POWER PROFILES

Fabian Pok: Leadership Tribunal Material

This man should not be in charge of the nation’s petroleum and energy wealth.

That is the only conclusion a reasonable person could draw after a careful consideration of Dr Fabian Pok’s political career to date.

Too strong a words?

You decide.

Dr Pok has been:

  • Condemned by the Commission of Inquiry into the National Provident Fund. Based off an extensive evidentiary inquiry, the commission claimed Dr Pok received bribes in return for making illicit directives as Lands Minister that benefited Jimmy Maladina and the RH Group.
  • Condemned by the Commission of Inquiry into the Investment Corporation of PNG for a series of illegal orders. One of these directives benefited Port Moresby First National Real Estate Limited. The latter company was said to be beneficially owned by Peter O’Neill, and it was where Mr Pok’s wife was employed.
  • Condemned by the Ombudsman Commission inquiry into the Kamula Doso forestry extension for an illegal directive that benefited the RH Group.
  • Condemned by the National Court for abusing his Ministerial power, and for allegedly burning ballots in the 2007 elections.
  • Condemned by the National Court for using his status as Defence Minister to wrongfully acquire a National Housing Corporation property.
  • Condemned by the media after it was alleged Dr Pok received kickbacks for his role in the Manumanu land fraud involving his Ministerial colleague, William Duma.

It is time to buckle up, as PNGi takes you through the profile of one of the country’s most oft-censured politicians!

Timeline: Selected moments from a turbulent career

ICPNG Scandal

Dr Pok’s first public footprint might ordinarily be dismissed as a forgettable episode in university hi-jinx.

While serving on the UPNG’s Student Representative Council Pok and his colleagues organised a strike. Students and staff were prevented from attending class. Intimidation was alleged.

Wandi Oscar Yamuna was a fellow UPNG strike organiser. Yamuna is now reported be Deputy Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister. According to Judge Don Sawong, he is also Peter O’Neill’s first cousin.

Yamuna and Pok would cross paths again. And when they did it ignited the ire of a Commission of Inquiry.

Twelve years passed since Fabian Pok’s days of university activism. In that time he completed a PhD in Australia, married  Iaraga Asi and obtained a seat in Parliament as member for North-Waghi Open.

His new wife was doing well too. She worked for Port Moresby First National Real Estate Limited. More on that in just a moment.

Then with the formation of the Skate government in 1997 Dr Pok received his first Ministerial post. It included political responsibility for the Investment Corporation of Papua New Guinea (ICPNG).

According to the ICPNG’s then Managing Director (1991-1997), John Ruimb, Fabian Pok and his associate Peter O’Neill issued Ruimb an ultimatum. He was to improperly appoint Port Moresby First National Real Estate Limited (Port Moresby First) to manage ICPNG’s real-estate portfolio.

Port Moresby First was said to be beneficially owned by O’Neill. The company employed the wives both of Peter O’Neill and Dr Fabian Pok.

Ruimb recalls:

[These] further conversations were a follow up on various other project that Peter O’Neill had made to me suggesting that all the Investment Corporation properties be given to Port Moresby First, sorry, it was Hunter Real Estate at that time to manage the properties. And in that meeting, in the presence of Dr Pok he talked about the need for them to make more money enough to sustain the members they had in Parliament to remain in government. And that if I did not cooperate they would determine my future.

Ruimb refused the request. He was later sacked by the Treasurer.

Ruimb’s replacement was Pok’s old university colleague, Wandi Oscar Yamuna – the first cousin of Peter O’Neill.

Now in their thirties, were the days of university hi-jinx behind these men?

According to a Commission of Inquiry led by Judge Don Sawong, no. Yamuna began selling off ICPNG’s real-estate portfolio, against professional advice. Inflated fees were awarded to Port Moresby First for managing the sales.

One example is the Mana Matana Apartments sale.

On 31 May 1999 Yamuna wrote a one page letter to the Minister, Fabian Pok, seeking approval for the apartment block’s sale.

Yamuna argued that the proceeds could be invested in treasury bills that were yielding a 24% return at the time. However, the Commission concluded Treasury Bills were a volatile asset. By contrast urban real-estate in a youthful Port Moresby market offered a more resilient and stable yield.

Dr Pok – who had a PhD in economics – approved the one page request the following day.

The sale was handled by Port Moresby First. Without even so much as a request, Wandi Yamuna generously awarded the company an increased fee of 3.5%, up from 2%.

