THE COURT REPORT
Simple scam nets ex-library boss K118,000
Corruption, the abuse of public office for personal gain, is endemic in Papua New Guinea. The amounts of money that are being stolen from the public purse every year are estimated to run into billions of Kina. This deprives the government of funds to pay for decent basic services, like health, education and transport infrastructure, and results in a public service that is neither committed to or focused on its primary role.
In many cases, the frauds are neither sophisticated or well hidden, as a recent case involving the former Director General of the Office of Library and Archives, his wife, and a senior colleague illustrates.
In July, the three were found guilty on three counts of misappropriation and one count of conspiracy having defrauded the State of just over K118,000, although the evidence indicates a wider plot to steal at least K1.3 million. The two public servants were also found guilty on two counts of abuse of office.
In September, the trio were each sentenced to five years imprisonment with three years suspended on condition they each repay K32,945.50.
Below, we examine the details of the fraud, the convictions and sentences; but what we can’t detail is the answer to some worrying questions that cases such as this raise, questions like:
- What is causing long-serving and previously loyal public servants to suddenly turn to crime?
- How can senior officers be stopped from blatantly avoiding proper processes and procedures for engaging outside contractors and ensuring value for money?
- How can junior staff who see these frauds being carried be empowered to make their voices heard?
The Court Decisions
Jacob Hevelawa was the Director General of the Office of Library and Archives (OLA) for nine years until March 2014. Timothy Numara was the Manager, Corporate Services at the same office. Miriam Hevelawa (née Yambingia) is the wife of Jacob.
In December 2012, Miriam Hevelawa, registered Paja Sisters Trading as a business name. The registration application submitted by Mrs Hevelawa, gave the nature of the intended business as ‘importing and warehousing of goods / items’, but the business was soon involved in some rather different activities.
On 2 January 2013, the three accused signed a contract for Paja Sisters Trading to provide cleaning, grass cutting and other services to the OLA, a contract with no agreed value and no completion date.
Between 1 December 2012 and 31 December 2013, Paja Sisters Trading submitted various invoices to the OLA for grass cutting, landscaping and removal of rubbish, totalling more than K1.3 million.
Three of the invoices were dated 21 June 2013 and claimed a total of K280,000. The invoices did not specify the dates or periods when the alleged work was done.
Part payment of these three invoices was authorised by Timothy Numara and signed off as approved by Jacob Hevelawa.
In total, K118,846.30 was paid into the Paja Sisters Trading bank account.
The necessary approval was not sought from the Secretary of the Education Department for the engagement of an outside contractor to do cleaning work at the OLA, prior to the engagement of Paja Sisters. Further, the Director General OLA and the Corporate Services Manager failed to get three quotes for the work.
The contract between OLA and Paja Sisters was drafted by Timothy Numara and was signed by all three accused. The contract was the only one Paja Sisters had entered into, although it had also sought work with other government institutions.
Miriam Hevelawa gave evidence she had formed the business to assist women in her community at 8 Mile. She said the cleaning work, grass cutting and rubbish collection were done by mothers and their families. She said the invoices were calculated on the basis of K300 per worker per day plus lawn mower hire [K1500 per day] and lunches [K20 each].
OLA staff gave evidence that the invoices that were submitted were inflated and excessive in that although some cleaning and grass cutting work was done by staff engaged by Paja Sisters, it was of far less value. Although staff queried the payments as being excessive, Jacob Hevelawa directed payment be made and the staff felt they had to oblige.
Although only K118,000 was actually paid to Paja Sisters Trading, it had outstanding claims for K1.3 million that had been submitted to OLA. The K1.3 million represented almost one-third of the Office’s total budget allocation of K4 million.
The misuse of monies and abuse of office came to light after the issue was raised in parliament and a police inquiry ensued.
Jacob and Miriam Hevelawa and Timothy Numara were all found guilty of conspiring to defraud the State.
Although there was no direct evidence of the three conspiring together, the Deputy Chief Justice (DCJ) found there were clear overt acts that could only be understood as being committed in the furtherance of an agreement and all the elements of the charge of conspiracy to defraud had been made out.
Jacob and Timothy were also found guilty of abusing their respective Offices by entering into the contract with Paja Sisters and by processing and approving the payments. Jacob Hevelawa was in a clear conflict of interest situation in signing the contract and approving payments and his actions, according to the judge, were ‘unethical and wrong‘. It was also unethical and wrong, said the judge, for Timothy Numara to go along with the plan and not raise any concerns.
All three were found guilty of misappropriation under s.383A(1) of the Criminal Code in respect of each payment made to Paja Sisters Trading. The judge found beyond reasonable doubt that each of the accused ‘intended to cheat, deceive and mislead’.
Miriam Hevelawa was, at the time of sentencing, 49 years old. She is from East Sepik Province. She and her husband, Jacob Hevelawa, have four children.
Jacob Hevelawa is also from East Sepik and was 56 years old. He served in the Ministry of Education for 32 years after graduating from the University of Papua New Guinea.
Timothy Numara is from West Sepik Province and was 57 years old. He had been with the Ministry of Education for 29 years and has a degree in Public Policy and Management from UPNG.
All three had no prior convictions and co-operated with the police but the DCJ made this comment about the nature of their offending:
“Misappropriation is a serious crime of dishonesty, deceit and fraud. It displays all the attributes of what is commonly known as corruption. This was corruption in the public sector. This type of conduct eats away at the fabric of our society. Our society should and must be made up and based on honesty, decency and fairness. Justice is about creating fairer societies and decent hard work. Justice is also about being fair and decent. All of them failed to be honest, decent and fair. Instead they all wanted to cash in on the authority of their positions”.
Each was sentenced to five years imprisonment on the charge of conspiracy to defraud; five years on the charge of misappropriation; and Jacob Hevelawa and Timothy Numara were sentenced to two years prison for abuse of office. All the sentences to be served concurrently with three years suspended on condition each repay K32,945.50.
Back to Business
Police investigation and criminal sanction, do not seem to have dulled the Havelawa’s appetite for business.
In the period after his conviction in July, and prior to his sentencing in September, Jacob Hevelawa registered two new businesses; Hevetex Records and Data Management Consultants and Hevelawas Properties Management.
According to the registration applications submitted to the Investment Promotion Authority by Jacob Hevelawa, Hevetex will be involved in ‘professional consulting service in records and data management in any organisation’.
Hevelawas Properties Management meanwhile, will be involved in ‘management of properties and other holdings owned and limited to Jacob Hevelawa and Miriam Hevelawa children’.