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The Midas Touch and Papua New Guinea’s kleptocracy

August 30, 2017 2 comments

Papua New Guinea’s new investigative website, PNGi Central, has published an in-depth examination of the career of Peter O’Neill that has largely escaped notice in the chaos of the elections.

Published in three parts – Secret Millionaire; The Big Skim; and Lift OffThe Midas Touch lifts the lid on how corruption thrives in Papua New Guinea and how politicians abuse their positions and milk the system to build considerable private fortunes.

The Midas Touch shows Papua New Guinea as a classic kleptocratic state ruled by a small elite or oligarchy, who exploit the nations natural resources and steal. They enrich themselves at the expense of the majority. This kleptocracy is currently led by Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.

Over the last twenty-years, O’Neill has abused his various political positions to enrich himself by building a network of companies that have benefited from government and foreign aid contracts, soft loans and broader policy decisions.

While in public office it is estimated that O’Neill has amassed a personal fortune of well over K150 million, all the while juggling complex conflicts of interest as his companies have benefited from government policy and spending decisions.

In addition:

  • O’Neill liquidated assets valued at more than K100 million in the lead up to this year’s national  elections;
  • His hidden corporate interests include shareholdings in more than 30 companies including hospitality, real estate, finance, retailing, air transport, communications, information technology, mining support, funeral services and construction;
  • His companies have been given contracts by the Australian government and Asian Development Bank, among others, and are frequently used by the mining and other foreign-owned industries;
  • He has directly benefited from fraudulent land and property dealings documented in two Commission’s of Inquiry; and
  • O’Neil has completely failed to comply with companies legislation on the timely, proper and complete filing of financial returns.

According to The Midas Touch, the story of O’Neill’s business empire starts in 1997, when O’Neill was plucked from obscurity and appointed to positions in various State Owned Enterprises by the notoriously corrupt Prime Minister, William Skate. O’Neill immediately started to use these positions to enrich himself and his his business partners.

It wasn’t all plain sailing though, O’Neill flirted with disaster when many of his early scams became the subject of two major Commission’s of Inquiry into the National Provident Fund and Investment Corporation. O’Neill survived however, and used his election as an MP and subsequent appointment to various Ministerial positions to substantially grow his business empire, an empire that has flourished since O’Neill seized the Prime Ministership in 2011.

Along this journey, O’Neill has surrounded himself with a small group of close associates, many of them Australian’s, who run his companies and with a coterie of businessmen and lawyers who have profited from his abuses and protected him from scrutiny.

Here is a quick summary of what you will find in the three parts of The Midas Touch.

Part 1. Secret Millionaire: How Peter O’Neill and associates have made a killing 

In the space of 20 years, Peter O’Neill has built a business and political empire. Secret Millionaire introduces us to the businesses and the players behind O’Neill’s rise and his early years as a student, accountant and struggling businessman before his big break when he is appointed head of various SOEs.

Part Two. The Big Skim: Peter O’Neill Inc meets Don Sawong and Tos Barnett

In 2003 and 2007 the O’Neill empire was rocked by two COIs. Part II of The Midas Touch looks into the unwieldy scams, and shams, it is alleged Peter O’Neill became an expert in.

Part Three. Lift Off: Prime Minister, Millionaire

As O’Neill’s political career went from strength to strength after 2011, so did his business empire. Part III of The Midas Touch looks into some of the more controversial deals and contacts that led O’Neill to become one of the richest men in PNG.

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The faces behind some of PNGs illegal logging

August 18, 2017 2 comments

Chih-hao Chang, Hung Chin Ng and Sie Miew Tiong are the owners of Achim Agro Limited, a company accused by locals of illegally logging in East Sepik Province – see story below. The reports of SGS, the company that is supposed to monitor all log exports from PNG, contain no record of Achim Agro Limited.

Chang, who is Chinese, Ng and Tiong, who are Malaysian, are also the owners of two other PNG registered companies, Grace Foremost Limited and Wewak Cocoa Limited. All three companies were registered in 2016.

via Facebook

There is a Chinese Timber company “ACHIM ECO FORESTRY COMPANY” who has destroyed Turubu and has shifted their operations to Kauk in West Coast Dagua in East Sepik. They have destroyed and stolen a great deal of timber without paying the landowners and are now looking at grabbing our land by conning some of my relatives and KAIKAI man from SMAIN and BUT villages.

ACHIM have paid them lousy thousands of Kina to go in and harvest the timber. We have taken out a preventative order to stop them and we will be in court with them next week.

