THE TOKAUT BLOG
Can the PM Defend a Nation he Wants to Own?
A leader’s loyalty to his office must spring from his genuine concern for his country. It is always expected of a patriot that he will put his country’s interests before his own. In the event of any conflict of interests, the interests of the people he serves must prevail over his own personal interest. The higher the office held in the state, the more serious the office-holder’s responsibility. The greater the power, the greater the obligations of the person holding the powerful position. The power he holds is not meant to be for his own honour and fame; much less is it for his own material aggrandisement. The power he holds is for the betterment of the citizens of Papua New Guinea.
– PNG Constitutional Planning Committee (1974)
Residents of several rural land blocks in Central Province have complained they are being forcefully driven from their homes by land grabbers.
Speaking on social media residents say the land at 17 Mile, outside Port Moresby, is the site of their sacred traditional Koiari village called ‘Mikoea Tiru’.
Behove Joku says she and her children have been caretakers of the area, which also contains the remnants of the old Loloki mine smelters, since the 1990s. They are now forced to flee their homes after alleged threats from people moving onto the land, who are chopping down their garden crops, fruit trees, burning homes and removing fences and gates.
Local people says they have reported the ‘atrocities’ to the Central Government. They are mobilising to take legal action, but fear the invaders will soon have police protection.
This all occurred, residents argue, after a company Paradise Breweries Limited was granted a series of State Leases.
An investigation into the allegations from residents revealed that land in the region has been granted to Paradise Breweries Limited.
According to the National Gazette No. G756, a Special Land Board Meeting held in November awarded seven Special Purposes Leases over land in Central Province to Paradise Breweries Limited.
Who is Paradise Breweries?
Investment Promotion Authority records indicate Paradise Breweries Limited is a company owned by “Peter O’Neil”.
Mr O’Neil owns all the 101 issued shares in the company. He acquired 100 shares in June 2017 and the further one share in October of the same year.
From January to July 2018, O’Neil was the company’s sole director. He has since been replaced by a veritable who’s who of Port Moresby’s business elite.
Prominent names include, Donald John Beattie (Partner in the Pacific Legal Group and PM’s long-term associate), Tiong Sii Huang, (involved in at least 20 companies including Amanab Forest Products, Jaya and Berjaya Construction and Vanimo Supermarket), Ian Jepson (Global Construction), Hao Zhong Luo (China Jiangsu and Jimmy Maladina’s benefactor), Jin So Poh (construction and retail interests and a director of Borneo Pacific Pharmaceuticals), and Darren James Young (Kumul Consolidated Holdings Managing Director).
Is it the same Peter O’Neill?
Is the “Peter O’Neill” who owns Paradise Breweries, Prime Minister “Peter O’Neill”?
Well, the signature, address and date of birth on official IPA documentation for the Peter O’Neill of Paradise Breweries all match those of the Prime Minister.
Section 84, Allotment 1, Matirogo, Port Moresby is the residential address used by Mr O’Neill in the records of Paradise Breweries Limited. The same address has been used by both Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and his wife, Lynda Babao for at least 20 years.
It appears in the records of Bluehaven No.41 Limited, is used by O’Neill in the records of LBJ Investments and has been used by Niu Finance Limited, South Super Stores Limited and Value Plus Stores Ltd, all companies associated with the Prime Minister.
Good Business or Betraying the Nation?
This story boils down to one simple fact. Those living in and around Mikoea Tiru village should be able to appeal to their Prime Minister, as an impartial and fearless defender of the people. Because the man elected to be the Prime Minister, may also be their persecutor, it may be residents are in effect stateless.
All of which raises some very serious questions:
- Was the Ombudsman Commission informed a company owned by the Prime Minister was applying for State Leases and did the OC approve the issue of the seven leases to Paradise Breweries?
- What role did the PM’s close ally, Lands Minister Justin Tkatchenko, play in issuing the leases and was his involvement sanctioned by the Ombudsman Commission?
- What steps have been taken to ensure any possible conflicts of interest in the awarding of the leases were properly and transparently handled?
- Was the land the subject of the seven State leases properly acquired from Customary landowners in the first place?
- Is the land the subject of the seven leases the same land at 17 Mile that is now being ‘invaded’?
- If it is the same land, what steps have the Prime Minister and the directors of Pacific Breweries taken to ensure the rights and interests of any persons living on the land are being respected and protected?
- And have they approved the actions of the persons allegedly burning houses and gardens and threatening residents and, if not, what action are they taking to stop it?
This points back to the very difficult questions that emerge when the country’s biggest political figure, is also one of the nation’s biggest business figures.
The constitutional planning committee remarked in their 1974 report:
We are not proposing a code of conduct to divorce our leaders from every field of business activity or professional interest. In fact, no leader is worth his name if he is not in tune and in touch with the social and economic concerns of his people. But a leader should not place himself in a position where he may well have a conflict of interest due to his shareholdings or business activities, nor should he use his position to gain rewards or benefits which he would be unlikely to obtain if he were not in a position of leadership.
Which begs the question, but for his Ministerships and Prime Ministership would O’Neill companies have sky-rocketed into the riches and success the way they have?
And if the answer is no, what does that say about the top public office?