Source: Radio New Zealand
A lawyer in the Papua New Guinea city of Madang has laid a criminal complaint over alleged breaches of process by government ministers in a land deal.
Minister of Lands Benny Allan and Minister of Petroleum & Energy Nixon Duban have been accused of conspiring to attempt to unlawfully acquire two slabs of prime public land in Madang.
Bryan Kramer, who laid a complaint with Madang police, said the ministers circumvented a number of required processes in the land deal.
He claimed the awarding of the title by the Lands Minister was illegal, and that a National Physical Planning board failked to consult the provincial planning board when it rezoned the land.
“So then they had rezoned both pieces of land for commercial use, and then the Minister issued a directive, exercising his powers to grant the land directly to a company that is directly associated with Nixon Duban. When I looked at the instruments, I established that the minister had no such powers to make that decision, and he even invoked the wrong provisions of the law.”
He said he doesn’t expect the police to look far into this case, based on previous lack of action over a bribery case in the court of disputed election returns which found Mr Duban guilty.
Last month, PNG’s prime minister Peter O’Neill announced that two other cabinet ministers were standing aside pending a probe into their involvement in another allegedly fraudulent land deal.
The Minister for Defence Fabian Pok and Minister for State Enterprises William Duma are alleged to have committed the fraud in relation to a land deal for a purported PNG naval base relocation.
It has emerged that the state-owned asset holding company Kumul Consolidated Holdings paid a company closely linked with Mr Duma US$14million to purchase land at Manumanu in Central Province.
Mr O’Neill ordered the Police Commissioner to look into the allegation, and has signalled that there will be a Commission of Inquiry to examine the allegations around the land deal.
Both ministers in the allegedly-criminal land deal in Madang are members of Mr O’Neill’s People’s National Congress party.
Having promised a Commission of Inquiry, under the predicted Chairmanship of (Rtd) Judge Graham Ellis, who cut his teeth in the National and Supreme Court during the 1990s, working a number of high profile anti-corruption inquiries, PM O’Neill has been in reverse gear ever since.
This culminated first in an announcement by the Attorney General, that his government had somehow overlooked court proceedings barring any Commission of Inquiry from being convened.
Then we learnt yesterday that an ‘administrative inquiry’ would be convened, under the leadership of John Griffin QC.
John Griffin QC is most well-known for dashing the hopes of the country, when he managed to secure for his client Jimmy Maladina, a suspended sentence after the latter confessed to misappropriating K2.65 million during his tenure as Chairman of the National Provident Fund, a time when he was joined at the corporate hip to Peter O’Neill. The court let Maladina go with a suspended 8 year sentence, and a 2 year good behaviour bond. On the other hand, a middle man Maladina acted through received 6 years prison.
Later Griffin managed to get even Maladina’s conviction overturned by the Court, despite the fact Maladina ‘admitted freely that he had committed the offence’.
Given Jimmy Maladina declared himself bankrupt, and claims to have sold off his Australian properties to pay restitution – it can only be assumed Maladina has good friends who could pay for a silk of Griffin’s stature.
However, with a budget of K2 million for this ‘administrative inquiry’ into Duma/Pok, paying for high priced silks will not be a problem.
We are told the inquiry began on 7 March, and will continue for 4 weeks, with a finishing date of 28 March. Ahem, that’s actually 3 weeks!
For this 3 week work period, the commission will have a budget of K666,666 – perhaps an appropriate enough sum! Even if the entire commission team furiously shovelled kina into an open fire, they couldn’t physically burn this sum of cash in three weeks.
If we assume Griffin QC is paid K85,000 per week – the sort of sum a QC fetches – that gets us through K255,000 over the three week period. You would need a team of 8 QCs working around the clock to expend this K2 million budget.
We assume in the interests of ‘accountability and transparency’, to quote the PM, he will publish the inquiry’s budget in full?
As we watch O’Neill’s stance over Manumanu dilute on a daily basis, it must be asked – did the PM overplay his original hand against Duma and Pok, and are we now seeing all parties backtrack so they can resume cordial relations at the top of the trough following this year’s national elections?
Over the past month, there has been a sudden spike in reporting on Bougainville Copper Limited and the Panguna mine. The reports vary notably. Some suggest an opening date of 2020. Others suggest something closer to 2025.