It was revealed in a separate Commission of Inquiry conducted into the National Provident Fund (more on which, below), that Fabian Pok’s wife was employed at Port Moresby First and took part in the Mana Matana sale.

On 23 June 1999 a contract of sale was made between the ICPNG and Bluehaven No 42 for the price K2 million. 

Judge Sawong observed ‘Bluehaven No 42 Limited was not selected through a competitive tender process. Bluehaven No.42 is believe to be owned by relatives of Mr Peter O’Neil’.

In effect the core finding was that an O’Neill company was paid an inflated fee by ICPNG to sell the apartment block to a company owned by Peter O’Neill’s relatives. All of which was spearheaded by O’Neill’s first cousin, with the approval of Fabian Pok, who was by this stage a close acquaintance of Mr O’Neill, indeed Pok’s wife was said to be an employee at Port Moresby First.

This was just one of numerous illicit directives which the ICPNG Commission of Inquiry attributed to Dr Pok. Arguably though  the ICPNG findings pale in comparison to the conclusions reached by the NPF Commission of Inquiry.

The NPF Fraud

During November 2002 the Commission of Inquiry into the National Provident Fund (NPG) tabled its damning findings in parliament. Under the leadership of Judge Tos Barnett, meticulous research was conducted into the NPF tower fraud and other associated transactions.

The Commission reached a candid conclusion on Fabian Pok. He was bribed.

This illicit set of transactions evidently came about after Jimmy Maladina acquired land at Waigani under extremely favourable conditions.

Diagram: One example of the close commercial links between parties implicated in the COI findings.

Initially the land was to be offloaded at an inflated price to the National Provident Fund. When this was prevented by a media eexposé, the state lease was sold to Trinco No. 6 Pty Ltd, a company owned by the controversial Malaysian logger Rimbunan Hijau group.

The sale was agreed ‘subject to certain conditions attached to the lease document being modified’.

Following extensive scrutiny of documentary and oral testimony the Commission concluded:

Mr Maladina arranged for Land Board chairman, Mr Guise, to be bribed as well as the new Lands Minister, Dr Fabian Pok. By this means, he arranged for minutes of a former Land Board hearing to be altered to achieve the desired alterations to the lease conditions, which the Lands Minister, Dr Pok, duly approved (Dr Pok subsequently received the benefit of a motor vehicle and the sums of K10,000 (paragraph 32.8.4.2) for his part in this fraudulent scheme (Schedule 5, paragraph 32.8.9).

The Commission continues:

Dr Pok also appears to have received the sum of K220,000 to his company, Biga Holdings, which was received from Mr Maladina’s Niugini Aviation Consultants company in Hong Kong (which payment should be referred to the Ombudsman Commission for investigation).

By the time these findings were tabled, Pok had lost his seat in parliament. This rendered any referral to the Ombudsman Commission moot.

The Ombudsman Commission was yet another public authority that had, by this stage, found reason to censure Dr Pok for his conduct as Minister. Just several months before the NPF Commission of Inquiry published its findings, the Ombudsman released a report on an illegal forestry extension involving Dr Pok.

Kamula Doso Inquiry

According to the Ombudsman Commission an RH Group subsidiary was illegally awarded an  extension over an existing timber resource permit. Now it  included a substantial new area known as Kamula Doso.

The Commission observes ‘Dr Pok directed the [Forestry] Board to consider the allocation of the Kamula Doso area as an extension under Section 64(3) of the Forestry Act at the next Board meeting’.

The Ombdusman Commission continues, ‘Dr Pok suggested that the Board should not allow itself to be distracted by landowners from making a decision in favour of “an extension to an existing project”’.

Having reviewed Dr Pok’s conduct the Ombudsman Commission concluded:

In the opinion of the Ombudsman Commission the conduct of Fabian Pok, the then Minister for Forests, in giving directions to the National Forest Board on specific matters before the Board was contrary to law and wrong.

Of course Dr Pok had now lost office. He would not return to government until 2012.

However, as Dr Pok spent a decade in the political wilderness, the fallout out from his first term in government would swell inside the national courts.

National Court Showdowns

The first National Court hearing to trawl back through Dr Pok’s first stint in government, centred on a company Beecroft No 20 Limited.

Beecroft No 20 in the year 2000 held a state lease over land in Port Moresby after paying the reserve and tender price of K480,000.

The land was held subject to the condition that K30 million in improvements were made by 2003. Beecroft also had to pay K40,000 in annual rent.

