By SHIRLEY MAULUDU and DALE LUMA
FOUR decades after setting foot on PNG soil, Robin Fleming is the proud leader of the country’s biggest bank, and an inspiration to young and aspiring PNG leaders.
In an interview late last year, he advised young Papua New Guineans to “identify good role models as you progress in your career, be prepared to work hard and have a supportive family.”
When it was announced this week that he will not be renewing his contract as the chief executive officer of the Bank South Pacific Financial Group Limited at the end of the year, many suspected it might have something to do with the controversy over the additional company tax (ACT) imposed by the Government from this year on the bank.
It was rather a personal decision than anything related to work, according to those close to him.
He however continues to question the justification in imposing the ACT only on BSP but not the other commercial banks operating in the country. The bank is cutting K190 million from its 2022 first quarter net profit of K259 million towards the ACT.
While the trade union congress and the superfunds are floating the idea of legal action against the Government, Fleming can only say BSP “is open to all options”.
“As a board, we’ve got a responsibility to our shareholders which include the superfunds and other institutions. So we do have to consider whether we will have any success in getting (a court) interpretation of the additional company tax. If we do feel that there are some prospects, then we’ll consider having a judicial review which is available to all businesses. But we have to undertake those decisions in consideration of our responsibility to the shareholders.”
Fleming, married to local lady Dora with children Cassandra, Liam and Joshua, has watched BSP grow to be the country’s largest bank since he arrived in the country from Australia in late 1980.
Formerly called the PNG Banking Corporation owned by the Government, he was working as a contract officer in the Waigani branch in 2002 when it was privatised and renamed the Bank of South Pacific.
He was born and grew up in Inala, a working-class housing commission suburb of Brisbane in Queensland, Australia. He completed Grade 12 at the St Laurence’s College in South Brisbane before joining the Commonwealth Bank in Inala.
“I worked with Commonwealth Bank as a teller and examiner in Inala, and other branches in Queensland before coming to PNG at the end of 1980.”
Fleming was seconded by the Commonwealth Bank to work as an internal auditor and branch training officer in Kimbe and Arawa. He then joined the PNG Banking Corporation as a contract officer at its Port Moresby branch.
One of highlights of his career was when he was appointed by the late prime minister Sir Mekere Morauta to be the Boroko branch manager when he was only 32.
He remembers the time when the bank was to be privatised in 2002.
“The biggest challenge was dealing with privatisation and the uncertainty it caused for PNGBC staff at the time. The risk of losing their jobs was real, and it gave the staff including myself a lot of anxiety and stress.”
When BSP expanded its business across the Pacific, “we went to great lengths to give undertakings to the staff that they would not lose their jobs.
“At the time of privatisation, there was much negative comment about the PNGBC moving from 100 per cent government ownership to 25 per cent government ownership, and the capability of the privatised BSP to be able to compete with the Australian banks ANZ and Westpac.”
BSP today owns 65 per cent of the market share in PNG, and expand to the Cook Islands, Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu, Cambodia and Lao.
It now has a life insurance company, a finance company and capital management company, employing around 4,500 staff, all managed from PNG, with almost 85 per cent of shareholders being from PNG.
He still has seven months to go before he calls it quits.
“I will be continuing in my role as CEO until the end of 2022 and remain focused on delivering a financial result for our shareholders that meets their expectations.”
By SHIRLEY MAULUDU and DALE LUMA