Border Development Authority: Dont let the rats flee this sinking ship

The case against BDA

The BDA was established through the Border Development Authority Act 2008. Its mandate is the co-ordination of the planning and implementation of capital works, infrastructure and socio-economic programs in the nation’s border provinces.

Initial reports from 2009 suggested the authority was awarded lavish budgets by the national government. Post-Courier reports put the figure at near K250 million (Post Courier 4/3/2009; Post Courier 27/7/2010). The BDA also led on a flagship Pilot Border Trade and Investment Development Project funded by the Asian Development Bank.

But the ship in this case was full of holes.

The Auditor General’s Office observes that the Minister for Finance and Treasury in 2008 illegally delegated to the BDA’s Board financial approval powers for transactions over K500,000 to an upper limit of K10 million. This delegation, the Auditor General’s Office argues, is in clear violation of procedures set out in the Public Finances (Management) Act. As a result, it warned, the unlawful delegation of approval powers to the BDA ‘may open avenues for malpractices’.

Malpractice concerns were indeed raised publicly after the BDA purchased seven maritime crafts from Indonesia. Vanimo-Green MP, Beldan Namah, claimed the BDA paid K2 million for each vessel, when they were worth K600,000. According to the Auditor General’s Office, there was no public tender. This the Office reported violated the Public Finances (Management) Act. What’s more the ships were junk.

The Auditor General’s Office claims in its 2016 report:

The Authority had taken delivery of all the seven ships built and acquired from a ship builder in Indonesia. However, I noted with concern that the ships on most occasions were not operating as expected due to poor quality materials being used to build these ships. I observed that in most occasions the ships were docked for maintenance at various ports and as a result, the Authority was incurring huge port docking charges.

Indeed in an earlier report the Auditor General observed:

I visited three (3) ships and had discussions with the crew of the ship and according to their view, two (2) of the three (3) ships I visited had to be filled with water to balance the centre of gravity of the ship. They further stated that the metals used to build the ships were of substandard material. Consequently, rust was forming quickly thus the Authority had to maintain the ships on a continuous basis.

The junk boats allegedly bought at 350% premium, were not the only controversial items of expenditure made by the BDA.

In its 2010 report the Auditor General’s Office observed:

I noted that the Border Development Authority had paid a total of K30,000 to a political party while the Authority’s Act does not provide for such payment.

It barely needs saying that this is a gross abuse of public moneys, if accurate.

Far from ceasing, in 2012 the Auditor General’s Office reported on further ‘donations’. The Auditor General notes:

My examination of the Authority’s Act revealed that its functions and powers do not provide for the Authority to make donations to groups and individuals. I noted that since its establishment, the Authority had donated funds to individuals and groups for various reasons for which valid explanations were not provided by the Authority.

According to government audits, services were routinely purchased without proper documentation.  In 2012 the Auditor General noted that:

My review of consultancy payments revealed that payments totalling K122,513 were made to two (2) consulting firms without properly signed consultancy agreements in place.

Again in 2014 the AGO observed:

I noted that a total of K19,036,521 was paid out as project expenses for preparation of various project documentation and designs which represent more than sixty percent of the Authority’s total expenses for the year. As such, I was unable to determine as to whether proper procedures have been followed in awarding contracts to suppliers.

Some of the amounts reported to have been spent on consultancies were eye-watering. The MP for Vanimo-Green alleged that the BDA ‘had contracted a foreign consultant from Iceland for K10 million to do scoping work and planning of the new Vanimo township’ (Post Courier 21/7/2010).

Then there was the contract given to Peter O’Neill’s Remington Technology Limited to set up a VSAT communications system for the BDA, along with Australian firm Orion Satellite Systems.

Were that not enough in 2016 the Auditor General raised concerns over the abuse of travel funds. The 2016 audit states:

My review of the travel expenses totaling K669,123 by staff on duty travel (domestic and overseas) revealed that the Authority did not maintain a Travel Advances Register to ensure that the advances were properly recorded and timely acquitted.

Perhaps not surprisingly in light of the above, successive BDA Executive Chairmen have courted controversy. The first BDA Executive Chairman was Pomat Manuai. Manuai raised eyebrows when it was alleged he owned a flashy Cairns property worth approximately K750,000.

Manuai’s short lived successor was Douglas Tomuriesa, the current Minister for Forest & Climate Change.

According to the Post Courier (10/2/2012), Tomuriesa was the Founding President of Don Polye’s Triumph Heritage Empowerment party. The same report states the MP Patrick Pruaitch, ‘claimed Mr Tomuriesa was never an applicant for the top job at BDA nor was he among the eight Papua New Guineans that vied and were interviewed for the position‘. He added Mr Tomuriesa was also not on the shortlist and a “complete outsider” who was appointed allegedly by Mr Polye and not according to the requirements under the BDA Act’.

The Auditor General had its own concerns over Mr Tomuriesa. In 2015 it was reported that:

The General Orders 20.11 and Public Services (Management) Act section 56(2)(a) states that public officers who wish to contest in a national election should resign six (6) months prior to the issuance of writs. The writs of the last 2012 National Elections were issued in April 2012 and I noted that the former Executive Chairman resigned on 29 May 2012, a date after the writs had already been issued. Consequently, the above stated provisions were breached. Further, I noted that the former Executive Chairman had been improperly approving payments during these six months for material amounts totaling K1,034,729.34. As such, I was unable to determine whether the payments were made for the benefit of the Authority.

Fred Konga took over from Tomueiesa. He also attracted headlines, this time after a naked selfie of Konga went viral. Shortly after his departure from the BDA to contest the 2017 elections, Konga was murdered in an execution style killing.

Breaches of the Public Finances (Management) Act, failure to conduct public tenders, ‘donations’ to individuals and organisations, including a political party, and countless high priced contracts. This state entity cannot slip gently into the night. It’s time for the anti-fraud squad to place a spotlight on this soon to be defunct organisation.