Curiously no journalist has asked, who is the man being described variously as BCL’s new CEO or CFO, Mr Mark Wallace Hitchcock?
Given that he appears to be a key source for these various bold claims over BCL’s ambitious objectives, it would seem a question worth asking.
BCL’s website is notably sparse. In contrast to most corporate websites, there is no detailed biography available on its head. Does he have mining experience? What are the blue-chip mining concerns he previously managed? Its impossible to know.
Yet given Hitchock is claiming his company will lead Bougainville to the promised land of milk and honey, one would expect details.
We do know, however, through some detective work that Hitchcock is in a close commercial relationship with a tycoon who is close ally of Peter O’Neill.
Company records reveal that Mr Mark Hitchcock is Director of Vane Mata Quarry Limited, a company majority owned by none other than the Australian magnate, ‘Sir’ Theophilus George Constantinou [through his company Monier Limited]. Constantinou is a man who is deeply involved in business relations with Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill.
It must be asked, is this a push by the Port Moresby club to take over Panguna?
Another fact that appears to have been overlooked by media commentators is BCL’s share registry. Despite the considerable passage of time since Rio Tinto ‘gave’ its shares to the PNG and Bougainville governments, there is no record of this on the IPA database – a list of the registered shareholders is included below.
For Bougainvilleans concerned over their sovereignty and independence, this should not come as a surprise. The ABG big men talk the talk about independence and speaking with one voice, in reality many in Cabinet are criminals stealing meagre resources – this is no secret, its on the public record in the national court.
These men trade on peoples’ love for their country and government. They know this goodwill gives them virtual impunity. And with no free press on Bougainville, where would alternative sources of information come from. Who can access blogs like this from the village?
But the ABG are asleep at the wheel. Some may talk nationalism, but their main devotion is to money – a sickness Francis Ona reported on way back in 1988. If that means getting into bed with Port Moresby, at the cost of compatriots, they will do it, if the price is right. They only see the gold, not the blood.
When the referendum returns a yes vote, it will become apparent that the ABG is poorly administered and incapable of managing independence without in effect surrendering its sovereignty to a donor such as Australia, or China, who could fleet in consultants to prop up an ailing structure (whether they will is another question). The Big Men will blame the people of Panguna for resisting the mine. They will not take responsibility for the criminal thefts, and corrupt transactions, that are now well documented within the ABG. They will blame the people.
Many years ago Francis Ona called out fake nationalists in love with money, one of whom is currently President.
In that spirit we should all be asking, if the ABG is placing the entire country’s chips on BCL reopening Panguna. Who is leading this keystone company? And who is this individual tied to?
BCL Share Registry
Number of shares 642157
CITICORP NOMINEES PTY LTD
Number of shares 4931743
JP MORGAN CUSTODIAL NOMINEES LIMITED
Number of shares 1620157
Thomas John BERESFORD
Number of shares 57977361
Company Share Register COMPANY SHARE REGISTER
Number of shares 214887996
RIO TINTO LIMITED
Number of shares 76430809
THE INDEPENDENT STATE OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA
Number of shares 6027187
WESTPAC CUSTODIAN NOMINEES LIMITED
Number of shares 1657958
NATIONAL NOMINEES LIMITED
Number of shares 3600000
1-3263 BOUGAINVILLE COPPER FOUNDATION LIMITED
Number of shares 2561500
PUBLIC OFFICERS SUPERANNUATION FUND BOARD
Number of shares 30725632
ANZ NOMINEES LIMITED
When evidence was made public on 1 February this year, linking the State Enterprises Minister, Defence Minister and Chair of the Central Supply and Tender Board, to a major land swindle, Prime Minister O’Neill swiftly announced a Commission of Inquiry.
He appeared to have his ducks lined up. The ABC reported just five days later that a retired judge was to be appointed head of the COI.
Two names were thrown around in the social media, Warwick Andrews and Graham Ellis.
Odds are it was the latter who had been approached by O’Neill.
After all, Ellis had previously been asked by the NEC to Chair the Interim Anti-Corruption Office. However, this appointment has been blocked by a court injunction, which wont be heard until April.
This has left Ellis in limbo. Cue the role as head of the Commission of Inquiry.
However, evidence coming from within the NEC indicates that Minister for Public Services, Puka Temu, among others, have deep reservations over O’Neill’s choice.
