Nathaniel Poya: Ports Chairman sails through troubled waters
Nathaniel Poya is now in his second term as Chairman of the PNG Ports Corporation, yet his career has not all been plain sailing.
A Commission of Inquiry has alleged Poya personally benefited from fraud while serving as a trustee; a K70 million company he owned was liquidated drawing the ire of a National Court judge for its failure to pay its taxes; while a close association with the Prime Minister, including through the National Provident Fund scandal, and his own stevedoring business, have led some to question his appointment to the Board of a State owned enterprise.
Meanwhile, largely hidden from public view has been an extensive corporate network. Nathaniel Poya can be connected as a shareholder or director to more than 25 registered companies.
Network Map: Nathaniel Poya can be connected to more than 25 registered companies
Nonetheless, Nathaniel Poya sits at the head of PNG Ports; overseeing the management of Papua New Guinea’s gateways to the world, 15 ports around the country, as well as a range of regulatory functions and a staff of more than 600 people.
According to the National Superannuation Fund Annual Report for 2000, Nathaniel Poya graduated with a Diploma in Tropical Agriculture. He then held a variety of positions including principal of an agricultural college and a management position for the Matasu Group of companies. In 1988, he started his own business, Voco Point Trading Limited. By 2000 the company had an annual turnover in excess of K70 million (but went into liquidation in 2004). Poya received the Businessman of the Year award from the Business Council and Businessman Entrepreneur of the year from the PNG Chamber of Commerce. He was appointed as a Trustee on the Board of the National Provident Fund in January 1999.
In 2012, Nathaniel Poya was appointed by the government of Peter O’Neill to the Board of PNG Ports Corporation, IPA records state Nathaniel Poya became a director in December 2012. In 2013 it was reported in the media that villagers in Lae had filed a complaint with the Ombudsman Commission over Poya’s appointment as Chairman.
Poya was reappointed as Chairman of PNG Ports Corporation by the National Executive Council in 2016.
Through his career, Nathaniel Poya has been associated with a large number of companies as shareholder, director or secretary, as shown in the network map below.
In his capacity as Chairman of PNG Ports Corporation, Poya also sits on the boards of PNG Ports Subco 1 Limited and PNG Ports Subco 4 Limited.
While a trustee at the National Provident Fund, he sat on the board of Crocodile Catering Limited.
Conduct contrary to corporate morality: The Liquidation of Voco Point Trading
Nathaniel Poya is still listed as the primary owner and director of Voco Point Trading Limited [see Entity Extract below]. He acquired his shares in 1994 according to the Investment Promotion Authority website.
By 2000, Voco Point Trading was reported to have an annual turnover of over K70 million. In its annual return for 2000 [see file below] it reported assets of over K7 million and a staff of 226. Yet, in March 2004, the company entered voluntary liquidation with debts of over K3.9 million.
In 2007, Nathaniel Poya attempted to have the liquidation lifted and the company reinstated through the Courts.
The National Court found[see file below] there were 89 creditors of the company; however the only registered and secured creditor was Bank of South Paciific, who was owed K2.2 million. Trade creditors were owed K1.6 million and final staff entitlements were estimated at K117,000.
The K3.9 million in liabilities did not include the company’s tax liabilities which were unknown, as Tax Returns for 2003 and 2004 were never filed and “there is some evidence the company has not paid taxes… for a number of years”.
The judge, Justice Gabi, considered this to be “conduct contrary to corporate morality or public interest” and rejected an application by Nathaniel Poya for the liquidation to be lifted.
“It is not in the interest of [the] public to allow the company to go into the world of commerce”.
The court did though order a new liquidator be appointed and notification of a new liquidator was filed with the IPA in December 2012
However, according to the IPA website, the company still remains ‘in liquidation”.
National Provident Fund controversy
Nathaniel Poya, was appointed to the Board of the National Provident Fund as a trustee, representing employers in January 1999. Jimmy Maladina was already Chairman of the Board. Around the same time, a relative unknown, Peter O’Neill, was appointed to the Chairmanship of the PNG Banking Corporation and to the board of over 20 other State entities. All this occurred under the Prime Ministership of Bill Skate.
In April 2000, a Commission of Inquiry into the NPF was established, with wide terms of reference, to investigate all the Funds investments and purchases, as well as allegations of fraud and mismanagement.
The National Provident Fund Commission of Inquiry made a number of contrary findings about the conduct of Nathaniel Poya in his role as a trustee of the Fund.
In particular, the Commission found Poya allegedly benefited from the NPF fraud by accepting K150,000 paid to him personally and another payment of K100,000 to the company Mecca No.36 Ltd, which was jointly owned by himself and Peter O’Neill.
The Commission of Inquiry recommended Poya be referred to the Ombudsman Commission for alleged breach of the leadership code in that as a trustee of the NPF he received a direct benefit from the trust funds allegedly obtained by fraud.
Association with Peter O’Neill
In his evidence to the National Provident Fund Commission of Inquiry in May 2001, Peter O’Neill stated Nathaniel Poya was a partner involved in his company Mecca No.36 “and he has been a business partner for more than fifteen years”.
Mecca was described by O’Neill as operating a chain of supermarkets, wholesaling, distribution and property ownership. He said the company employed about 250 people with an annual turnover of approximately K20 million.
Mecca No.36 changed its name to South Super Stores Limited in 1998. According to IPA records, Poya joined the company as a director in 1996 and became a shareholder in 1998.
The media has gone further, suggesting Peter O’Neill and Poya are not just close business associates, they may also be related through family.
Whatever the truth about a possible family connection, Peter O’Neill also told the Commission of Inquiry, Poya was a major supplier through his company, Voco Point Trading, to Mecca No. 36. In 2000, it was reported Voco Point Trading had an annual turnover of K70 million; but four years later the company was in liquidation, owing more than K3.9 million.
In 2012, it was the government of Peter O’Neill that appointed Poya to the Board of PNG Ports Corporation and in 2016 renewed his appointment as Chairman.
Conflict of Interest?
Nathaniel Poya has been a shareholder since 1992 in the company PNG National Stevedores Limited.
That business interest has led some to question whether there is a conflict of interest in his appointment as the Chairman of PNG Harbours Board.
Serious allegations have been levelled against Nathaniel Poya by esteemed members of the judiciary. He has been accused of conduct ‘contrary to corporate morality’ by Justice Gabi. The judge also claimed that Poya had been potentially engaged in corporate tax evasion. More seriously still, the distinguished anti-corruption jurist, Tos Barnett, in his 2002 inquiry findings claimed Poya had directly benefited from fraud, which he allegedly participated in, with the current Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill.
Despite this Poya has been appointed twice, Chairman of the PNG Ports Corporation. Serious questions therefore are raised over the due diligence conducted by the National Executive Council (NEC) when making senior appointments. Also, it must be asked whether the Prime Minister recused himself from presiding over, or participating in, any NEC decisions relating to Poya, given their close business relationship?