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Judge recommends MP’s prosecution for role in fraud

June 25, 2017 Leave a comment

MP Joseph Lelang is the latest to be implicated in the scandals surrounding Eremas Wartoto

MP Joseph Lelang has already been the subject of a Leadership Tribunal, where he pleaded guilty to failing to file his annual statements. He has also been recommended for prosecution by the Task Force Sweep, now the National Court is recommending his prosecution…

Source: Radio New Zealand

A Papua New Guinea court has recommended the prosecution of an MP for his role in facilitating a multi-million dollar fraud.

Eremas Wartoto was sentenced to 10 years in jail on Friday. The sentencing judge has recommended a MP, Joseph Lelang, also be prosecuted for his role in the fraud. 

On Friday, the National Court sentenced a businessman, Eremas Wartoto, to 10 years in prison after he misused US$2 million of public funds paid to his transport company for the renovation of a high school.

In his judgement, Justice George Manuhu said the then-public servant and now MP, Joseph Lelang, and another public servant Brian Kimmins, lied to the court in giving evidence against Wartoto.

Justice Manuhu found the pair had a role in facilitating the payments to Wartoto’s company for which he said they should be prosecuted.

If Mr Lelang is prosecuted, he would not be the first MP ensnared by Eremas Wartoto’s business dealings.

Wartoto rose to prominence in 2013 when a former planning minister, Paul Tiensten, was jailed for misappropriating US$3.6 million to Wartoto and his other company, Travel Air.

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 still pursuing Sakora over Paraka link

June 5, 2017 Leave a comment

Damaru outside court: Police allege Sakora received K100,000 for issuing media ban

Court to review Justice Sakora’s case dismissal

Source: PNG Loop

The Waigani National Court will be reviewing the decision of the Committal Court on 7 June, 2016, which dismissed the case of alleged judicial corruption against Justice Sir Bernard Sakora.

SEE ALSO: Post Courier Wrong: Sakora not acquitted

Justice Leka Nablu today granted leave to an application that was moved by Director of the National Fraud and Anti-Corruption Directorate, Matthew Damaru, on May 18, asking the court to review that decision of Magistrate John Kaumi.

Magistrate Kaumi dismissed the case and the information that was laid against Sir Bernard.

The Committal Court’s view was that it does not have jurisdiction to prosecute or commence a criminal proceeding against Sir Bernard, who occupies a judicial office because certain laws were not complied with.

Sir Bernard was charged with one count of judicial corruption, contrary to section 119(2)(a) of the Criminal Code Act. Under section 119(5), prosecution of an offence against a person who holds a judicial office “cannot begun except on the direction of the Public Prosecutor”.

Damaru and Inspector Joel Simatab, as police investigating officers, were aggrieved by the committal court’s decision and filed this judicial review proceeding in the National Court.

Justice Nablu was satisfied they had an arguable case because it was of public interest, raising serious issues.

Amongst issues raised was when prosecution commenced in a case, at what time the Public Prosecutor’s directions under section 119 are required and if the magistrate has the discretion to consider other applications during the committal process.

All these issues raised will be looked at by the court in the proper review trial.

Justice Nablu, in granting leave, was also satisfied Damaru and Simatab had sufficient interest as investigating officers and had exhausted all available remedies before coming to court.

She was however, concerned over the state’s lack of interest in the proceeding in the leave stage because no representative from the Solicitor General’s office assisted the court with submissions.

“It’s quite concerning that the Solicitor General does not see this as a case of public importance or interest where the state, as a named defendant, should be present in these proceedings.

“As a senior state lawyer and one of the senior court officials, the Solicitor General not only represents the interest of the state, he or she has an ethical duty to the court.

“To fail to attend at the leave application and assist the court is unacceptable and disrespectful to the court,” Justice Nablu said.

Substantively, the senior police officers are asking the court to quash the decision of the Committal Court dated 7 June 2016, and compel the district court to rehear the committal proceeding before a different magistrate.

