THE TOKAUT BLOG
The Manumanu Cover Up
Back in 2017 the public paid for an administrative inquiry into the Manumanu land scandal which centred on two Ministers, William Duma and Dr Fabian Pok.
Over the weekend after a painfully long wait the Manumanu Administrative Inquiry report was uploaded online by a good Samaritan.
PNGi has a blow by blow reaction to the report penned by one of the country’s foremost legal authorities. But first a brief recap of the main facts.
In early 2017 William Duma and Dr Fabian Pok were ensnared in controversy after allegations of grand corruption came to light. The emerging scandal revolved around exorbitant sums paid by the government to compulsorily acquire three blocks of land at Manumanu in Central Province, ostensibly to relocate two Defence Force barracks and its naval base out of Port Moresby.
In total the government paid K63.2 million for the three blocks of land. The actual value of the land was around K580,000.
Portion 406 was acquired from Kurkuramb Estates Ltd (KEL), owned by Christopher Polos, the alleged brother in law of Public Enterprises Minister, William Duma. The Minister’s home address was registered as KEL’s company address.
KEL had itself acquired the land from the State ‘in suspicious circumstances’ less than three months before it was compulsorily purchased by the Defence Department. Although KEL only paid K650 to acquire the state land, when it sold it back to the Defence Department it was paid K46.6 million in compensation.
The order to acquire Portion 406 came from Defence Minister Fabian Pok. There was no Defence Council recommendation or feasibility study to justify the purchase. The land was in excess of what was required by the Defence Department given it had already purchased two other pieces of land, Portions 422 and 423. Additionally, Portion 406 was located well away from the sea, making it unsuitable for naval use.
The sums paid for Portions 422 and 423 were similarly hugely excessive. Those plots were first acquired in 2011 for K150,000, by two companies, Flystone Amusements Ltd and Kosi Investments Ltd, allegedly controlled by Philip Eludeme, the Chairman of the Central Supply and Tenders Board.
When the State acquired the land in 2015, Eludeme’s companies received K16.6 million.
A blow by blow reaction to the Manumanu Report
It took a lot of time. It cost a lot of money. It found out little. It achieved little. Unless, of course you are the Prime Minister, in which case the report took until after the election, did not take away the support of two Ministers and enabled the Prime Minister’s loyal Police Commissioner to announce that there would be no criminal charges against either of those Ministers.
If there was ever a university course in corruption at UPNG then the Manu Manu scandal would be studied under Cover-Up 101!
First, the timing: Initiated by the National Executive Council on 7 March 2017, the Administrative Inquiry (AI) was supposed to report within four (4) weeks. The report, dated 19 October 2017, took more than seven (7) months. That delay enabled William Duma and Fabian Pok to be re-elected as MPs and re-appointed as Ministers as if nothing had happened.
Interestingly, the flawed Supreme Court challenge to the validity of the Commissions of Inquiry Act, which the judges took more than twenty (20) months to decide was “clearly untenable, bordering on abuse of court process and mischief to say the least, and a waste of the Court’s time and costs”, was finalised on 1 September 2017, before the AI was finalised, and that could have enabled the roadblocks encountered by the AI to be removed.
Secondly, it should be noted that the origin of the Manu Manu land scandal was a 2012 NEC decision to acquire land for relocation of defence force bases. That decision laid the groundwork for anyone to acquire land and then benefit from a decision to use that land for those relocations. A 4 June 2014 NEC decision made it easier for anyone to financially benefit from the relocations by setting out six criteria for the required land.
Thirdly, before the AI even commenced, former Attorney General, Kerenga Kua, was able to summarise what the AI report should have said: “there were multiple layers of fraud, multiple layers of noon-compliance of [sic] all the requisite procedures that one has to follow”
Fourthly, as commonly occurs in PNG, relevant files were lost before the AI began.
Fifthly, the man supposedly the director, shareholder and controller of Kurkuramb Estates Ltd, not surprisingly decided “not to assist” the AI. While there is a presumption of innocence (ie a person is innocent until proven guilty), the reality is that people who have got nothing to hide do not need to hide.
Sixthly, the Australian AI lead, a barrister with no prior judicial service, was very reserved in his findings. For example, after noting that the owner of land purchased for K488 per hectare in 2011 was paid K55,000 per hectare in 2015, equivalent to a compound interest return of 225% pa for 4 years, Griffin QC said: “the most plausible explanation for the size of the government valuation was financial inducement”.