Governor Allan BirdKevin Isifu & Richard Maru, we need your help in removing this illegal company, grabbing land from ignorant land owners and making false promises to them.

Papua New Guinea land activist vows to battle for his people from Britain

August 9, 2017 2 comments

Leader of the Paga Hill seafront community Joe Moses, pictured in London, July 11, 2017. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Nicky Milne

Ruairi Casey for the Thomson Reuters Foundation

A land activist from Papua New Guinea at loggerheads with the police and developers in his home country has vowed to continue the fight for his community from Britain.

Joe Moses has accused PNG authorities of treating people unfairly in demolishing the Paga Hill seafront settlement in the capital Port Moresby to make way for a luxury hotel and apartments development and a ring road.

The government granted a lease to the Paga Hill Development Company (PHDC), a joint venture between local and international investors, to build on Paga Hill.

A Supreme Court ruling said the reclaimed seafront area was not included in the original lease but Moses said, unknown to the community, this land was leased by the state to developers during legal proceedings.

Moses, who features in a newly released documentary “The Opposition: Paga Hill“, said the settlement, dating back about 70 years, was home to about 2,000 people who had customary rights to the land and should have been allowed to stay.

“The whole community was a vibrant community,” Moses told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in London where he is seeking asylum while his wife and children remain in Port Moresby.

“I just miss home every day, every minute of the day when I’m here.”

POLICE DENY INTIMIDATION

Moses, a former university worker, said his clash with authorities dated back to May 2012 when he led a fight in the courts to stop development.

In October that year, he said a policeman arrived at his home seeking his arrest without charge and shortly afterwards he went into hiding in an army barracks with his family.

He stayed in Port Moresby but his concerns for his safety grew in 2014 when armed police forced out the remaining residents from the Paga Hill settlement and their homes were bulldozed.

“I realized they were still after me,” said Moses. “I was not free to go to public places, public gatherings; all my communications were tapped.”

The police, however, accused Moses of discharging a gun, resisting arrest and causing civil unrest.

In a statement to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, a police spokesman denied allegations of intimidation and accused Moses of seeking fame from an international audience.

“There is no threat whatsoever on Joe Moses. He can come home anytime he wants to. There has been and will be no intimidation,” the spokesman said in an email.

Moses said with the assistance of international NGOs he was able to secure a flight from Papua New Guinea to Panama in November 2016 and then onto Britain.

“The most important thing is I need to get my family out … we need to be safe somewhere while waiting for the situation to change,” he said.

Moses said he hoped he will be able to return to Papua New Guinea someday to continue his fight to get fair compensation for his community, many of whom are still living in tents on a relocation site without suitable water and sewerage facilities.

A PHDC statement said the company was “proud of having achieved the first privately-funded squatter settlement relocation in PNG” with the site handed over in 2014.

“The fact that the relocation site was officially handed over almost three years ago, as well as that many settlers have since on-sold and moved on, PHDC can in no way be reasonably held accountable for the current state of the relocation site, or for those that PHDC relocated,” PHDC’s statement said.

Moses, however, vowed to press on with his campaign.

“I know that I will face consequences, but someone has to do something … If it means life and death I will have to do this – because someone has to do something to help the people,” he said.

Transparency International cries foul over appointment of Duma

August 7, 2017 4 comments

In February William Duma was suspended now he is back at the very heart of government

In February Prime Minister Peter O’Neill suspended Ministers William Duma and Fabian Pok and announced a Commission of Inquiry into their role in the Manumanu military base and land scandal.

That Commission of Inquiry has never happened, but in the meantime the revelations about Mr Duma and his connection to various corrupt land deals have only intensified, as these stories illustrate:

But now, in one of his first acts as Prime Minister since the controversial elections, Peter O’Neill has reappointed Duma a Minister in his caretaker Cabinet. The Mt Hagen MP and United Resources Party Leader, has his hands back on the Petroleum and Energy portfolio and will also handle Housing and Urbanisation, Public Enterprise and State Investments, Transport, Agriculture and Livestock!

Transparency International is outraged, as we all should be. TIPNG is calling on the Prime Minster to keep his promise to the people, and revoke the appointment of Duma.

In a statement, TIPNG says Peter O’Neill, is on public record as making a clear commitment to the people that the estimated K2m Administrative Inquiry will examine the details of the Manumanu land deal.

TIPNG says so far, Mr O’Neill has fallen short of his own standards with no publication of the findings of the inquiry, and now the reappointment of Mr. Duma with no consideration of his promise to the people.