The matter returns to court on June 13 for directions.

Districts And Provinces Fail To Submit DSIP Acquittals

May 30, 2017 Leave a comment

Out of 22 Provinces and 89 Districts in PNG, Only Five Have Submitted Their Acquittals and Annual Reports.

BY MICHAEL ARNOLD, POST COURIER

Out of the 22 provinces and 89 districts in PNG, only five have submitted their acquittals and annual reports.

The acquittals are for the K1.11 billion released for the 2016 District Support Implementation Program (DSIP) and Provincial Support Implementation Program (PSIP) funding.

According to Department of Implementation and Rural Development (DIRD) Acting Deputy Secretary, Aihi Vaki, there has been a steep decline in the submission of annual reports and acquittals for DSIP and PSIP funding over the past four years.

“In 2013 we had 92 acquittals submitted and 19 not submitted. In 2014, we had 75 submitted and 36 not submitted. In 2015 we had 36 submitted and 75 not submitted and this year we have only received 5 so far,” said Vaki.

“As you can see the trend over this period, the acquittals and the level of reporting is dropping,” said Mr Vaki.

He added that although there has been some development since the DSIP program was first implemented in the 2008 national budget, irregular payments, and the non-submission of annual reports and acquittals have made both the DSIP and PSIP increasingly difficult to manage

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.

Legal battles over, controversial doco The Opposition finally gets home debut

May 1, 2017 1 comment

It began as a student film project but soon morphed into something much larger – including an unexpected and bruising legal battle.

Karl Quinn | Sydney Morning Herald | 29 April 2017

Dame Carol Kidu didn’t recognise the young Australian woman who said she wanted to make a film about her life in New Guinean politics in 2012, even though they’d shared breakfast a few years before that. But she has no trouble remembering Hollie Fifer now. It’s amazing how an ugly legal battle can jog the memory. 

Fifer, who is 28, first met Dame Carol with her mother Dimity, a former CEO of Australian Volunteers International, in 2008. By the time the then-AFTRS student pitched her film idea, PNG was in political turmoil, with Michael Somare and Peter O’Neill both claiming to be the legitimate prime minister of the country. Dame Carol broke the deadlock by stepping away from Somare’s party to become leader of a one-woman opposition. 

Hollie Fifer, director of the controversial PNG documentary The Opposition, fought a long battle to screen the film. Photo: Arsineh Houspian

To Fifer, “it seemed like a great story”, even if she also suspected “I’d arrived too late” to record it at its best.

But as they were filming an interview in Port Moresby in May 2012, Dame Carol received a phone call: a shanty settlement on Paga Hill, near the centre of town, was being bulldozed, its 3000 inhabitants were about to be scattered to the winds, and the developer responsible was Australian.

In that moment, a different film was born.

“She said, ‘Do you want to come’, and I didn’t know what to expect but I said ‘yeah’,” Fifer says. “Then this entire scene happened that completely changed everything.”

As Dame Carol strode about Paga Hill trying to convince police to stop what was going on, Fifer kept her camera rolling. Here was a real-life David v Goliath story, with the country’s only female parliamentarian as the unlikely hero of the people. Or so it seemed.

Over the course of the film’s evolution, Dame Carol’s role changed massively. She left the Parliament. She set up a consultancy, and was hired by the Paga Hill Development Corporation, on a contract of $178,000 for three months’ work. And she became determined to prevent Fifer’s footage of her from ever seeing the light of day.

Dame Carol wasn’t the main character in Fifer’s film, but she was a key player, featuring in about 20 minutes of it. In March 2016, she launched legal action in the Supreme Court of NSW demanding those scenes be redacted. She claimed she had never consented to being in such a documentary. The release she signed was merely for a student film, not for something that might be shown commercially. She claimed the film misrepresented her. 

