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Will Prime Minister O’Neill crumble before NEC opponents over Manumanu COI?

March 1, 2017 5 comments

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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.

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O’Neill’s illegal logging: 1344 days and counting…

February 27, 2017 Leave a comment

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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.

Since June 2013, more than three-and-a-half years ago, O’Neill has REPEATEDLY promised us the leases will be canceled and illegal logging stopped.

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” 

Peter O'Neill: Theft of forest resources: Guilty

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.

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Is there something fishy about Bougainville’s new Vice President? 

February 27, 2017 2 comments

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 –

  1. 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
  2. demean his office or position;  or
  3. allow his public or official integrity, or his personal integrity, to be called into question;  or
  4. 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.

Judge sits on illegal logging compensation claim for 4 years

February 21, 2017 3 comments
Rimbunan Hijau expands its empire while villages wait in vain for compensation for illegal logging

Rimbunan Hijau is relentlessly expanding its empire while villages wait in vain for compensation for their illegal logging

A group of landholders from the Southern Highlands have been waiting for four years for a judge to decide on the amount of compensation they are owed by Rimbunan Hijau for illegally logging on 3,000 hectares of their land.

In 2008, the National Court ruled that logging by Rimbunan Hijau on land owned by the Sekusi-Sisapi people from Yanguli village was illegal, as the villagers had never given their consent to the operations.

In 2013, a further court hearing was held before Justice Ere Kariko to assess the amount of compensation owed by RH to the villagers for the environmental damage to their forests. Two Australian expert witness Tom ‘Diwai’ Vigus and Dr Ian Curtis, gave evidence on behalf of the landowners.

But the judge has completely failed to ever give his decision.

In the intervening years the landholders have written many time to the judge, to the Chief Justice and the courts administrators, calling for the judge to release his findings, but still they are waiting.

The landholders are now questioning why justice is being denied to them as simple, powerless and vulnerable grassroots people while the logging company, with its massive resources is allowed to further build and extend its huge empire in Port Moresby and beyond.

Obviously, when the courts cannot be relied upon to do their job it sends a strong signal to all overseas companies operating in PNG and to the logging industry in particular, that they are free to do whatever they like and they will never be punished.

O’Neill’s illegal logging: 1337 days and counting…

February 20, 2017 1 comment

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Peter O'Neill: Theft of forest resources: Guilty

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Australian conservatives concerned at APEC waste and lack of action on corruption

February 20, 2017 3 comments
PNG's sidelined Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato and Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop at Parliament House in Canberra.

PNG’s sidelined Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato and Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop at Parliament House in Canberra.

Piers Akerman: PNG waste stretches neighbourly concern

PIERS AKERMAN, The Sunday Telegraph

GLOBE-trotting fashionista Foreign Minister Julie Bishop needs to explain why Australian taxpayers are bankrolling Papua New Guinea’s vanity projects when that nation is economically febrile — if it has not already fallen into the pit — and our own economy is ­wallowing.

Numerous companies doing business with the PNG government have not been paid monies owed, the government itself has not met bills for its own instrumentalities, and we are picking up the cheque.

Last week both the PNG Parliament House and the Governor-General’s residency had their electricity cut off ­because of more than $320,000 in unpaid bills.

A former prime minister, Sir Mekere Morauta, who ­retired five years ago, said he may re-enter politics at the election due in July-August to fight what he says is “the growing web of corruption, abuse, and poverty the country is trapped in” and deal with growing levels of public debt — more than 33.5 per cent of GDP, on conservative IMF figures.

He detailed a growing list of other concerns, including the mortgaging of future income to debt repayment, depriving basic services such as health and education of proper funding, the recession in the non-mining sector, with people losing jobs daily and businesses cutting expenditure to the bone, and poor job prospects for school leavers.

He said the government is not paying businesses for services provided, which in turn leaves companies struggling to pay their own bills and staff, the value of the kina is declining and prices rising and that there is nothing to show from LNG, oil, gas, gold and copper wealth, apart from glamour projects in Port Moresby.

“Where is all the money, people wonder,” he said.