It says Papua New Guineans expect leaders to be cleared of all alleged serious wrong-doings before they are entrusted to make decisions which will affect the people.

William Duma’s hidden hand in K3 billion Paga Hill Development

July 6, 2017 1 comment

Source: PNGi Investigates

A special PNGi investigation, has revealed insider evidence that suspended States Enterprises Minister, William Duma, has a hidden interest in the Paga Hill Estate, a public-private venture valued at K3 billion.

The acquisition of this equity stake, in what is said to be an APEC host site, allegedly took place through Duma’s firm Kopana Investments Limited, which went from a 1 kina shelf company to a K28 million mega-venture virtually overnight.

PNGi also presents evidence that Kopana Investments originally acquired land at Paga Hill in 2009, through a set of transactions, slammed by the Supreme Court.

All of this comes as the PNG public awaits for the results of an administrative inquiry into Duma’s alleged role in the Manumanu land scandal, which was supposed to be tabled in parliament over three months ago (28 March).

Read more: http://pngicentral.org/…/william-dumas-hidden-hand-in-k3-bi…

Renzie Duncan and Philip Miriori team up in another illegal Bougainville venture 

June 29, 2017 2 comments

Sydney lawyer and mining venture capitalist, Renzie Duncan, is on the prowl again for Bougainville’s mineral wealth, with his old friend Philip Miriori,  the scandal-plagued, self-appointed head of the Me’ekamui Tribal Government.

This time its through Central Me’ekamui Exploration Limited, which is in partnership with Australian mining firm RTG Mining.

Company extracts indicate that Central Me’ekamui Exploration Limited, despite its very local name, is in fact a foreign enterprise.

This assertion is based on the fact it is 50% owned by Australian company, Central Exploration Pty Ltd.

Central Exploration Pty Ltd’s thriving head office is 266 Burns Bay Road, Lane Cove, New South Wales, Australia. This leafy address on Sydney’s north shore, is also the registered home address for Renzie Duncan.

Under the Investment Promotion Act 1992, a company which is 50% owned by a foreign entity is deemed a foreign enterprise and must apply for certification to conduct business in Papua New Guinea.

Section 41 of the Investment Promotion Act 1992 states it is an offence to carry on business without certification, punishable by a K100,000 fine.

There is no record with the Investment Promotion Authority that Central Me’ekamui Exploration Limited has applied for certification, despite the fact it has been clearly conducting business with RTG Mining.

However, this is not the first time Duncan, Miriori and the other Central Exploration Director, Michael Etheridge, have conducted business in Bougainville. 

The last time it was through Transpacific Ventures Limited.

In that case Transpacific Ventures informed investors:

‘In the past 12 months, TPV has negotiated and signed an Agreement (the “Cairns Agreement”) with the Sovereign Me’ekamui Tribal Government on an exclusive basis for 20 years, renewable, to advise customary landowners (the Me’ekamui) in developing their natural resources sector, including potential oil and gas, on the island of Bougainville, PNG and surrounding atolls and marine territories, and to participate with the Me’ekamui in such development and other business opportunities’.

Yes, that’s right, Philip Mioriri and his self-styled tribal government proposed to sign away the natural resources, landed and marine, across Bougainville. Clearly, he had no right to, and Transpacific Ventures had no legal business publishing this information to investors.

Of course the claim by President Momis that RTG mining ‘doesn’t have any money’, is rather ironic given that his preferred operator, BCL, cant even afford permanent staff – and has no means whatsoever to raise the sort of capital to develop Panguna.

But the core point all this squabbling between various minority interests distracts from is this – 98% of the people in and around Panguna oppose mining, under any industrial guise. They have suffered the environment and human loss.

The ordinary people – real landowners – don’t have government support, nor do they have access to the internet or media. Their voice is unheard, except when they protest and resist.

The re-entry of Duncan and Mirori, will be cynically used by the government to label all landowner resistance, simply a plot to bring in an alternative developer by the backdoor. If this is argued, it is a lie.

Landowners throughout the mine area remain opposed, like they have since 1963, when the first rumblings of Panguna began. Journalists will not report this. They don’t leave their offices, much less speak with someone who cant reply in english.

On the rare occasions they do leave their office, they knock on the door of Lawrence Daveona, Philip Mioriori and other individuals, who falsely claiming they somehow speak for all landowners, which they don’t. Of course the colonial powers did this back in the 1960s. Some poor old man, was wielded out to say yes, while the mothers cried no.

History has been a cruel teacher, it is unlikely the mothers of the land will allow the bulldozers through this time.

