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Posts Tagged ‘Peter O’Neill’

New governance watchdog PNGi exposes O’Neill’s business networks

June 22, 2017 1 comment

Masthead today from the PNGi Central website. Image: PMW

Source: Pacific Media Watch

PNGi is set to revolutionise governance in Papua New Guinea by cracking open the secrets of the rich and powerful and exposing them to public view.

Using the latest digital technologies, PNGi aims to investigate, analyse and expose the often hidden and opaque systems standing behind the abuse of political and economic power.

Its two flagship resources are the PNGi Portal and PNGi Central websites. They have been established and are sustained by an informal network of academics, activists and journalists involved in researching and writing about current issues in Papua New Guinea.

“In accordance with a robust risk assessment process, in some instances, contributors are protected by publishing their work anonymously,” said PNGi in a response to a query from Pacific Media Watch.

“However, all published material has been peer-reviewed, and is rigorously referenced, using freely accessible documentary sources. This allows anyone to verify each factual claim made.”

The PNGi Portal is an on-line database of governance reporting. It collates documents produced by institutions like the Ombudsman Commission, Auditor General and Public Accounts Committee and makes them available to the public through a powerful search engine.

The public can now search and cross-match reports, to uncover serial misconduct by target individuals or entities.

The database is a major addition to due diligence in Papua New Guinea. It will add value to the work of journalists, researchers, students, public officials, oversight agencies, citizens and responsible corporate actors.

Sitting alongside the portal is PNGi Central, a reporting platform that will use a range of formats to communicate the results of research into:

  • the discrete networks that lie at the heart of the country’s economic and political power, and which are mired in allegations of improper and illicit conduct;
  • the institutional and legal mechanisms the networks use;
  • common transaction patterns; and
  • the broader policy and legal factors that are permissive of improper or illegal activities.

PNGi Central represents the most sophisticated reporting effort yet in the region, to speak truth to power through rigorous research, accessible to the public through digestible mechanisms ranging from feature investigations, through to podcasts, power profiles and court reports.

O’Neill’s business network
To launch the new websites and illustrate PNGi’s research capabilities, PNGi Central has published a report into the business network of current Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.

Titled The Midas Touch, this investigative feature, to be published in three-parts, will reveal hundreds of millions of kina in assets owned by the Prime Minister, and a business empire that has its origins in alleged frauds condemned in two Commissions of Inquiry.

Part I, published today, unlocks for the first time the evidence of the Prime Minister himself, as published in Commission transcripts, and unravels a complicated series of corporate takeovers and hidden deals that have made Peter O’Neill a very wealthy man.

Parts II and II will follow over the coming weeks.

Once complete, The Midas Touch will expose how the Prime Minister’s corporate empire has benefited from government decision making, multi-lateral loans, and even foreign government spending.

PNGi contributions aim is to stimulate debate and encourage the development of new laws and policies that will be effective in the fight to control market abuse, corruption and other improper dealings, and, ultimately, to improve the lives of ordinary citizens.

The Papua New Guinea 2017 general election is June 24 until July 8.

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.

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

O’Neill’s illegal logging: after 1386 days is it finally over?

April 10, 2017 1 comment

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.

But, in recent statements, both the Prime Minister and the Minister for Lands have claimed the government has finally acted and CANCELLED all the SABL leases.

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.

Peter O'Neill: Theft of forest resources: Guilty

O’Neill sells out to RH over SABL land grab on eve of election

April 5, 2017 1 comment

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.

The plight of the communities has been highlighted in various international reports and on video but RH is now pressing ahead to get access into two further SABL areas.

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.

Peter O'Neill: Theft of forest resources: Guilty

O’Neill’s illegal land grab: 1379 days and counting…

April 3, 2017 2 comments

Peter O'Neill: Theft of forest resources: Guilty

APEC is a criminal waste of money

March 30, 2017 4 comments

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!