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Corrosive culture of corruption

June 20, 2017 1 comment

Source: Kessy Sawang, The Papua New Guinea Woman 

Sir Mekere, our former Prime Minister, likened corruption to cancer, presumably the malignant type. Sam Koim, former head of Task Force Sweep, described the rising tide of corruption using the boiling frog tale – descriptive but a parable nonetheless as it is scientifically incorrect. But if we focus on the point being made, which is that unless we are alert to the slow and gradual threat of diminishing governance and the growing scale of corruption these can go unnoticed and become accepted as the new norm threatening democracy and our country’s development.

These concerns seem apt when we consider the performance of the last term of Parliament and the Executive Government. The O’Neill Government swept into power on a wave of optimism and promises that it would tackle the problem of corruption and restore good governance. The Alotau Accord captured the commitments made by O’Neill’s Government to the people of PNG of the initiatives it would undertake. There were pledges to “continuing the fight against Corruption by proper funding and institutionalization of the inter-agency committee against corruption in particularly Task Force Sweep. Further, the Government will introduce the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) Bill.” O’Neill has failed to table the ICAC law in Parliament.

There were also promises to “review the powers, roles and responsibilities of the Ombudsman Commission” as well as to abolish the Department of Personnel Management and to restructure the “Public Service Commission … [by giving it] the Constitutional powers and responsibility to oversee the efficiency of the public service.” There was also to be a shakeup of sub-national governance with “the transfers of powers of appointment of Provincial Administrators to the Provincial Executive Council“. All these have not been done and indeed the O’Neill Government has gone in the reverse direction.

Corruption is the abuse of public office for private gain. Corruption should not only be thought of willful abuse but also if one is aware of it and does nothing to bring it to the attention of appropriate authorities then there is a crime of complicity. It has been a sad trait that the more stakeholders like the private sector especially has not done more to play a more active and stronger coordinated collective role in demanding better public governance.

There are many forms of governance and this article is focused on public governance, which relates to how power and authority is distributed amongst different agents, the processes and mechanisms through which these are exercised and how the rules are enforced. Good governance is an imprecisely defined term but can be thought of as being secured when good development outcomes are achieved with adherence to key principles of voice, accountability, fairness, legitimacy, participation and rule of law. Rule of law is the principle that all institutions and people are subject to and accountable to law, which must be fairly and equally applied or enforced.

The manner in which O’Neill first took the office of the Prime Minister was not legitimate – one of the three arms of Government, the judiciary declared this. This offence should not be lightly forgotten. It is ironic to see that the chief perpetrators of this siege on Executive Government in the last Parliament term are now rattling their sabers on opposing sides in the National General Elections.

By almost any measure there is fault with all governments. It isn’t an easy task pleasing all stakeholders and with this in mind we can restrict an assessment of the O’Neill Government’s governance performance in relation to promises it made itself and to conformance with our laws.

There are three key messages. The first is that the O’Neill Government has not fulfilled the promises it made in relation to good governance. The second takeaway message is that there has been a dismal performance in relation to compliance with rule of law and with legislation around financial governance. The third broad outcome is that there has been a profound erosion in the quality of governance and performance of our public institutions.

Parliamentarians are elected representatives of people but they are not beyond reproach nor are they above the law. Indeed as public officials they are subject to greater scrutiny and accountability, this is embedded in our Constitution through the Leadership Code. The application of the rule of law does not recognize your position only the person.

In the financial governance space, we have seen public debt ratio being willfully breached and then O’Neill and his party members boasting they will borrow more and indebt our nation more. Such taunts are based on fanciful claims it will be for infrastructure spending but we see suggestive evidence that the cost of road infrastructure is excessive, that the scale of infrastructure itself is not in the national interest and the net returns from the investments may be less than other infrastructure investment opportunities outside the capital city. Spending vast sums of money on contracts that raise doubts is hardly an euphemism for inclusive development and good governance.

We have seen the O’Neill Government claim that it has managed public finances well and made necessary adjustments to the budget in years of stress. However, these adjustments have been hidden both from the Parliament and our people until the end of the financial year. The release of regular reports on public finances have been delayed or avoided completely, despite requirements in our laws for this.

For instance, the practice of issuing quarterly reports on warrants, effectively the quarterly cashflow, has ceased. A pillar of good governance is transparency and O’Neill and his government has steadfastly refused to provide information. Our people have the right to demand accountability from our Government and from our public officials. We have a right to understand how scarce public funds are been allocated and spent. We have a right to know if these are extracting the maximum value for our people from these limited funds. We have right to demand accountability in relation to procurement and the award of contracts.