On the 16th March 2000 Dr Pok, in his capacity as Lands Minister, issued a notice to show cause. Beecroft was given one month to prove they had not breached the improvement covenant and were paying annual rent, or the lease would be revoked.

Beecroft provided all the relevant evidence, which was to the satisfaction of the Court. This was submitted to the Minister on 13 April. However, before the notice period expired Dr Pok revoked the lease.

The Court slammed his actions:

The First Respondent [Dr Pok] … had no good basis either on the facts or the law, namely, s. 122 of the Act to first issue the notice to show cause and later to forfeit the Appellant’s Lease. This was an instance of an abuse of power and acting contrary to the clear dictates of the law. Both those decisions were illegal and actions not authorised by s. 122 of the Act.

Dr Pok’s illegal decision was quashed.

In 2007 Dr Pok was again censured from the judicial benches. This time by Judge Sevua following Dr Pok’s failed bid for reelection.

Judge Sevua called on the police to arrest Dr Pok after evidence was solicited to the court that he and several armed policemen burnt ballot papers outside the Banz district office (Post Courier, 18/7/2007, pg.8).

There is no public footprint indicating the police followed up on this request.

Then in 2012 Dr Pok was reelected.

It didn’t take long for new allegations of abuse to find their way into the National Court system.

The NHC Fraud

Surveyor Vaki Vailala and his family have lived at their National Housing Corporation (NHC) home in Hanu Place, Boroko, since 1994.

The NHC had offered to sell the property to them on a number of occasions. The Vailala family accepted. But the NHC failed to execute the agreement.

According to Judge Canning Mr Vailala ‘appears to the Court to be a decent man, a long-serving public servant, caught in a difficult situation … He is not living in luxury. He is not a cheat. He is not a young man. He is not a Big Man. He is the sort of person who should be given a chance’.

As Mr Vailala sought in vein to acquire title over the family home, Dr Fabian Pok returned to government in 2012.

His long-time associate Peter O’Neill appointed Pok Minister of Defence.

On 10 May 2013 Dr Pok wrote to the NHC’s Managing director John Dege – who is no stranger to scandal – using Ministerial letterhead. The letter asked for ‘any property that is available for sale by your organisation’.

While the NHC was not established to sell public housing off to politicians upon their request, John Dege nonetheless proceeded to illegally evict the Vailala family. Their home was then offered to Dr Pok for K525,525. A deposit was paid in November 2013, and the remainder was settled in February 2014.

There was one problem.

The NHC did not actually own the property.

It was, in fact, the property of the Government of Papua New Guinea. Senior managers scrambled. On 27 February 2014, the NHC managed to acquire a 99-year State Lease over the Hanu Place property. It was backdated to 11 February 2014. The following day the State Lease was registered in the name of Fabian Pok.

It was unclear after his initial letter in May 2013, what role if any Dr Pok played in the ensuing illegal activity. Nevertheless, the Court condemned this initial ‘request’ in striking terms:

The second defendant [Fabian Pok] appears not to have considered the possibility that it might be unlawful or improper for the Corporation to be selling its houses, not to people who have been occupying the houses for many years or to people of limited means, but to members of Parliament – leaders – elites – those who are well-off, those who are required under the Leadership Code (Constitution, Section 27) to conduct themselves in such a way, both in their public lives and their private lives, so as not to allow their integrity to be called into question.

When addressing the conduct of John Dege and the NHC staff, Judge Canning suggests something rather sinister may have occurred:

How could it [NHC], and Mr Dege and Mr Gore [NHC Principal Legal Officer] in particular, reasonably form the view that it would proper and lawful to sell this property to someone – let alone a Member of Parliament – a Minister – who was not qualified to purchase the property? Why was the second defendant cherry-picked to be the purchaser? Was this a pure and lucky co-incidence? It is difficult for a reasonable observer of this peculiar state of affairs not to be suspicious that something more sinister than simple naiveté, or the perceived need to sell the Corporation’s assets at market value, was afoot. But was it really market value? That is not known as the property was never put on the market.

While Dr Pok escaped public recrimination for this ‘sinister’ episode. He was not so lucky when it came to his role in the relocation of the Lancron naval base 10km inland to Manu Manu.

Defence's Down

Dr Fabian Pok was Defence Minister from 2012 until 2017.

In echoes of the NPF saga, it was alleged that Dr Pok abused his power as Defence Minister to execute illegal decisions that would see a colleague, William Duma, make a considerable windfall from land he had acquired. It is claimed on PNG Blogs that Dr Pok received kickbacks for his role in the land fraud, while the ABC reports allegations Dr Pok in fact had a direct stake in the land deal.

