FRANK SENGE KOLMA
THE Department of Lands and Physical Planning is incompetent, ineffective, inefficient and corrupt that it has become a real impediment to development and economic growth.
This indictment comes from the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in its report to Parliament after investigating the department over a number of years.
The report reveals a litany of errors so long and so serious that only a total revamp of the department can correct the faults which seem to be entrenched.
The PAC has found that the department has lost all control of its functions and responsibilities and lost many millions of kina in land and uncollected rent and lease.
The committee found that management of the department is aware of corrupt practices by its own officers but has allowed it to continue as this evidence given by Lands secretary Pepi Kimas on Nov 29, 2005, indicates:
“Let me inform the committee that once the client receives their titles, they get officers to remove and destroy the files and everything else.
“What they do is that as soon as they get the title, they pay off somebody who will destroy the file and remove it and that makes the task very difficult.”
This and other findings were such that the PAC was forced to recommend the immediate removal of the secretary and his senior managers and the recruitment by international advertisement of competent managers and executives to rebuild the department.
The committee has referred the secretary and deputy secretary for investigation and prosecution.
Three years after the PAC has recommended total overhaul of the department and the removal of the secretary, nothing seems to have happened.
The PAC states: “The committee considers that the Department of Lands is the most crucial agency in the planned and progressive building of the national economy and social development.
“If land acquisition and development is properly controlled, the development of wealth, employment and, therefore, improvement in all social indicators will follow.”
The committee considered that the department and all its officers should be aware of this vital role and be imbued with the task of competently managing their statutory tasks.
It found to its consternation that Lands officers, from the most senior levels down, lack this understanding and neither know nor care about the important national role that they should play.
The committee found further that officers allow themselves to be manipulated and used by land dealers to the extent that the department became a “real estate agent for the unplanned or random allocation of State land for no benefit to the State, either social, fiscal or developmental”.
“The department has declined over the last 10 years to a point where it cannot manage even simple statutory functions – such as collecting land rent.
“The department is held in low esteem and it is clear to the committee that corruption and criminal collusion by senior managers is an accepted incident of the department’s functioning.
“How then can other employees be expected to perform to any better standard in the absence of real leadership?
“The committee considers that this departmental disintegration is a matter of national importance in that economic progress and improvement is retarded by the department.”
The PAC recommended that the Government must review the entire system of land allocation in Papua New Guinea. The current system requires a high degree of probity, honesty and competence – attributes which the PAC claims are lacking for a decade in the Department of Lands and Physical Planning and the Land Board.
It further recommended that the Government immediately appoint a Commission of Inquiry to review every lease grant made in the last decade – with a view to establishing which State leases have been illegally or unlawfully issued and to recover some of the benefit.
* Next week: The state of affairs at the Land Board and certain controversial land deals.