Sir Mekere said there had been severe budget cuts to health and education, that teachers, doctors, health workers and policemen were not being paid properly or on time and that universities — UPNG, Unitech, Goroka and Vudal — were being starved of resources, yet the government is building a new one in Ialibu, where only the principal building contractors will benefit.

He said there had been a breakdown of the machinery and system of government, and a weakening, destruction and politicisation of institutions of state.

He accused Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s government of dictatorship-type rule which threatened democratic principles and practice, with the PNG parliament being used as a rubber stamp and said there was a lack of respect for the rule of law with heavy interference in law and justice agencies, threats to media personnel and suppression of media freedom and a crushing of dissent and violent treatment of student protesters.

“People see no sign of the root problems being addressed. People are afraid that the situation will get worse if the roots are allowed to rot further.

“People are telling me that they want a new government after the election, with a new leader,” he said.

“I chose to retire from politics five years ago. I am enjoying my retirement.

“I am enjoying spending time with family and friends, boating, fishing, reading, travelling, maintaining a continuing oversight of PNGSDP (Papua New Guinea Sustainable Development Program) and contributing to society in other ways.

“But I feel the concern of people. I hear what they are saying. I share their fears.

“More and more I find it difficult to ignore the growing chorus everywhere I go — in markets, shops, offices, restaurants, from academics, business leaders, public servants, professionals, market sellers, policemen, former MPs, current MPs, intending candidates, men and women I pass in the street,” he said.

Australians should care, too, because despite PNG’s frequent claims of economic and political independence it is always begging for more Australian aid.

Most recently, Australia pledged an extra $100 million to underwrite a continuing Australian Federal Police presence in PNG during next year’s Port Moresby-based APEC conference.

Last week New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully, the man who gave NZ’s backing to last year’s anti-Israeli resolution at the UN in December, pledged his country’s support to PNG for next year’s APEC summit.

Both Australia and New Zealand would claim that they are providing support to PNG to head off the massive ­inroads China is making into the economy of our nearest neighbour but neither government seems interested in ­addressing the problem of corruption.

Earlier this month two senior ministers were suspended after they were accused of ­benefiting from the purchase of land by a government ­corporation. The land, 10km from the sea, was bought for a naval base.

Both the Minister for State Enterprise William Duma and the Defence Minister Fabian Pok are being investigated by the police and the Ombudsman Commission.

Duma is the minister responsible for the government corporation which purchased the land but is alleged to also own or have a proxy interest in a parcel of land owned by the corporation.

Pok is accused of appointing his brother-in-law as the Secretary of Defence and of being inappropriately involved in directing the department to purchase the land. Both men deny the allegations.

Corruption claims in PNG are nothing new but Australian and New Zealand companies are complaining that their bills aren’t being paid while their respective governments are handing even more money to PNG.

As the number of PNG ministers investing in homes in Australia continues to grow, an investigation by Australia into the manner in which grant money is being spent is long overdue.

Stolen SABL land would reach all the way to the moon

February 20, 2017 2 comments

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By ACTNOW!

Fifty two thousand square kilometres of customary land has been stolen in the SABL land grab.

52,000 square kilometres is the same as 5.2 million hectares – but what does that amount of land really look like?

Well, 52,000 square kilometres is the same as the whole of Central and Northern (Oro) Provinces put together – imagine that: land equivalent to two whole Provinces illegally given to foreign companies!

It is also the same as 7 million rugby fields.

Yup, you could create 7,000,000 rugby fields from the land stolen in the SABL land grab – and if we laid those rugby fields end to end they would reach all the way to the moon and almost all the way back!

Just imagine that, you could walk all the way to the moon on the land stolen in the SABL land grab!

In June 2013, almost four years ago, a Commission of Inquiry found the SABL leases had been illegally issued and recommended they be cancelled and land given back to customary landholders.

But what has been the government’s response to this huge illegal theft of customary land?

Zip, nothing, nill. Not one lease has been cancelled by the government.

Who is our government working for? For us, the people of PNG, or the foreign companies who have stolen our land?