PNG OMBUDSMAN INVESTIGATING FUND DIVERSIONS

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$13.3 million was not spent on improving education

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, March 29, 2009) – The Ombudsman Commission’s investigations into the rehabilitation education sector infrastructure (RESI) trust accounts have revealed that while more than K37 million has been withdrawn from the account since last February, not a single toea has been spent on improving an educational establishment in the country.

The K37 million, [US$13.3 million] used to fund eight projects in PNG (none of which are Education Department projects) and a sum of K1 million [US$358, 000] that disappeared when the funds were transferred from Westpac (PNG) to Bank South Pacific, are being investigated by the commission.

Also under investigation are the signatories to the trust account, how much of the K230 million [US$82.4 million] had been used and where and what the monies have been used for.

"Our investigations are still continuing but what we have so far is evidence of spending other than for education purposes, hence the directions to freeze the accounts," Chief Ombudsman Chronox Manek told a news conference yesterday.

The funds have been frozen on the direction of the commission until investigations are completed.

Mr. Manek, who was accompanied by commissioners John Nero and Phoebe Sangetari, said it was not the intention of the commission to frustrate activities on the ground, neither did it intend to deny students in schools throughout the country a learning environment that was conducive.

But the decision to freeze the RESI accounts had to be made if it was going to stop the funds from being further misused, he said.

Manek said the decision to issue a constitutional section 27(4) direction was also made to deter people in high office, who had access to these funds, from possible breaches of the law including the Leadership Code.

While the commission’s investigations continue, no one would have access to RESI funds and, therefore, it was necessary for anyone with information on the disbursement of these funds to come forward to help fast-track investigations so the funds could be accessed (soon), Manek said.

"We appreciate that the funds are there for a particular purpose, to be used for our educational institutions that are collapsing everywhere throughout the country.

"This is an opportunity for our Government agencies, ministers, heads of departments or whoever may have information about the use of these funds, to come good, give us this information so that our investigations can be completed quickly and the money released," Ms Sangetari added.

Mr. Nero said RESI funds were very important as they were used to educate children and, therefore, must be used carefully, with every action taken to ensure they were used for their intended purposes.

Since the revelation of the alleged misuse of RESI funds in the media early this year, and an indication from Government to contest the matter through the courts, the commission has still to be served papers to that effect.

At yesterday’s news conference, Manek urged the Government to be responsible and assist and cooperate with the commission to achieve a common aim of good governance so that service delivery, especially in the education sector, was achieved.

"It is the prerogative of the

Government to go to court,

however, the commission will urge the Government to carefully consider the legal implications and the costs related to such a decision which would be borne by taxpayers, money that will be better utilised elsewhere," Manek said.

Manek hoped that at the closure of the investigations, the commission would be in a position to assist the relevant bodies concerned to improve the process of dealing with and handling of public funds held in trust and be properly accountable to the people of this country who are and should be the ultimate beneficiaries.

The National: www.thenational.com.pg/

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