Dame Carol Kidu argues the point with police at Paga Hill in May 2012, as seen in The Opposition. Photo: supplied

Fifer’s film was set to debut at the prestigious Hot Docs festival in Toronto in May 2016. On April 22, Dame Carol was granted a temporary injunction against the inclusion of the footage in which she appeared.

Fifer had a week and a half to recut her film. Where Dame Carol had been, the screen was now black, with a narration read by actress Sarah Snook explaining what was happening, and why. But the day before she was due to fly to Toronto, Fifer was back in court, being ordered to make more tweaks.

PNG land rights activist Joseph Moses (foreground) in a scene from the film. Photo: Supplied

“The hard drive was still warm when I took it to the airport the next morning,” she says.

“It was literally a hot doc. We hadn’t even seen it by the time we screened it. My producer, Rebecca Barry, and I were just looking at each other thinking, ‘I hope this works’.”

Dame Carol Kidu went from opposing the demolition of houses at Paga Hill to working as a consultant for the developer. Photo: Melissa Adams

It did, and in June, the court ruled against Dame Carol’s application for permanent redaction of the footage in which she appeared.

Now, finally, The Opposition is to have its full Australian premiere, on the opening night of the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival.

Fifer (centre) leaves the Sydney Law Courts on April 14, 2016. She had little to smile about a week later as Dame Carol won a temporary injunction against her film. Photo: James Alcock

It’s been a long and bruising journey for all parties. Joe Moses, the Paga Hill activist who is the real hero of Fifer’s movie, spent a couple of years in hiding but is now in the UK, studying international human rights law. Many of the former residents of Paga Hill are homeless in downtown Port Moresby; those who took the inducements to move are still living in the tents they were told would be temporary. There are 200 of them at a place called Six Mile, says Fifer, under rotting canvas, with one tap and a toilet that doesn’t work properly.

As for Fifer herself, she says after five years on this one she’s in no hurry to race into the next project.

“I don’t want to just launch into another one because I want to make a film – I want to launch into it knowing this is something that needs to exist.”

She wants to put the difficult journey of her film to good use, and is looking for ways to share what she learnt with other documentary makers, if only so they don’t have to go through the same things.

“I feel like I’ve had a bit of an experience with this film. I don’t feel it’s right for me to silo that and move on to the next film, to go, ‘Oh that’s good that I learnt all that, but it’s just for me’.”

It would be fair to say she’s in a cooling-off period, but she insists she hasn’t gone cold.

“I’m up for a good challenge,” she says, smiling wryly. “But maybe a little less of a challenge.”

The Opposition is opening night film at the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival, which runs May 4-18 in Melbourne, May 23-27 in Sydney, May 29-31 in Canberra, June 1-3 in June and June 1 in Perth and June 2 in Hobart. Details: hraff.org.au

Stanley Liria to contest Peter O’Neill’s seat – Is there more than meets the eye?

April 24, 2017 1 comment

The Post-Courier has reported that Port Moresby Lawyer, Stanley Liria, ‘has put up his hands to challenge Prime Minister Peter O’Neill for the Ialibu-Pangia seat’.

Stanley Liria

Liria told the Post-Courier:

‘I can no longer stand by and allow the unprecedented levels of mismanagement continue, both within Ialibu-Pangia and across Papua New Guinea as a whole’.

These are strong words, directed at a man, Peter O’Neill, who in fact has championed Stanley Liria’s career, first as a lawyer, then as a real-estate developer.

Is this simply the case of ‘biting the hand that feeds’, or is there more to this political challenge than meets the eye?

Lets review some key facts:

  • Liria is a close wantok of the Prime Minister.
  • Peter O’Neill helped champion Liria’s legal career, and even launched Liria’s book encouraging MPs to buy it (see ‘additional evidence’ below).
  • Liria is the sole shareholder of Paga Hill Development Company (PNG) Limited (PHDC), a controversial real-estate developer behind the Paga Hill Estate.