We have seen continued erosion in the quality of our public institutions. Our oversighting agencies continue to be deprived of required funding or legally disempowered and political patronage perhaps influences agency heads to flout their agency’s independence. We have seen the O’Neill Government make legislative changes that strip the Public Service Commission of its powers to ensure a merit-based appointment process and to transfer their powers  to a committee of Ministers. This politicization of the civil service is already working to erode the quality of our government institutions. For instance, the Bank of PNG an independent institution by law has breached its mandate by expanding the money supply by funding O’Neill’s budget by K1.8 billion in 2016 alone. Without this funding the Government would have stopped functioning if it had failed to adjust the budget. The Bank of PNG shockingly paid a dividend of K102 million in 2014 when it was technically bankrupt and this was done at the direction of O’Neill and his cabinet of ministers.

So what are pathways forward to combat the scourge of corruption? Let me share my good governance platform, which is summarized in the figure at the top of the page. The new Parliament should act decisively to institute various measures to rebuild our public institutions that can guard against any abuse of executive power. We need public institutions which are a bastion for integrity, professionalism and high standards of ethics so that fundamentally the country can rely on institutions to independently act to ensure good governance prevails. The powers of the Public Service Commission must be restored. We need laws to protect whistler-blowers that step forward to expose corruption and for freedom of information to be enacted. The Police Force must be free from political influence and the Ombudsman Commission must be supported with adequate funding and additional legal powers as required. The ICAC should be established or its proposed functions and powers should be embedded within an existing body like the Ombudsman Commission, if this is sensible.

It is time to consider an Unexplained Wealth Legislation where people that have wealth that is at variance with their declared income are required to justify it or face confiscation of those assets and prosecution under other laws. The new Government can demonstrate its commitment by allowing a phased introduction where this is applied to public leadership positions first.

Corporate governance of our public bodies needs to be strengthened. Requirements for directors of boards to satisfy strong fit and proper test must be satisfied and I want the removal of all legal provisions that allow Cabinet to be shadow directors. Statutory agency heads should be accountable solely to Boards of Directors, which should have the power to hire and fire them.

Public procurement needs to be reformed. The removal of certain public officials, like the State Solicitor, from the tenders board is necessary to avoid conflict of interests. I advocate that a probity auditor for procurement be established. This can be housed within another agency such as ICAC or as a new independent office. This function will ensure that disputes are promptly heard but also investigate any allegations of malfeasance or to simply verify costings are reasonable and robust.

I believe that fiscal transparency must be strengthened by publishing key details of major project including estimated rates of return, estimated and final project costs, contractor and its gender impact. We have seen too many reports of excessive legal costs and it is time to ensure that there is legal compliance of the engagement of lawyers for public purposes through a procurement process that results in panel selection of firms and ensures value for money.

The publicity of Parliamentarians on signage of public works or assets purchased with public funds and the deception that Parliamentarians alone deliver must stop. It is time for anti-signage provisions in law. Finally, Parliament, an important arm of government must be strengthened to provide oversight of executive government.

The challenge of curtailing the corrosive culture of corruption and instilling good governance is the ultimate leadership challenge. In the Alotau Accord the O’Neill Government promised that it would “be remembered … as the most decisive, action packed, transparent and accountable Government the nation has ever had”. Sadly, it seems the O’Neill Government will be remembered instead for the slow but devastating erosion in good governance and poor development outcomes.

Police allege K1.5 billion missing last year

May 10, 2017 1 comment

Source: The National (owned by Rimbunan Hijau)

POLICE claim that more than K1.5 billion in public funds went missing last year due to fraud-related activities.
National Fraud Anti-Corruption Directorate director Chief Superintendent Matthew Damaru, pictured, made the claim on Friday following the launching of Transparency International Papua New Guinea’s Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre.
“Because people are not making it their business to stand up against fraud and corruption, big (amounts) are lost,” the chief superintendent said.
Damaru said people tended to think that fighting corruption was a job only for the police, the Ombudsman Commission and other stakeholders.
“Having not enough information slows down an investigation,” he said.
“Corruption will affect us in one way or another.
“So we are all responsible to fight it.”
The centre will provide legal advice and recommend referral pathways for people who have corruption-related complaints.
TIPNG’s toll free numbers are 1806000 and 7614636 to receive complaints.

O’Neill’s illegal logging: 1309 days and counting…

January 23, 2017 Leave a comment

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Peter O'Neill: Theft of forest resources: Guilty

O’Neill’s illegal logging: 1295 days and counting…

January 9, 2017 Leave a comment

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Peter O'Neill: Theft of forest resources: Guilty

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Minister Chan demands action on illegal Konoagil logging

January 3, 2017 5 comments
Mining Minister Byron Chan has reacted angrily to illegal loggi

Mining Minister Byron Chan is demanding action on illegal logging in his electorate

Mining Minister Byron Chan has reacted angrily to revelations on this blog about illegal logging operations in the Konoagil District of New Ireland. He is demanding action to stop the logging and police investigation of those responsible.

But is the Minister REALLY SERIOUS or is this just pre-election posturing? Will Minister Chan really ensure proper investigations are carried out and effective action is taken against those responsible for the theft of forest resources and destruction of the environment?

