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PNG PM’S OFFICE CONCERNED ABOUT COMMISSION OF INQUIRY Believe forensic accountant hired illegally

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, April 20, 2009) – The engagement of a "forensic accountant" by the Commission of Inquiry (COI) into the Finance Department is the subject of great concern by the Office of the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister office and the COI into the Finance Department are at loggerheads over what is alleged as the unlawful engagement of a foreigner by the commission.

Prime Minister’s legal adviser Sumasy Singin is gravely concerned that the continued engagement of man (named), as an unregistered accountant without a valid work permit, could compromise the COI’s findings and recommendations.

And the Prime Minister’s Department head Gideon Oli is understood to have written to COI chief commissioner, Maurice Sheehan to explain his refusal to remove the man, despite the cancellation of his work permit.

The COI was set up by Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare in 2006 to examine and report on the facts and circumstances of claims against the State and the source of the funds, amounting to more than K500 million [US$176.7 million] , paid out between 2000 and 2006.

The COI started on a budget of K5 million [US$1.8 million] which was later boosted by an additional K13 million [US$4.6 million] . Its term expires in June this year but is most likely to be extended to enable the commission to complete its work.

The man, a Pakistani, is a director and chief executive of Quest Investigation International Limited and was engaged by the COI soon after its establishment.

The Post-Courier understands the man was appointed on the recommendation of Mr. Sheehan, a retired National and Supreme Court judge. As a senior investigator, he is believed to be paid about K2000 [US$707] an hour.

His work permit was cancelled for the second time in February this year after his continuous refusal to "show cause" as requested by the Department of Labour and Industrial Relations. It was due to expire on November 30 this year.

Department Secretary David Tibu had initially terminated the work permit in April last year and advised his Foreign Affairs counterpart Gabriel Pepson in May to revoke the man’s working resident entry permit. The Pakistani was placed on the Government’s persona non grata list.

Mr. Tibu’s action was based on a decision by the PNG Certified Practising Accountants (CPA) to terminate the man’s membership as a registered accountant in May 2006 due to his failure to provide evidence about his professional qualifications.

CPA secretary Daniel Biti, in a letter to COI counsel Stephen Kassman on December 9 last year, said the CPA was concerned that the man may be undertaking accounting related work while he was not a member of the CPA and the Accountants Registration Board.

Mr. Biti also said the man had told him that he (Biti) and the CPA president would be summoned before the COI if they did not clear his name with the Department of Labour and provide him with all earlier correspondence between the department and CPA on the matter.

However, Tibu rescinded his decision in October, saying the man had not been given the opportunity to explain why his work permit should not be cancelled.

Following his continued refusal to show cause, Tibu again cancelled the man’s work permit in February and advised him to lodge an appeal to the Labour and Industrial Relations Minister Mark Maipakai if he felt aggrieved by the decision.

Instead, the man filed an ex-parte judicial review application in the National Court, which was heard by Justice Derek Hartshorn on March 12 and dismissed on March 16 due to the man’s "failure to respect the administrative appeal process".

In his letter to the CPA, Mr. Singin said: "This office is concerned that the above person (named) may be operating illegally in accordance with the Accountants Act 1996, because he does not have the required professional qualifications. If that is the case, then one may ask on what basis has he been issued a work permit and has he been undertaking work and getting paid and currently working for COI?

"To protect this office, that is responsible for establishing the COI and to ensure the findings of the COI are not being compromised, this office requests CPA to immediately advise this office, COI and Department of Labour the exact professional position of the above named person.

"If however he does not have the qualifications, then he should not be working in PNG."

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