Manus Security Contract Goes to Group Slammed by Deputy Chief Justice

Protests have erupted on Manus Island after the Tasion Group was awarded a contract to provide security at the controversial Australian refugee centre stationed on the island. The centre is in the process of being decommissioned.

Local landowners have asked how could a business fronted and owned by a known fraudster win such a contract.

Chief Migration Officer at the Immigration and Citizenship Authority, Solomon Kantha, provided an eye-wincing response when asked about the Tasion Group contract. He claimed: ‘In terms of the details, it’s confidential because it is a business arrangement so we can’t say how much (contract worth) and so forth’.

Mr Kantha appears disarmingly unaware of the transparency requirements his organisation must adhere to under law. This is not a contract between private parties. This is a public contract paid for out of taxpayers money. The amount, details, and process used to award the contract should be a matter of public record.

The newly instated National Procurement Commission in its Operations Manual provides basic benchmarks for transparency: ‘Transparency in procurement is the clear and public documentation of procurement processes, tender requirements, selection criteria, and decisions which are be able to withstand independent review and scrutiny.’

Mr Kantha’s response falls well below the standard expected, and is an immediate red flag.

The next red flag is the Tasion Group chief, Sam Tasion.

Here is how Deputy Chief Justice Kandakasi describes Tasion in a 2019 court judgement relating to a K4,626, 845 million deal brokered between Tasion’s Freeway Motors and the National Broadcasting Commission:

I find the original Contract was facilitated and arrived at by fraud, misrepresentation, dishonesty and illegality for breach of the requirements, the intents and the whole purpose of the PFMA [Public Finances (Management) Act 1995] by Freeway Motors through its managing director and sole shareholder Mr. Tasion with the help of the then chairman of the CSTB [Brian Kimmins]. These actions constitute a serious and clear corrupt deal at its worst that falls nothing short of a fraud on the statute, namely the PFMA and its intention and purpose, the NBC, the State and the people of PNG.

So lets recap. We have a contract awarded by the Immigration and Citizenship Authority, the details of which they refuse to disclose, in violation of transparency requirements. The recipient of this contract is a Group headed by a man recently deemed a corrupt fraudster by one of the highest judicial authorities in the land.

Tasion has responded to outrage with standard lines designed to cloud the public’s judgement, through appeals to patriotism and national pride.

Tasion told reporters: ‘Tasion Group is not foreign owned … We are proud to be Manusian and will continue to grow and provide jobs and business partnerships for our people’.

Lamentably both The National and The Post-Courier published a Tasion Group press release virtually word for word  (the clue is when both papers publish nearly identical articles!). No mention is made of  the recent damning judgement delivered by the Court which gives substance to the landowners’s claim.

According to The National in fact, ‘Sam Tasion wants authorities to investigate perpetrators trying “to sabotage” his company’s contract in Manus’.

This of course is another standard tactic. Present critics as mischievous individuals with their own agenda. Paint yourself as a victim. Deflect public attention away from the formidable authorities and evidence these offending criticisms are grounded in.

What is arguably most regrettable about the security contract debacles that have plagued the Manus Island detention centre, is that over a billion Kina has been spent paying security firms that have been widely described as, well, dodgy.

Imagine if the Australian government had instead invested this money in a series of fast-track university programs here in PNG to produce social workers, youth workers and security professionals, who could then have been used to provide first class social, health and security services on Manus Island. All of whom could have been an enduring asset for PNG once the centre has been decommissioned.

Imagine if that money had been used to build public infrastructure, and capacity, more widely.

Instead it has been lost to what appears to be scandalous contracts awarded under opaque conditions. While this may fatten a few pockets, the lasting legacy for PNG is a toxic one.