Is this a forewarning of what to expect if Panguna reopens – millions of kina disappearing into the pockets of senior bureaucrats and politicians in the ABG?
The Momis government has been plagued by serious allegations of high level corruption. Now it can be revealed that the President’s strategic planning head, Lauvatu Tautea, has been slammed by Taskforce Sweep for the alleged theft of K7.5 million. Tautea has also been condemned by Prime Minister O’Neill for a separate alleged illicit payment, in the amount of K10.9 million.
According to Taskforce Sweep when Acting Chief Executive Officer of the Cocoa Board Tautea wrote a two page letter to the National Planning Secretary on 15 July 2010, using the Board’s letterhead. This was not a proper project proposal format. In this letter Tautea stated that the Cocoa Board was sponsoring the rehabilitation and development of the Banio Plantation* on Bougainville. He nominated Rait Fama Limited to manage the project on behalf of the Board. Taskforce Sweep notes that what Tautea neglected to mention is that he and his wife were both Directors and signatories of Rait Fama Limitied!
Within just four days the wrongful proposal was approved. According to Taskforce Sweep the payment was made illegally from vote items 4203-2202-225 (K5 million) and 4203-2213-225 (K2.5 million) earmarked for the construction and improvement of roads for the Bogia-Angoram Road and East New Britain Roads. The bank account of the company, Rait Fama Limited, was opened on the 16/07/2010 at the Bank of South Pacific in Port Moresby, the K7.5 million cheque was issued on 19/7/2010. Why the Bank of South Pacific did not raise the alarm is anyone’s guess.
According to Taskforce Sweep, the bank statements indicate that most of the funds were diverted for personal use with huge amounts made on a cash payment basis, with some funds being credited to personal accounts. Some of the funds, Sweep notes, were used to purchase motor vehicles from Ela Motors.
This is not the first time Tautea is alleged to have abused public funding for his personal benefit. According to the Post Courier, the National Planing Department gave K10.9 million to Teariki Holdings Limited, to “educate farmers” about pest threat.
In a familiar story, Teariki Holdings was incorporated on 10 August 2010. The Post Courier states:
“The shareholders of the company are: Mr Lauatu Tautea (51), Nialapan Tautea (20), Pute Tautea (27) and Ruth Tautea (55). The directors are all of the above and Falope Tautea (22)”.
The paper goes on to note:
“according to the Registrar of Companies office, Teariki was incorporated on August 10, 2010 and several months later it was a lucky recipient of K10.9m”.
The then Treasurer, Peter O’Neill slammed the payment to Tautea’s company, stating
“I am appealing to all government agencies like the police fraud squad and the Ombudsman Commission to investigate and find out who authorised that payment I never authorised that payment”.
Despite the findings of Taskforce Sweep and the reporting of the Post Courier, Tautea was appointed head of Strategic Planning for Bougainville.
This news comes after the Momis government is reeling from other serious allegations of corruption. Earlier this year ex-combatants expressed concern over a K10 million payment made to a close friend of President Momis, Sir Henry Chow, via Chow’s company Hakau Investment Limited. The K10 million payment was evidently made to facilitate a feasibility study in 2010/11 of a proposed Torokina Oil Palm Plantation, despite strong local opposition. Given the lavish amount granted for a feasibility study, Bougainville’s Public Accounts Committee has earmarked this payment for investigation.
President Momis and his Natural Resource and Finance Ministers, were also found to be shareholders in Bougainville POGE Development Corporation. Controversially, POGE is a co-venture with a Filipino businessmen slammed in a range of human rights reports for land-grabbing, violence against landowners, illegal labour practices, and environment breaches.
There is also the question of the payments made to President Momis’ extensive team of foreign advisers, including his Development Advisor, Seagate Global. Seagate Global is a hedge fund, operated by US businessmen, William Lawton. While Seagate appear to have experience in financial trading, they have very little knowledge of rural development in Melanesia, which raises questions why they were appointed Momis’ ‘development advisor’.
As the scandals mount, it has to be questioned whether recent moves to unilaterally reopen the Panguna mine is motivated by a desire to develop Bougainville, as is publicly claimed, or is it instead a moved designed to generate a flow of revenues that will be captured by Bougainville’s political elite (at the expense of landowners!), to fund lavish lifestyles, holidays, cars, businesses and other luxuries. The record of the Momis government raises serious concerns in this respect.
*Note, there are allegations on New Dawn Radio that the Banio plantation was grabbed from traditional owners and sold off to the Queensland businessmen Geoffrey Mantle, who has close links to President Momis.