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Disgruntled landowners claim money went into wrong hands

By Mohammad Bashir

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Jan. 5, 2011) – Acting Prime Minister Sam Abal has directed an investigation into whether or not payments of Business Development Grants (BDG) meant for oil and gas landowners had landed in the wrong hands as reported by the Post-Courier yesterday.

Commerce and Industry Acting Secretary John Andrias however said earlier yesterday when contacted that he was not aware of monies going into wrong hands and if there were any issues relating to the BDG payments, he was waiting to receive them. Mr Andreas had written a letter to a commercial bank authorising it to honour one of the cheque payments for over K600,000 that was supposedly made out to a company owned by a group of people from Enga province.

Meanwhile Managing Director of the most successful landowner company of the Hela people, Trans Wonderland Ltd (TWL) and landowner leader Larry Andagali described alleged wrongful payments as a ’sad day’ for landowners of the gas project areas. Despite numerous submissions and even a cabinet submission through Petroleum and Energy Minister William Duma, TWL which represents 500,000 landowner shareholders was overlooked in the BDG payments.

Mr Abal yesterday directed Acting Chief Secretary Manasupe Zurenuoc to carry out an investigation into payments by the Department of Commerce and Industry (DCI) of K66.2 million during the festive season to over 50 landowner companies.

The payment is part of K120 million parked in DCI for payment as seed capital to companies selected under the Licensed Based Benefit Sharing Agreement (LBBSA).

In September 2010 the first batch of the BDG totalling K27.2 million was paid to 13 landowner companies.

The latest payment excludes landowner companies yet to be nominated from Angore PDL 8 and Juha PDL 9 due to court orders taken out by respective landowner factions to stop BDG payments in both licensed areas.

A couple of other payments were withheld on request by concerned parties or for legal reasons.

Mr Abal noted that DCI officers had heeded his direction and worked throughout the festive season to make all BDG payments before Christmas.

He said: "I am satisfied that the payments have finally been made. I have directed an investigation only because there are allegations and innuendos in media reports that payments have been made to a few groups who are well outside the LBBSA areas."

"The Government and concerned parties must be satisfied that officers have acted above reproach as their duty calls them to do. If some are found not to have followed proper procedures or the law, they will be strictly dealt under Public Service regulations and if necessary under the criminal code."

At the same time the Acting PM cautioned the media and the public to desist from insinuating questionable or illegal deals by naming companies, individuals and public servants involved in the payouts.

Mr Abal has also directed DCI to conduct an internal investigation and report within the week how the payments were made.

Cabinet directed the DCI to take the lead role on the BDG in order to ensure a local business spin-off policy in the LNG project.

He said following the investigation he will release a full list of the companies that have been paid out and provide explanations for those which approved payments are being withheld.

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