UNDP head denies endorsing Paga Hill Development Company evictions

June 12, 2017 Leave a comment

Settlers moved from the foreshore at Paga Hill to the inland site of Gerehu, where they live in appalling conditions.  Photo: Aid Watch

Port Moresby settlers evicted to make way for Australian-backed development ‘abandoned’

Source: Heath Aston in Sydney Morning Herald

A majority of settlers evicted from a headland shanty town in Port Moresby to make way for a gated tourism and casino precinct backed by Australian property developers have been “simply abandoned”, with some now sleeping rough, according to human rights investigators.

Two Australian-run companies involved in moving squatters from waterfront Paga Hill and its foreshore between 2012 and 2014 dispute the numbers of people affected, but charities Aid Watch and Jubilee Australia claim 2000 of an estimated 3000 squatters were given no resettlement and in many cases no compensation, and up to 500 of those could be living on the streets of the capital.

They have also raised questions about the claimed success of resettlement programs for those relocated to make way for a gated waterfront estate that the PNG government has earmarked as a likely setting for the 2018 APEC conference of world leaders.

Australia is spending about $100 million to support the Port Moresby APEC summit, with a particular focus on security through the ongoing presence of the Australian Federal Police in PNG.

The brochure for the Paga Hill development showing the headland that has been cleared for development. Photo: Paga Hill Development Company

Former prime minister Tony Abbott said APEC would be “an important coming of age for PNG”.

Australian mining company Oil Search is building a floating reception centre to be called APEC Haus at the Paga Hill headland.

Human rights lawyer Brynn O’Brien, who is writing a report for Jubilee and Aid Watch, said Australia had a responsibility to the people of Paga Hill if it was backing the APEC meeting with public money.

“The Australian government should make a commitment not to support any event held on land associated with human rights violations until people have been resettled,” she told Fairfax Media.

Six Mile, another site were people were moved to. Photo: Aid Watch

“The majority of people were simply abandoned and a significant proportion of those, perhaps a quarter, are living under bridges, under buildings.”

The evictions, conducted with the support of armed PNG police, were raised at a recent senate estimates hearing where the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s first assistant secretary, Pacific division, Daniel Sloper, said it was not Australia’s responsibility.

Another humpy at Gerehu. Photo: Aid Watch

“Certainly there have been areas and villages that have moved on. I am not denying that at all,” he said.

“My only point was that was a responsibility of the PNG government rather than a responsibility of the Australian government.”

Paga Hill was once the focal point of Australia’s World War II defence of Port Moresby. The thousands of settlers who moved there in the decades after 1945 became known as “bunker people” for their use of abandoned wartime fortifications to create makeshift homes.

The Paga Hill Development Company is run by Icelandic-Australian businessman Gudmundur “Gummi” Fridriksson, a former chief executive of Noel Pearson’s Cape York Institute.

Last year Fairfax Media revealed a legal wrangle in which one PNG’s most revered former politicians, Carol Kidu, and the Paga Hill Development Company sought to block the release of an Australian documentary, The Opposition, about local resistance to the evictions.

Ms O’Brien interviewed people who were moved from the foreshore by Townsville-based civil contractors Curtain Bros, with the support of PNG’s National Capital District Commission to an area called Gerehu on the outskirts of Port Moresby.

She found at least 600 people living in homes made from “pieces of wood, sticks, fibro, sheet metal, tarpaulins” and without power or running water.

“At Gerehu lots of the adults and children are noticeably thin even by PNG standards, they appear malnourished. At Paga Hill their main source of protein was fish caught from the sea but this site is inland with no reliable public transport” she said.

Curtain Bros did not return calls.

At another resettlement site, known as Six Mile, the original facilities built by PHDC in 2014 are badly run down. The company offered resettlement of cash compensation for people living on the hill rather than those living on the foreshore and in other areas.

Of the estimated 400 people at Six Mile, according to Ms O’Brien, most remain in temporary accommodation – tents under a steel shed roof – because they can’t afford to enter into the “land use agreements” that were offered.

A Paga Hill Development Company spokesman said:

“PHDC cannot be held responsible for the relocation site almost three years after it was formally handed over in October 2014 to UN acclaim.”

The UN’s support for the project is in dispute.

Roy Trivedy, the United Nations’ resident co-ordinator in PNG, said he attended one meeting where he was impressed with written plans for the resettlement but has not been involved in anything to do with Paga Hill since.

“I’ve asked the company to stop using my name to endorse something I haven’t seen,” he said.