If the appointment is Ellis, this makes sense.
When he was a National Court Judge from 1990-1992, and 2009-2011, he had a reputation for effectively clearing out case backlogs and swiftly getting the wheels of justice into gear. The Poreporena Freeway Commission of Inquiry he chaired in 1992 was completed within 8 weeks and under budget. He also Chaired a 1991 Leadership Tribunal that led to the famous resignation of Ted Diro.
For a Minister such as Puka Temu, whose own connections with William Duma’s sticky fingers, has been documented by the National Court – the news that a no-nonsense judge, with a reputation of being fiercely independent, may not have come as welcomed news.
It is not clear how the struggle within NEC will turn out. But it stands to reason if the retired Judge already appointed to head the country’s premiere anti-corruption office is selected, it is a sign that substance has trumped expediency. On the other hand, if we see hands ruffle down to the bottom of the barrel, we can safely assume a certain Prime Minister is being held over it – and is prepared to set up a COI, that will be little more than a whitewash.
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 1,344 days 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 1,344 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.
The Autonomous Bougainville Government, under the leadership of President John Momis, is not shy about appointing criminals to Cabinet positions. Take the example of Fidelis Semoso, Minister for Economic Development, the National Court found he was part of a criminal conspiracy to defraud the state of K2.7 million, which came at the cost of Buka General Hospital.
Now we have been informed that President Momis has appointed a new Vice President, Raymond Masono, following the resignation of Patrick Nisira (another man not unknown to this blog!).
While Masono is better known as the former Minister for Public Services and Director of the Office of Panguna Negotiations, his business activities have not been in the public eye.
We can reveal that Masono jointly owns a company Bougainville Seaweed Limited, which has been in receipt of multiple large payments from the Autonomous Bougainville Government, at a time when Masono was a senior civil servant.
Company records show that Masono owns 1/3 of Bougainville Seaweed Limited, the remaining 2/3 of the company is split evenly between Albert Kinani and Kenneth Kumul, both publc servants.
Drawing from leaked financial data detailing Autonomous Bougainville Government expenditure in 2014, it can be confirmed that Bougainville Seaweed Limited was paid in total K290,000 by the Bougainville government during August of that year.
The first payment occurred on 12/8/2014. In total K190,000 was paid to Bougainville Seaweed Limited for ‘Atolls Area Farming Of Seaweed’.
Several weeks later, on 25/8/2014, a second payment of K100,000 was made for ‘Feasibility Study On Seaweed Farming’.
When these payments were made Raymond Masono was Director of the Office of Panguna Negotiation, Kinani was Secretary for Commerce, and Kumul was Atolls District Sea Weed Farming Coordinator.
Given that the ABG has its own holding companies set up to run state enterprises, there appears to be no legitimate reason why this company would be owned by three public officials (especially by one whose job title has nothing to do with seaweed farming). This also has to be set against a backdrop of criminality and corruption within the Autonomous Bougainville Government, which has been well documented on this blog.
On top of this revelation it is likely that Masono, in his capacity as Bougainville Seaweed Limited’s Director, has been submitting incorrect information to the Investment Promotion Authority. For example in Bougainville Seaweed’s 2014 Annual Return, Masono claims that the company had net assets of a mere K3, and 1 full time employee, despite being paid K290,000 by the ABG alone in August. It also appears that the company was also in receipt of EU money during 2014. If Masono knowingly submitted false information, this is a criminal offence under section 420 of the Company Act 1997.
This activity must also be read against the Leadership Code set out in Constitution of Bougainville which states ‘a person to whom this Part applies has a duty to conduct himself in such a way, in his public or official life and in his private life and in associations with other persons, as to comply with the long-established standards of customary leadership in Bougainville, including trustworthiness, transparency, and acting in the interests of, and as custodian of wealth for the People, and not for personal gain’.
It continues: ‘A person to whom this Part applies has a duty to conduct himself in such a way, both in his public or official life and in his private life and in associations with other persons, as not to –
- place himself in a position in which he has or could have a conflict of interests or might be compromised when discharging his public or official duties; or
- demean his office or position; or
- allow his public or official integrity, or his personal integrity, to be called into question; or
- endanger or diminish respect for and confidence in the integrity of government in Bougainville’.
It remains to be seen whether Vice President Masono has met this standard with respect to Bougainville Seaweed Limited.