despite being the principal visionary and driver behind the project he has seemingly divested from the company, while retaining an executive role as CEO.
Nevertheless, given the current political gravity in Papua New Guinea, having backers with strong Southern Highlands credentials cannot have harmed the company over the past five years, as it has navigated significant public resistance to its real-estate venture.
All this analysis is rather academic for former Paga Hill residents. Many had their homes, belongings, church and school destroyed through a number of demolition exercises between 2012-2014 (PHDC has only been directly linked to the first exercise in May 2012). The soul and life of the community is captured in a moving song they composed to commemorate the destruction:
As a result of the demolition exercise, the site is now being prepared for the luxury estate which Michael Nali lauded as Minister back in 1997. Twenty years on, as the development is promoted as a host site for APEC 2018, questions still linger over the land transactions that underpinned its inception and a number of executives involved in stewarding this project.
Given the systematic efforts being devoted to censoring a documentary film covering this controversial venture, one senses these questions may encroach on very powerful interests indeed.
Yet whatever happens with Paga Hill, audiences may sense the bell tolls for thee. As a real-estate venture Paga Hill is not unique or exceptional, even if its displaced residents are a very special group indeed.
Around the world cities are transforming through a process of creative destruction, or what geographer David Harvey calls accumulation by dispossession. They are becoming spaces moulded in the image of power, money, corruption and violence.
Indeed, the technical and often highly opaque character of urban governance is a breeding ground for abuse and inequality. It is a matter for wonks, bureaucrats and developers. It needs to be a space of popular, public participation.
The Opposition calls this to our attention. Of course, what we do to confront these dilemmas is the next urgent conversation to be had.
It is now just a few months to the election, but there is still NO ACTION to reverse the huge SABL land grab. NO ACTION to return the land to customary landholders and NO ACTION to stop the illegal logging in SABL areas.
It is now 1,330days since the reports of the SABL Commission Inquiry which detail the widespread fraud and mismanagement that has allowed foreign logging companies to gain illegal access to over 50 thousand square kilometres of land.
In September 2013, O’Neill said in 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 supposedly 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”
In 2015 the Chief Secretary stated:
“It is widely known that vast amounts of pristine forest have been logged to enrich a corrupt few people, while landowners have unknowingly lost their most valuable asset – their land”.
And just three months ago, on November 4, O’Neill told Parliament and the Nation:
“I am pleased to say that all the SABL leases to be cancelled, instruction has now gone to the Lands Dept and as of today I can assure you that leases are now being cancelled and where there are projects now existing, we’ve encouraged the landowners to renegotiate many of those leases arrangements that they have made with the developers.
“These leases were given without much thought in the past. As a result, a lot of the landowners stood to lose all their years of generations of ownership over the land that they have had for many years.
“We do not want the rightful landowners lose their rights to land.
“That is why we have instructed the department of Lands and Forestry to cancel all the SABL.”
But, despite all the promises, no action has been taken to cancel the leases, landowners are receiving no support from the government in their battles against the land grabbing and WE ARE STILL WAITING for the logging to be stopped.
For 1,330 days O’Neill has failed to ensure the SABL leases are revoked and has been complicit in the illegal logging of our forests by foreign logging companies.
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.
In a world becoming increasingly accustomed to fake news, yesterday we were delivered up a howling example of ‘alternative facts’, delivered by caretaker Managing Director of the National Housing Corporation, Ditha Morris.
The NHC, and its private arm, the National Housing Estate Limited, over the past five years have been slammed by the Auditor General and Public Accounts Committee for mismanagement, corruption and impunity. It is alleged 11,000 properties remain unaccounted for, many of which have been sold off, under the radar, with the proceedings being pocketed by public officials and private speculators. NHC and NHEL records are in disarray or are non-existent. And often brute force has been used to evict legal tenants.
So it came as something of a surprise this week when Morris described outgoing NHC Managing Director as a ‘success star’.
Morris explained: ‘When Dege came in, NHC was on the brink of collapsing. But when he came in, that changed’.
More generally Morris applauded the work of NHC staff claiming they are professionals who ‘brought NHC to this height’.
Who are we to contest Mr Morris. But it is rather interesting that Mr Dege’s departure from the NHC comes very soon after the National Court implicated him in a fraud perpetrated by the suspended Minister for Defence, Fabian Pok.
Nevertheless, in honor of Mr Morris’ glowing testimonial, we thought PNG Exposed might review some of the NHC’s ‘star’ moments under Dege’s four year reign.
Star moment 1 – Dege organises a sweetheart housing deal for government Minister Fabian Pok that was slammed by the courts as fraudulent.
Star moment 2 – Under Dege’s watch the Duran Farm development went from bad to worse, including the contracting of a developer on the World Bank black list – even today the project is far from complete.
Star moment 3 – The NHC administered brutal eviction exercises against legal tenants using armed gangs, paid for out of taxpayer money – often these exercises paved the way for illegal housing sell offs to private developers at cut down rates.
Star moment 4 – Dege attempted to team the NHC’s private real-estate arm up with Gudmundur Fridriksson and the Paga Hill Development Company. This is a developer with a dubious history spread across the pages of Commissions of Inquiries, Auditor General Reports and Public Accounts Committee inquiries.
Star moment 5 – The so called NHC subsidiary National Housing Estate Limited has managed to handle public housing without submitting an annual return to the IPA since 2009, or making account to the Auditor General. Quite an achievement, but totally illegal.
Star moment 6 – According to the Auditor General the NHC’s books and management processes remain shambolic and open to all varieties of corrupt schemes.
We could go on. But you get the idea.
In this light, the people of PNG might rightly shudder at Mr Morris’s promise that ‘he planned to carry on the work outgoing managing director John Dege’.
That is a worrying prospect indeed!!