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O’NEILL FIRES PNG PUBLIC TRUST DIRECTOR BLAKE Accused of paying himself at least $880,000 yearly

By Frank Senge Kolma PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Aug. 25, 2011) - The managing director of the Independence Public Business Corporation (IPBC) Glen Blake has been sacked and a new board appointed in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

[PIR editor’s note: The Independent Public Business Corporation of Papua New Guinea was established in 2002 as an Independent body to hold the majority of state-owned commercial assets in trust.]

Blake was yesterday replaced by Thomas Abe and the new IPBC board is headed by Dr Thomas Webster.

These were the decisions of cabinet announced by Prime Minister Peter O’Neill yesterday.

The move on the IPBC is so severe that it promises a complete shake-up of the present state of affairs including the welfare and operations of the multi-billion-kina state-owned enterprises starting with PNG Power and Telikom, the possible dismantling of the Department of Public Enterprises, and the reversal of the corporation’s focus and role of the past 10 years.

Flanked by Public Enterprises Minister Sir Mekere Morauta, Fisheries Minister Job Pomat and Air Niugini chief executive officer Wasantha Kumarasiri, the prime minister said the decisions had been made to correct past abuses and inconsistencies.

Sir Mekere said cabinet had terminated Blake for misconduct in office.

He accused Blake of paying himself millions of kina [1 million kina equals about US$440,000] a year illegally on an unapproved contract and without the approval of the Salaries and Conditions Monitoring Committee (SCMC).

Blake was also cited for investing 31 million kina [US$13.6 million] illegally in failed American investment house, Lehman Brothers.

Blake was said to be on sick leave in Australia but spoke through a friend to answer the charges yesterday, saying that his contract had the approval of the IPBC board, SCMC and the state solicitor before it was signed by the governor-general.

He said the 31 million kina investment had been done on the advice of BSP Capital in an investment house which, before it collapsed in 2008, was rated double "A", the best rating offered corporations.

Sir Mekere said Lehman Bro­thers had become insolvent and all the money was lost.

He said legal advice had been sought to recover money paid from Blake and also the money invested by him.

"All the investment was made without prior approval of the IPBC board. I find it difficult to believe that former minister Arthur Somare was not aware of this illegal investment," Sir Mekere said.

The auditor-general had ob­served that the investment was made without assessment of risk last year but the report was not tabled by Somare, he said.

Sir Mekere said: "The IPBC under Somare and Blake ope­rated under a thick veil of secrecy. The amendments to the IPBC Act that Somare cham­pioned stripped IPBC of transparency and accountability. It is my job to restore open honest governance to the operations of IPBC. Somare keeps telling the nation that all state-owned enterprises are performing fabulously as a result of his policies and actions. Nothing could be further from the truth. All are grossly under-capitalized. Some are bumbling along. Others are dead, but refusing to fall down. Somare mutated IPBC into an octopus with tentacles everywhere. This has weakened the central role of IPBC from being a house of rehabilitation to a warehouse storing junk. He has turned IPBC into a petroleum house in competition with ExxonMobil, Oil Search and Petromin." Correcting the alleged mis­takes and putting the house in order would be the first big task of the new board, Sir Mekere said.

The new board headed by Webster included Felecia Dobunaba, Peter Aitsi, Aho Baliki and two members to represent the Insti­tute of Directors and the PNG Chamber of Commerce and ex-officio members in the managing director, the secretary for trea­sury and the secretary for justice.

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