Papua New Guinea PM Orders Land Fraud Investigation Against Ministers

Bank accounts of MIcah, Duma frozen pending outcome of probe

By Gorethy Kenneth

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Feb. 1, 2017) – Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has ordered an investigation into alleged land fraud contract worth K46.6 million [US414.5 million] involving two senior ministers in Government.

He has ordered a freeze on the company bank account allegedly linked to the Minister responsible and referred the matter to Police for further criminal investigations.

Kavieng MP Ben Micah raised a series of questions in Parliament during Question Time yesterday querying an alleged "massive government fraud" by Minister for Public Enterprises and State Investments William Duma to the sale of K46.6 million for the acquisition of Lancron naval base in exchange for Manu Manu land for PNG Defence.

Mr Micah asked Mr O’Neill if he was going to discipline those involved and set up an inquiry, including retrieving of the monies. But Prime Minister O’Neill said that he had already referred the matter to Police Commissioner Gari Baki and Chief Secretary Isaac Lupari to investigate. Mr Duma was not in Parliament when the questions were raised.

"Before I make any decisions, I want full information on this transaction that has taken place and I have already instructed the Chief Secretary (Isaac Lupari) and the Police Commissioner (Gari Baki) to investigate this matter and I will report to the public in due course as soon as possible," he said.

"They are implementing the Cabinet decision. So I have to be making sure that I have the right information when I make the right decision. I cannot go around accusing leaders of fraud when I don’t have evidence before me. These are allegations and are now being put forward to the police and Chief Secretary.

"I am aware of this transaction that is taking place. As you correctly stated, yes our intention was to relocate the naval base to a location where the former Minister has alluded to so we can be able to rebuild the entire new port structure at Motukea where we shifted the port operations.

"On the transaction itself, I was notified by the chairman of the Kumul Consolidated Holdings that he was concerned large amounts of funds were coming out from that company’s account during the Christmas and New Year period. This was done outside Cabinet’s approval, Cabinet has no visibility on it and I immediately advised the Chief Secretary that he should write to the bank and put a stop to it so we take stock of what is going on," Mr O’Neill said.

"That investigation is going on today, we have frozen the account as you have stated but earlier payments have been withdrawn at some stages.

"There is a court case now before us by the vendors of that particular land that is now suing the government for the balance of the money."

Defence Minister Fabian Pok also clarified in Parliament that there was nothing sinister about that transaction as the Government made the decision to do the Lakatoi City.

He said that in the 2014 Budget Government, allocated K30 million to look for land and that the information presented yesterday was misleading as it was a 2000-hectare land acquired.

It was also noted that Prime Minister O’Neill was given a brief on this issue early last this month and that the contract was awarded on merit and checked by three government departments before it was executed.

Mr Pok made it clear that the National Executive Council started the process back in 2012 to relocate Murray Barracks, Taurama Barracks and Lancron Naval Base, singling out that the process of acquiring the land was the decision of this government to relocate Murray and Taurama Barracks.

"The information is misleading because there are 2000 hectares, it was a joint agreement and also it was a compulsory acquisition," he said.

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