 

In October 2012, there was an international media storm when it was discovered key executives in the project, had been slammed in 3 Commission of Inquiries, 4 Public Accounts Committee inquiries and 2 Auditor General Reports. Rather than investigate PHDC for ‘corrupt dealings’ (to quote the Public Accounts Committee), in late October 2012 the Prime Minister declared Paga Hill Estate a project of national significance (see below).

  • Since 2012 the O’Neill government has agreed to act as a formal partner in the Paga Hill Estate project, offering any investor significant tax breaks.
  • Prime Minister O’Neill features in the investor brochure issued by Liria’s company this year. In it O’Neill declares the Paga Hill Estate a ‘key project site’ for APEC 2018.  

So how can Liria publicly claim to oppose mismanagement by the O’Neill government, when arguably his real-estate development company is a prime beneficiary of this mismanagement.

Are we getting the full picture?

One theory is that Liria is, in fact, an ally of Prime Minister O’Neill, and is being sent into the Ialibu-Pangia electorate to split the opposition vote. If he can successfully do this, it will ease O’Neill’s return to the throne.

An alternative factual scenario, which is being put forward by PNG Blogs, is that Liria has turned against his former friend and benefactor – and joining forces with a number of senior politicians who want to steal the O’Neill throne.

There is evidence to support this hypothesis:

  • Stanley Liria is close friends and has business links with Governor William Powi, who wants to topple the PM.
  • Liria is the long-time front-man for the Icelandic-Australian businessman Gudmundur Fridriksson, a man whose businesses have been censured for corruption and other illegal activities in 1 Commission of Inquiry, 4 Public Accounts Committee inquiries and 2 Auditor General reports.
  • Peter O’Neill’s close friend and ally, Minister Justin Tkatchenko has accused Fridriksson and PHDC of bankrolling a rival candidate in his seat of Moresby South, to the tune of K1 million. The rivalry between Tkatchenko and Fridriksson goes back to the Bill Skate days, when both were foreign businessmen competing for the profitable affections of Mr Skate.
  • Tkatchenko has lobbied for a Commission of Inquiry into the Paga Hill Estate, which if O’Neill enacted could lead to Fridriksson and Liria’s downfall.
  • William Duma is a hidden partner in Paga Hill Estate.

So there are two hypotheses:

  1. Stanley Liria remains a close ally of Peter O’Neill, who has benefited from the PM’s support, and in repayment will help divide the opposition vote, as a fake rival.
  2. Liria has split from O’Neill, and believes his own business interests, and those of his close associates, will be better served by forming a rival coalition that can take the Prime Ministership from O’Neill.

Additional evidence

O’Neill vouches for new law book 

Post-Courier, 12 January 2005, page 2
A LOT of parliamentarians do not know much about Papua New Guinea law despite being the country’s lawmakers, Opposition Leader Peter O Neill said yesterday.
Praising Southern Highlands lawyer and author Stanley Liria for writing a book titled A Law Awareness for Papua New Guinea – Our Guide to The Rule of Law, Mr O Neill said he would recommend to his parliament colleagues that they buy the newly published book.
He said the book would help MPs understand the basics of PNG law, which was important as most parliamentarians passed laws without having a sound knowledge of the legal system.
I will try to see if I can get some members of Parliament, as I said many of us don t come from a legal background, we pass laws on the floor of Parliament that we don t sometimes understand,  Mr O Neill said.
There is no real explanation before the bills get passed.
A book of this nature will assist us (MPs) in doing so, we will certainly write to each member and see if they are interested in trying to get this book (in order) to understand the workings of the law and the judicial system of the country.
Talking about his first book that took five years to put together, Mr Liria said the title was written in simple English and should attract readers from all walks of life.
He said the book should dispel the perception that only lawyers and law enforcement officers should know about law and would strive to ensure its selling price is kept to a minimum to attract a wide readership.
Mr Liria said the 94-page book would cost between K25 and K30 and people wishing to buy a copy or place orders could contact him on mobile 684 8273 or e-mail crossrds@hotmail.com