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Manumanu Land Deal: Aftermath

by KIN OPOSEPA

Manumanu Land Deal: Aftermath The Manumanu Land deal issue has subsided through time and all stakeholders affected have seemed to move on, the dust has settled. Let me refresh your memories on the issues again. The purported Manumanu Land Deal (MLD) for the relocation of the PNG Defense Force is alleged to involve five different transactions totalling an amount of K46 million. However, the dealings did not comply with established processes.

The MLD issue was raised in Parliament by Member for Kairuku –Hiri, Peter Isoaimo that eventually led to the sidelining of 2 Senior Ministers and suspension of 6 Departmental heads, CEO of State Owned Enterprise and chairman of CSTB. In a media statement on the 6th of February 2017 PM, O’Neil had announced a Commission of Inquiry (COI) headed by a retired Judge to investigate the claims made, referred the matter to the National Fraud Squad and the Ombudsman Commission also for potential breaches of the Leadership Code.

He further promised to return the land to the customary landowners. Investigations The COI established was later downgraded to an Administrative Inquiry headed by Queens Counsel John Griffin which was supposed to take 4 weeks to complete at a cost of K2 million with the report to be presented to the Parliament on 28th of March 2017. These inquiries were to look at the roles of Ministers, the responsibilities of Departmental heads and its officers and heads of various SOE’s. This report was never made available in the March sitting of Parliament.

To date, the outcome of Administrative Inquiry, National Fraud Squad and the Ombudsman Commission’s is yet to be made public. Appointment of Ministers Duma and Pok Member for Hagen Central William Duma and Member for North Whagi Fabian Pok were appointed Ministers’ for State Owned Enterprise and Defense respectively in the 10th Parliament. The irony is that both Ministers were sidelined in the 9th Parliament over the controversial issue of MLD. When PM O’Neil was questioned about these appointments by Member for North Fly James Donald MP, the PM defended the appointments by stating that there was no point in preempting the outcomes of the Administrative Inquiry, all citizens are innocent until proven guilty and so as mandated leaders they are entitled to occupy positions.

PM O’Neil has clearly backflipped from his earlier statement on the 7th of March 2017, in which he stated that the two Ministers and other departmental heads remain suspended pending the outcome of the inquiry. What about the Suspended Senior Gov’t Officials? These senior Government officials have built their career over time and were appointed to be heads of respective Departments and Organizations based on their qualifications and merit. These include Mr Luther Sipison Lands Secretary, Mr Daniel Rolpagarea State Solicitor, Mr Joe Wemin CEO MVIL and late Defense Secretary Mr Vali Asi. If PM O’Neil has retracted and bent on his earlier decisions to appoint William Duma MP and Fabian Pok MP as Ministers, in all fairness PM O’Neil must uniformly lift the suspension and reinstate all Senior officials concerned.

 The CEO of MVIL Mr Joe Wemin was the Inaugural recipient of the Prime Minister’s Excellence Award in 2015 and was deemed to be one of the best performing CEOs of the State Owned Enterprise (SOE). With his stewardship, he has revamped MVIL from a cash-strapped SOE since its establishment to one that has paid handsome dividends to its Shareholder, last year alone MVIL paid more than K35 million to the Government of PNG. Inaccuracy in Suspension of CEO MVIL. All CEO’s of SOE’s have limited powers to make financial decisions, its Board of Directors does, likewise MVIL. Contrastingly Departmental Heads and Provincial Administrators have financial autonomy. The CEO reports to the Board unlike the Secretaries that reports directly to Minister responsible. Board of Directors decisions are independent of CEO’s influence.

 The Board of the MVIL has the necessary authority, competencies and objectivity to carry out functions of strategic guidance and monitoring of management. It should act with integrity and be held accountable for their actions. If the PM needs to implicate anyone in MVIL, it should be the Board and its Directors. However, this Board has provided prudent management and guidance and taken control of expenditures well in order to make profits and pay dividends as required.

 Kumul Consolidated Holdings (KCH) is a trustee owner of all SOE’s as such all dividends are paid to KCH. One of KCH objective is to enter into and perform financial and other arrangements that in the opinion of the Corporation have as their objective for the development of the State or any part thereof. Therefore, the decision to enter into the MLD was done with the approval of the KCH Board supported by Minister Duma as Minister responsible. Then again, if someone is to be suspended and implicated, clearly it has to be the KCH Chairman and its Board.

The suspension of Mr Joe Wemin is illogical and absurd, one may assume that PM O’Neil was ill-advised on the operational aspects of SOE’s hence his suspension. Review Decision Since PM O’Neil is adamant that both Ministers Duma and Pok are innocent until proven guilty, it is his responsibility to pass fair judgment on all Senior Government officials suspended and to reinstate henceforth. Once the report from the Administrative Inquiry, National Fraud Squad and Ombudsman is ready, the recommendations can be acted upon swiftly.