Translation: Since the land was bought for 112 times what was paid for it 4 years earlier, someone must have been bribed. It should be noted that a high valuation figure was in a document prepared by the Assistant Valuer General, who may be employed as a public servant but who does not appear to be serving the public.
Seventhly, since the AI report said that “further investigation is plainly required”, it is curious how the Police Commissioner was recently able to say, in effect: “case closed”. Even if the Ombudsman Commission (OC) pursues this case, experience suggests that it will take a long time and that will occur behind closed doors because of the confidentiality requirements that apply to OC investigations.
Eighthly, there is a hint in the AI report of what could well have happened if there had been a CoI: “there would plainly be a case of corruption against Mr Duma if it were the case that he controlled the affairs of Kurkuramb Estates Ltd”.
Ninthly, so far as Fabian Pok is concerned, the AI found it “very strange that the direction to the Lands Department to compulsorily acquire Portion 406 came from Minister Pok, especially as there was no Defence Council recommendation for the acquisition of Portion 406 and there had been no feasibility study.” But that does not appear to be of any concern to the Police Commissioner who has labelled this matter “Case Closed”.
Tenthly, paragraph 9.46 of the AI report, after considering the conduct of Philip Eludeme, the Chairman of the Central Supply and Tenders Board (CTSB), concluded: “further investigation is necessary”. Mr Eludeme will not be losing any sleep over that recommendation in view of the recent statements of the Police Commissioner.
Eleventhly, if everything was being done properly, why was it necessary to state that Portion 406 “backs onto the sea” when it doesn’t or to state that Portion 406 had a total land area of 2,000 hectares when its area was only 847.25 hectares? Moreover, why was an anti-corruption clause removed from a relevant document, contrary to standard practice?
Twelfthly, if Mr Polos is the director and shareholder of Kurkuramb Estates Ltd, and if he is familiar with how to operate a company, then why did he fail to bring the company seal to the signing venue in order to finalise a K46.6 million transaction? Any why is money paid before the company seal is affixed to the relevant documentation?
Thirteenthly, if William Duma has nothing to do with Kurkuramb Estates Ltd then why is it that, as soon as the first K20 million is received, an email is sent to William Duma that says:
“Further text to William
Funds gone but could they come on with the seal tomorrow please.
Are you going to Hagen this weekend per chance?”
Furthermore, why does William Duma reply to that email as follows:
I am back in Pom now, and will wait for your return before I leave for Hagen over this weekend.
Please call me as soon as you can […]
In addition, paragraph 10.119 of the AI quotes from the statement of a person that refers, more than once, to “pressure from the Minister”, suggesting that William Duma was chasing payment of the second tranche of K26.6 million.
Fourteenthly, the AI report records that William Duma attended the AI office in Waigani on 30 August 2017 and 29 September 2017. That is understandable. However, it is a matter for concern that William Duma also met with Griffin QC before those dates, on 5 August 2017 in Brisbane. Why? What was said? Was anyone else present? Was that meeting recorded?
That meeting highlights the problems with an AI which, unlike a CoI, can involve conversations behind closed doors between the person conducting the inquiry and a person whose conduct is under investigation in that inquiry.
Fifteenthly, if Kurkuramb Estates Ltd is nothing to do with William Duma then why were his residential and postal address used for that company? Further, after admitting that Christopher Polos was his brother-in-law, William Duma later changed his stance to say that he was not, claiming that Polos was “adopted by one of his wife’s aunties”.
Sixteenthly, paragraph 10.189 says of the conduct of William Duma: “The issues are in the hands of the Police, and the investigations should continue until completion. The Administrative Inquiry expresses the hope that this Report will be of assistance to the police in their continuing investigations.”
Now, the police do not appear to have any continuing investigations. The AI report suggests that the question of whether William Duma controls Kurkuramb Estates Ltd is a matter for the Ombudsman Commission. How long will that take? Even if that leads to a Leadership Tribunal, how long will that Tribunal take and what penalty, if any, will be imposed? Do not hold your breath waiting for this!
It should also be borne in mind that this report has not endeavoured to even outline the potential misconduct by public servants in relation to these land transactions.
The AI report reveals two things clearly:
- The AI did not do anything like finalise this matter
- A Commission of Inquiry is clearly required.