Provincial Accountant stole K1.3 million from the State

Research into corruption prosecutions in Papua New Guinea reveals that despite widespread misappropriation of public funds, only a tiny number of officials are ever charged with criminal offences and almost none end up being convicted or imprisoned.

Time will tell if the case of Jonah Posa is a rare exception to the rule, or the start of a new trend of successful prosecutions.

Jonah Posa was Provincial Accountant for the Western Highlands Provincial Government from 2013 to 2014. He was recently found guilty of stealing K1.3 million in cash.

The money was unlawfully taken from Provincial government bank accounts using cash cheques. Posa was assisted in his crimes, says the Chief Justice who presided at his trial, by three more junior female treasury staff.

The fraud was uncovered when a new Provincial Treasurer, Timothy Rupula, was appointed and conducted a check of the government’s bank accounts. He noted that certain cheques which showed in the bank statements did not appear in other accounting records such as the cheque reconciliation listing or the cash book.

It was Rupula who alerted the Provincial Administrator and insisted he call in the Department of Finance to do an audit.

The National Department of Finance investigation uncovered that cheques from the Western Highlands Provincial Treasury were being printed outside of normal processes and were then being cashed at the local Mt Hagen branch of BSP bank.

In his position as Acting Provincial Treasurer, Posa was able to access the Cheque Printing Office and secure blank cheques which were then printed out to his own name and those of his accomplices and a few other unsuspecting Treasury stuff. The cheques were then signed by Posa and his accomplices (two of whom were also account signatories) and presented at the bank to be paid out as cash advances.

Where it was required for the payee to sign on the cheque, then whoever of the group took the cheques to bank, that person would forge the signatures of the payee to allow the cheques to be cashed.

Using this modus operandi Posa and his accomplices were able to pay themselves a total of K1,317,015.16.

According to the Chief Justice, that it was ‘such a simple scheme and it was working well’, lays bare how fragile the country’s financial controls are.

Between 1st March 2013 and August 2014, Posa raised for himself eleven cheques to the value of K419,000 and dishonestly applied the money to his own use.

Each individual cheque was for an amount between K10,000 and K49,500. At the trial the Chief Justice noted that K50,000 was the approval threshold for the Deputy Manageress in the BSP Mt Hagen branch, raising the question of whether this was a deliberate ploy:

The evidence suggests that the modus operandi was carefully and deliberately designed in a way that all claims would be below K50,000.00 so that the cheque could be cashed easily and quickly with no questions asked.

Posa also raised cheques in the names of five other unsuspecting employees and had those cashed at the bank, adding a further K410,459 to the monies he dishonestly received. The value of each of these cheques ranged between K7,775 to K45,000.

Posa’s three female accomplices themselves received K487,556 from cashing a further sixteen cheques. The money was applied to their own uses.

Because Posa aided his colleagues to raise their cheques and receive the cash he was deemed to have been responsible for their actions in dishonestly acquiring the money for their use.

Posa and his two junior accomplices, says the Chief Justice, showed ‘a total disregard and defiance of the proper procurement processes and procedures laid down under the PFMA’.

Posa has been sentenced to nine years and ten months jail for his crimes.

While PNGi has documented laudable instances of public servants standing up against the tide of corruption , there is undoubtedly a deep rot within the middle layers of public sector management. Some steal to enjoy the finer things in life, others at the lower end, to make ends meet. The kleptocrats which rule the nation happily turn a blind-eye. With a high percentage of hands dipped in the blood of corruption and a woefully under-resourced criminal justice system, there is much less risk of exposure.