Rejoice! National Housing Estates Limited Is No More

The pages of PNGi are rarely splashed with good news. But on occasions we should rejoice when action is taken against agencies and companies that are failing to measure up against basic standards of good governance and public integrity.

For several years, serious concernshave been raised over the financial governance of National Housing Estates Limited (NHEL). Set up as the commercial wing of the National Housing Corporation, NHEL was “to deliver affordable up-market properties for middle income earners”. The merits of such an aim were always in question.

However, over the past seven years the company has operated under a cloak of financial secrecy. It has refused to open its records to the Auditor General, and has failed to submit annual returns to the corporate registry, despite numerous requests, and even more numerous promises from NHEL management.

Keep in mind here that NHEL was evidently handed the deeds to public housing worth in the tens of millions – while also being the recipient of budget support from the government.

Insider sources have made serious allegations of impropriety against NHEL to PNGi, but without documentary evidence to back up these allegations, it has been impossible to publicly report on them (any new information can be emailed to PNGi Editors at [email protected]).

Publicly NHEL has tried to promote an image of a lean and mean commercial arm, ready to solve the country’s housing crisis.

Its Chairman told the media in 2014, NHEL was  “‘crawling’ in business”.

The Post-Courier reported in August last year:*

“The National Housing Estate Limited has embarked on a fresh and positive corporate and business outlook underpinned by a commitment to best practice in corporate governance, transparency and prudent management”.

Nevertheless, PNGi can now reveal that following a shareholders meeting late last year, a decision was made to wind NHEL up.

Notably its Directors have been “terminated forthwith”, that includes Kevin Ahipum, Michael Barobe, Luke Karepe and John Witne.

The remaining staff will be absorbed back into the NHC.

At least some sanity has prevailed, with the government deciding to liquidate the company and reabsorb its functions back into the NHC.

Of course, we dont know the motivations behind this decision. It could be for noble reasons, it may not be. And we should not be naive about the challenges ahead. The NHC is hardly a model institution. But at least it is an institution that is more open to inspection and reform.

The question is though, when are the books at NHEL going to be made public, and what steps will be taken to investigate the senior officers of this body, in light of the very serious questions raised over its internal financial affairs? There is strong evidence other entities on a similar footing – such as Konebada Petroleum Park Authority Limited – have been used to loot public revenues. A forensic eye now needs to  be placed over the NHEL affair, in consultation with the anti-fraud directorate.

* Unfortunately hyper-links to the Post Courier newspaper are not accessible to our readers in PNG. This is a general restriction imposed by the Post Courier management who refuse to give PNG citizens online access to the publication.