Papua New Guinea has a problem. The Pangu-led government’s silence on a major breakdown in decision-making speaks volumes on the lack of leadership quality and the stance of the current government in fighting corruption.
As exposed last week, an estimated K20 million (AU$8 million) has gone to waste on the purchase of expensive and unnecessary Maserati sports cars, yet no one is being held accountable.
Who would have thought, four years ago, that buying a fleet of more than 40 luxury sports cars to be used just once, in a developing country with rugged roads, no servicing facilities, and no access to spare parts was a bad investment? Literally everyone – except apparently the then government of Papua New Guinea under Prime Minister Peter O’Neil and his APEC Minister, Justin Tkatchenko.
The Ombudsman Commission has failed to investigate this blatant waste of public money, despite a formal complaint lodged by ACT NOW. So where are the laws that address the incompetency that has cost the country tens of millions of Kina?
Most members of government involved in the original decision are still members of the Parliament, including the current Prime Minister, who was then the Finance Minister, and Tkatchenko, who has been rewarded by the PM with the powerful Foreign Affairs portfolio.
Objections to the purchase of the vehicles was heavy from the outset and when the once gleaming turbo-charged chariots rolled into town for the 2018 APEC Summit it prompted widespread outrage. Citizens and opposition MPs alike argued that trying to sell the 40 luxury cars was going to be a fool's errand.
Paul Barker, Executive Director for the PNG Institute of National Affairs, said:
“The purchase demonstrates a severe lack of foresight and disappointing, apparent readiness to squander public funds, in a developing country, where basic public goods, from access roads to health services, are widely unavailable or severely substandard.”
Even former Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, has now said “If we had any foresight, the Maserati’s would not have been purchased in the first place. We made a terrible mistake. If you have got no dealers of Maserati in PNG, there was no reason to buy Maserati.”
Yet, at the time, APEC Minister Justin Tkatchenko, falsely claimed firstly that the cars were being imported at no cost to PNG then defended the purchase, claiming that the cars would "sell like hot-cakes" once the Summit had concluded.
After four years, only two of the Maserati’s have been sold and the Minister who orchestrated the deal now wants to send those vehicles to foreign missions abroad under his new portfolio. Yet other countries are refusing to allow the import of the now second-hand vehicles and the foreign missions have no funds to keep them on the road even if they do make it abroad.
Prime Minister Marape, his Minister for Foreign Affairs, and all our corruption-fighting MPs have been sitting on the useless Maserati deal for more than four years, not taking any action to apportion blame for this grievous waste of public funds.
Do none of them have any respect at all for ordinary Papua New Guineans?
If this were Europe, Australia, or New Zealand, the political leaders involved would have stepped down from public office having shown themselves incompetent and not capable of managing public funds.