THE TOKAUT BLOG
From Zero to Hero for Tumla Investment
Irad Nati is not shy about admitting he has ‘developed enough knowledge in how the PNG government system works’ to make him a leader in the world of business.
It is knowledge that Nati acquired first hand, working at the very heart of government in the Ministerial Office of Telefomin MP, Solan Mirisim.
Mirisim has, according to media reports, recently been referred by the Ombudsman Commission to the Public Prosecutor on various charges including failing to declare income, abuse of office, and failure to lodge financial statements and corporate income tax. There is no suggestion that Irad Nati is implicated in these alleged offences.
Nevertheless, it was while working for the Minister that Irad Nati set up his network of businesses, including one jointly owned with the CEO of the Telefomin District Development Authority.
The recent success of Nati’s construction business suggests his intimate knowledge of government is bearing fruit, but given it is the Telefomin District Development Authority that is at the heart of that success, there are serous questions about conflicts of interest that require answers.
In the last 12-months, Nati’s company, Tumla Investment Limited has secured a series of lucrative construction contracts in the Telefomin district of West Sepik and all funded in part at least by the local District Development Authority.
These contracts include a water supply project, construction of a new Telefomin District Development office complex and the construction of two completely new High Schools, at Edwaki and Yellow River. The Tumla website also lists construction of the Namea High School as one of its projects.
The contract for the Yellow River High School alone is worth K10 million.
The local Telefomin MP, Solan Mirisim, is Chair of the local District Development Authority and, until very recently, he was also Irad Nati’s employer. When contacted by PNGi, Mirisim declined to make any comment on his relationship with Irad Nati.
Irad Nati also has a close relationship with Nemsin Kibisep, the District Development Authority‘s CEO.
Nate and Kibisep each own 25% of Telefomin Holdings Limited, a company registered in May 2019. The two other shareholders are Gosap Buhope and Hangu Thoy.
Nemsin Kibisep is also the sole owner and only director of Min Corporation Limited, a company registered in 2019. Irad Nati is the company secretary.
Despite the rapid expansion of his construction company, it is not Nati’s only business interest. He has also found time to diversify into the travel business, property management, financial services and transport.
The Sunset Travel Agency, the Ama Trek transport business and Tumla Finance are all owned by Tumla Investments Limited.
All of which appears to be remarkable growth for a corporate group that only celebrated its first anniversary in December 2020!
It was while working as Secretary to Solan Mirisim as, first, Minister for Forests, and then, Minister for Defence, that Nati began building his network of businesses.
In December 2019, Nati registered Tumla Finance Limited, using the official Parliamentary address of Solan Mirisim as the Member for Telefomin.
In June 2020, Irad Nati registered another construction company, Hemin Limited, this time using the official address of the PNG Forest Authority, where Mirisim was then the Minister.
The shares in Hemin Limited are owned by Tumla Investment, 30%, and Ipwenz Construction, a company owned by Moses Palipe, a businessman connected to Prime Minister James Marape.
Nati and Palipe are also connected through another company, Telhmin Holdings Limited, registered in 2019 by Palipe. Palipe and Nati are the two directors of the company.
Irad Nati also used the address of the PNG Forest Authority when, in August 2020, he registered the business name Ama Trek. He followed this up a month later by registering the business name Sunset Travel and another company, Tumla Properties Limited, again using the PNG Forest Authority’s address.
Meanwhile Ipwenz Constrction, owned by Moses Palipe, has been given a K107 million contract to build the Telefomin to Tabubil road, another project initiated by the Telefomin MP.
Irad Nati claims he knows how the PNG government system works. But what this case points to is that there remains an extremely blurred line between business and government. While it cannot be inferred that something illegal has taken place, the mixing of public office and private business does nonetheless create a conflict of interest that at the very least require transparency and rigorous mitigation measures.
Irad Nati and Nemsin Kibisep did not reply to requests for comment on this story.