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’.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
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 email@example.com
Has Prime Minister Peter O’Neill finally acted on his promises and ended the SABL land grab and stopped the illegal logging?
It is now 1,386 days since the reports of the SABL Commission Inquiry which detailed the widespread fraud and mismanagement that allowed foreign logging companies to gain illegal access to over 50 thousand square kilometres of land.
Over that time the Prime Minister has made repeated promises to cancel the leases and stop the logging but, for almost four years, nothing has happened, while the logging companies continued to chop down and export logs worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Minister Benny Allen has been quoted saying:
“The Government has taken a blanket cancellation of all special agriculture business leases in the country and as we speak, they are all illegal”.
“I have given directions to acting secretary to write letters to all special agriculture business lease holders, informing them that the leases that they are holding are illegal and no longer in force now. It’s another useless document of no legal value and effect”.
There is, of course, a sting in the tail; the Prime Minister and Minister Allen also say the government will now assist ‘genuine’ investors to acquire a new title to the land they have illegally occupied, using incorporated land groups and land registration. It is not clear which SABL areas this applies to, although the PM has singled out Rimbunan Hijau’s operations in Pomio for praise, despite the strong community opposition to the logging and oil palm operations there.
Silent though has been Logging Minister, Douglas Tomuriesa. Has the Forest Authority stopped all logging in SABL areas and are all the Forest Clearance Authorities being cancelled or withdrawn?
Without any word from the Minister or PNG Forest Authority, the public will be wise to remain skeptical.
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has signalled he is backtracking on four-years of promises to cancel the unlawful SABL leases and return land to its customary owners.
Just three weeks ago, the Prime Minister berated the Department of Lands for not carrying out orders to cancel the leases and said the foreigners involved “should be put on a plane and sent back home”.
But, on Friday, the PM endorsed what he now says is the Lands Department’s ‘balanced approach’ and he specifically endorsed Rimbunan Hijau’s logging and oil palm operations in the Pomio District, which he said must be allowed to continue.
Over the past six years RH has exported over 1.2 million cubic metres of logs and netted more than K300 million in income from logging operations on land stolen through three Pomio SABL leases.
The SABL leases were obtained using fraud and forgery and the forests have been logged without the lawful consent of local people. The villagers have been consistently beaten and intimidated by police employed by RH to suppress any dissent.
With more than 6.6 million cubic metres of logs worth over K2 billion stolen from SABL areas across the country, it seems the loggers money is proving irresistible to our political leaders as the election approaches.
A new Transparency International report says Australia is wide open for corrupt elites from overseas, including Papua New Guinea, to launder the proceeds of grand corruption through the Australian real estate market.
“There is clear evidence that such investment in Australian property is an easy and convenient way to hide hundreds of millions of dollars from criminal investigators, tax authorities or others tracking criminal behaviour and the proceeds of crime”.
The report, Doors Wide Open Corruption and Real Estate in Four Key Markets, says Australia has severe deficiencies under all 10 areas identified in the research and is therefore not in line with any of the commitments to tackle corruption and money laundering in real estate made in international forums.
TI says in Australia, real estate agents are not subject to the provisions of the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter- Terrorism Financing Act 2006. Other professionals such as lawyers and accountants who may also play a role in the sector are not covered either. This means that properties can be bought and sold without any due diligence on the parties.
“Currently there are no requirements for real estate agents or any professional involved in real estate deals to submit Suspicious Transaction Report, even if they suspect illegal activity is taking place, and there are no requirements or rules for verifying whether customers are Politically Exposed Persons or their close associates”.
K800 million is being spent to enrich the Port Moresby club of politicians, construction companies and hoteliers. And all under the guise of playing host to APEC – an international organisation that promotes the same colonial economic policies that have failed Papua New Guinea for the past 30 years.
APEC is a business club that wants to continue to exploit PNG’s rich natural resources for its own benefit; that wants to continue to boost our false export economy at the expense of the real mainstream economy that is based on rural enterprise, local markets and honest endeavour by village people living on and working their own land.
Development does not come from outside, as APEC and its supporters claim and it does not trickle down from large-scale resource extraction; real development has to come from within – by supporting small local businesses and rural agriculture, not building flashy infrastructure in Port Moresby for the elites to enjoy.
Imagine what could be achieved if all the effort from politicians and bureaucrats that is going into organising the APEC summit was being put in to improving our health and education services or agricultural extension work? All those hours of effort by public servants, all that coordination and all that support from overseas?
Imagine what K800 million, spent wisely could do for rural infrastructure and transport?
Seeing it all wasted on opening up PNG to more foreign exploitation is not just sad, it is a crime!
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.
This is despite repeated statements from the Prime Minister that the leases are illegal and will be cancelled.
It is now 1,372 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.
But for almost four years ago, all we have heard from Prime Minister O’Neill are EMPTY PROMISES that the leases will be canceled and illegal logging stopped.
The latest statement from O’Neill was just two weeks ago. On 14 March, O’Neill said “all the SABL licenses are illegal in this country” and will be cancelled.
This echoed repeated statements he has made over the past three years. 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”.
On November 4, 2016, 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 1,372 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.