THE TOKAUT BLOG
Scam alleged in Dept of Lands accounts section
PNGi recently highlighted a case of corruption in the Office of Library and Archives, where the former Director General, his wife and the Corporate Services Manager, were all sentenced to five years jail for misappropriation. The case revolved around payments made by the Library to a company owned by the DG’s wife for grass cutting and other landscape services; services that were either never provided or the costs inflated.
PNGi has now uncovered information about possible financial mismanagement in the Finance Section of the Department of Lands and Physical Planning [DLPP] that could have some striking similarities to the library case.
In the DLPP case, it is alleged the Department has been making sizeable payments to a business, Netcoms Office Services, that is owned by the husband of the acting Manager of the Finance and Revenue section, Mrs Lavu Matau.
In the first six months of 2016, it is claimed, those payments totalled over K135,000, as shown in the table below.
Investment Promotion Authority records show that a business name, Netcoms Office Services, was registered on 1 February, 2016. The owner of the business is listed as Lawson Matau. On the application to register the business, the postal address for both Netcoms and Lawson Matau was given as C/- Lavu Matau:
The date of the registration of Netcoms Office Services, February 2016, was, it is alleged, just a few months after Mrs Matau was appointed acting Manager in the Finance and Revenue Section.
PNGi has also received what is claimed to be a print-out from the Department of Lands accounting system that appears to confirm the dates and amounts paid to Netcoms and provides a reference number for each transaction:
It has further been alleged that payments made to Netcoms are fraudulent in that no office consumables or other services have been supplied by the business to the Department of Lands to justify the payments. PNGi is not able to comment on or substantiate this allegation, but whether true or not, the evidence does suggest a serious prima facia conflict of interest.
Conflicts of interest are, of course, not unlawful and need not give rise to any improper conduct. But they do require very special handling and complete transparency to avoid any suggestion of illegality. In this instance, if it is true the Department of Lands has been making payments to a business owned by the spouse of one of its senior officers, has that fact been fully disclosed to management and the auditors? What steps have been taken to protect Mrs Matau from any involvement in any decision making in regards to engaging or paying the business? What steps have been taken to ensure there can be no suggestion of illegality or fraud?
In 2005, the Public Accounts Committee held an inquiry into the Department of Lands. After reviewing the Auditor-Generals report and questioning the Department Secretary, Mr Pepi Kimas, the committee issued a series of directives. Those directives included, as item 50, ‘Produce to the Committee the approval by the Department of Finance to the appointment of Mrs. Lavu Matau as Collector of Public monies’. It is not known what concerns prompted this directive from the Committee or how it was subsequently dealt with.