Dr Pok denies the allegations.

His  associate Peter O’Neill – with whom he shares decades of history – initially promised a Commission of Inquiry. This was quickly wound back to an administrative inquiry.

The inquiry report has been completed and tabled in parliament. A copy has not been made available to the public. Only a few tantalising soundbytes have made their way into the public sphere.

One damning quote from the report was published in The National:

The fact that the Lands Department files disappeared strongly supports the proposition that there was corruption involved and there is circumstantial evidence which supports the notion that there was a wide-ranging conspiracy, such as the lengths some personnel in the Lands Department have gone through in removing all the files containing evidence relating to the transaction.

The report is also said to lay the blame in part with the Department Dr Pok was Minister of. There were evidently ‘gross amount of manipulation and dishonesty between the three key state agencies including Kumul Consolidated Holdings Limited, Defence Department and Lands Department’.

Stop Press: The Post-Courier reports: ‘Police investigations into the alleged fraudulent involvement of two senior Ministers in the Manumanu land deal has been closed and investigation files in to the case are to be written off’. PNGi will put this ‘expected unexpected’ finding under the spotlight next week.

These censorious findings against the Defence Department should come as no surprise. During his tenure as Minister for Defence, Pok’s department was the subject of scathing audits.

To cite just one example, procurement, for 2014 the Auditor General remarked: ‘The Department engaged the service of nine Contractors to render various Construction, Maintenance, Electrical, Plumbing and other services to the Department totalling more than K33 million’.

In the majority of cases there was no evidence certifying the work had been completed, and there was no contract available for inspection.

Examples are given which suggest these contracts may have been a commercial front for misappropriation:

A Plumbing Company was paid over K415,000, but was registered as a business name which expired on 17 May, 2013, and the company submitted a hand written document requesting to render plumbing services. The hand written document reflected low quality, manner and the type of companies engaged by the Department in the procurements of their services.

The report continues:

A Company was paid over K400,000 during the year under review for electrical services. I observed that the company submitted a hand written document to render Electrical services. The company’s hand written document reflected the quality, manner and the type of companies engaged by the Department in the procurements of their services.

Arguably however the most worrying finding relates to a re-roofing contract:

According to documents obtained the contract was awarded by CSTB [Central Supply and Tender Board] to AU NAMONA Ltd. However, the Defence Council later hijacked the process and awarded the contract to Makro Limited who appears to be a less reputable company. There were no reasons stated why the Council had to change the contract awarded to the company.

The Auditor General claims the work, for which Makro Limited was handsomly paid (K4.5 million), was in fact done by the PNGDF: ‘The Payments according to records obtained stated that Makro Limited was engaged on the re-roofing project, however site inspection done at Goldie Barrack confirmed otherwise and it was done by the Defence Force based at the barrack’.

It doesnt end there:

During 2014, due processes were not followed and the Department awarded another contract totalling K8.9 million to the same company Makro Limited to supply white goods to the Department … This project valuing more than K8.9 million did not go through CSTB … There was no Company profile sighted, or whether it had the capacity to supply the white goods to the Department.

Makro Limited, at the time, was owned by Australian national Anubhav Yadav.

Yadav has been the subject of anonymous social media exposes. While such stories cannot be confirmed, Anubhav Yadav was allegedly on board the infamous 2012 Falcon private jet flight from Malaysia to PNG, along with the Deputy Prime Minister Belden Namah.

According to news reports Indonesian jets scrambled to escort the Falcon plane through its air-space after Indonesian authorities received intelligence it had substantial amount of US  dollars on board.

Perhaps its no wonder the Auditor General formed such a low view of Makro Limited.

Conclusion

To his credit, Fabian Pok spent a great part of the 1980s and early 1990s cultivating his intellect and professional capabilities.

Yet according to multiple Commissions of Inquiry, National Court hearings, and an Ombudsman Commission investigation, Dr Pok has abused his power and made illegal decisions that have seen the public lose out.

Peter O’Neill has close ties with Dr Pok that extend back over three decades. O’Neill is unlikely to hold him to account, especially given the skeletons in their shared wardrobe.

However, the Ombudsman Commission now has access to two Commission of Inquiry reports, one National Court decision, and an Administrative Inquiry report, all of which document conduct by Dr Pok that would appear to violate the Leadership Code.

It is high time for referrals to be made.

But is there any body in the land with the independence and tenaciousness to do the watchdog job which the national public are crying out for?