BY JEFFREY ELAPA, Post Courier, January 03, 2017

MINISTER for Mining and Member for Namatanai Byron Chan has called on authorities to investigate two foreign companies [Millionplus Corporation and Islands Forest Resources] involved in logging activities in his district.

Mr Chan is also calling on the authorities to investigate how Government authorities had allowed the companies to conduct business in the country and wants their Malaysian principals [Kie Yii LING, Ting Ping LAU and Tiing Siu HAH] deported.

He said he is outraged over their being issued environment and logging licences.

“I’m totally disgusted and immediately call for a full investigation into the illegal activities occurring at Forest Department and the Department of Environment and Conservation.

“I further call on the two Ministers Douglas Tomoresia (Forest) and John Pundari (Environment) to institute an investigation into the conduct of the two companies.

“I also call on the police fraud and anti-corruption unit to investigate the activities of these foreigners cheating my people. How can authorities allow foreign companies to conduct illegal businesses in the country.

“I also call on the Minister for Forest to cease the operation of the company and Immigrations to immediately deport the two foreigners and blacklist them as they have misled and abused the trust of my people and my district. We do not need people involved in illegal activities they also pose threats to the sovereignty of the nation.

“This is the kind of business conduct by foreigners under the guise of doing business and involved in local politics are not welcomed to stay in this country.

“My people are innocent like most rural Papua New Guineans. There have been a lot of false promises and false hopes given to my people and I’m really disgusted by the action of such foreign companies conducting business in my district and the country,” he said.

Mr Chan also called on local elites not to mislead the people for whatever motives they had.

“As a concerned national leader and leader of my people I’m calling for an immediate investigate by the authorities,” he said.

PNG’s APEC Minister’s lavish plans for exclusive Brisbane hideaway

January 3, 2017 7 comments
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Design drawing showing the features and layout for Tkatchenko’s planned Brisbane estate

Papua New Guinea’s Minister for APEC, Sports and Special Events, Justin Tkatchenko, is planning to build for himself a lavish multi-million dollar mini-estate on 8.5 acres of land in the rural Brisbane suburb of Brookfield.

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The estate will comprise an ornate main dwelling (shown above) with feature spiral staircase and cupola roof, a three bed-room second dwelling, large gym, animal stables, an ornamental lake with two fountains, a large bird aviary complex, 25 metre swimming pool, two pavilions, garages, sheds, large greenhouse and other outbuildings.

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Plan view of the ground floor of the main dwelling with its ornate circular staircase, veranda over-looking the fountain and lake and alfresco dining area

All this on a piece of land Tkatchenko purchased for a cool $1.77 million in November 2015, as revealed on PNG Blogs .

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Aerial view of the Tkatchenko’s land in the semi-rural suburb of Brookfield

Tkatchenko has engaged the exclusive architectural firm, Argo, to design his estate and Clegg Town Planning consultants to guide the proposed development through the planning process.

Tkatchenko already owns another home in Brisbane, in the exclusive inner city suburb of Fig Tree Pocket, purchased in 2011 for $1.1 million.

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Tkatchenko’s existing Brisbane home in the exclusive Fig Tree Pocket suburb

Minister Tkatchenko has a long history of unanswered fraud allegations and has been exposed for lying to Parliament over contracts awarded to his family business; the same business, Kitoro No.33, that is now involved in the development of 15 Upper Brookfield Road.

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Tkatchenko inspecting the boundaries of the Brookfield land where he will build his mini-estate

Will Port Moresby’s ‘Tourism City’ be a White Elephant?

December 22, 2016 1 comment
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An artists impression of the promised estate

Anyone who switched on the television, radio or internet yesterday, would have been confronted with bold government announcements of a new tourism city, which will be built by Paga Hill Development Company, under the watchful gaze of its CEO Gudmundur Fridriksson.

The National (aka The Loggers Times) tells us the project ‘will have a hotel, serviced apartments, tourism and business facilities, residences, marina and a casino’.

It will also include a tourism school where pupils will evidently learn about ‘the importance of tourism’ 

We are told this will Public-Private Partnership will make Port Moresby the envy of the Pacific. But will it?

Lets look at the track record of Gudmundur Fridriksson. Anyone remember this iconic fun park at Paga Hill spearheaded by Fridriksson?

sea-park Probably not. Because it never came into being.

Or what about this book?

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You won’t find it in the bookshop anytime soon. While Sean Dorney found the book to be full of errors, Fridriksson’s company was paid K2.5 million by the national government, a price tag that was said by Dorney to be 5 x the market rate.

PNG Exposed has also pointed in the past to the 2 x Auditor General reports, 4 x Public Accounts Committee reports, and 1 x Commission of Inquiry reports censuring companies run by Fridriksson.

So if history is anything to go by this will be an expensive white elephant, that will be more mirage than reality.