Abal orders probe into BDG payouts

National, Normal

The National –Wednesday, January 5, 2011

 ACTING Prime Minister Sam Abal has ordered an investigation into whether or not payments of business development grants (BDG) had allegedly landed in the wrong hands.

Abal has directed acting chief secretary Manasupe Zurenuoc to carry out an investigation into payment of K66.2 million by the Department of Commerce and Industry (DCI) during the festive season to more than 50 landowner companies.

The payment was part of K120 million parked in DCI for payment as seed capital to companies selected under the licence-based benefits sharing agreement (LBBSA).

Last September the first batch of the BDG totalling K27.2 million was paid to 13 landowner companies.

The latest payment excluded landowner companies yet to be nominated from Angore PDL 8 and Juha PDL 9 due to court orders taken out by landowner factions to stop BDG payments in both areas. 

A couple of other payments had been withheld on request from concerned parties or for legal reasons.

Abal noted that commerce officers had heeded his direction and worked throughout the festive season to make all BDG payments before Christmas.

“I am satisfied that the payments have finally been made. I have directed an investigation only because there are allegations and innuendos in the media that payments have been made to a few groups who are well outside the LBBSA areas.

 “The government and concerned parties must be satisfied that officers have acted above reproach as their duty calls them to.

“If some are found to have not followed proper procedures or the law, they will be strictly dealt with under public service regulations and, if necessary, under the criminal code.”

Abal also cautioned the media and the public to desist from insinuating questionable or illegal deals by naming companies, individuals and public servants involved in the payouts.

 “Certain individuals and companies have been named but I am not at liberty to comment on this without a full report on the payments.

“I urge the media and the public not to castigate such individuals and companies who, at the end of the day following proper investigations, might be found to have legitimate reasons to have been included in this exercise. 

“Naming civil servants involved in this very difficult process actually puts them in danger.

The acting prime minister has also directed DCI to conduct an internal investigation and report within this week how the payments were made.

Cabinet directed the DCI to take the lead role on the BDG in order to ensure a local business spin-off policy in the LNG project.

Abal said following the investigation he will release a full list of the companies that had been paid out and provide explanations for those which approved payments are being withheld.

He called on all aggrieved parties to make known their grievances through the right department so that their complaints could be dealt with. 

He said public threats and media statements tended to aggravate issues rather than resolve them.