WE hope DPE secretary Rendal Rimua is right and that the stories which circulated in Waigani last week about the possible disappearance of most of K180 million for MoA projects in hydrocarbon are really a fabrication and comes to nothing. He has accused The National of “irresponsible reporting” and has threatened legal action.
The Opposition has named two State Ministers as having facilitated the withdrawal of hefty sums from the trust and has threatened to name all entities and individuals involved. Our interest in publishing the stories is simple. Papua New Guineans in hydrocarbon resource project areas have waited nearly two decades for their MoA projects.
Now, after 19 years of waiting when the MoA funds finally come through, we are told that the money is pouring out of the trust account like a sieve. It is not a small amount of money and nobody is going to allow the Government to rest until we are told that the money is intact or that it has been applied for the purposes it is intended for.
There is too much at stake, including the future of the PNG LNG project.
We challenge the secretary to tell the nation the truth: Are all the Memorandum of Agreement money intact in the trust account? If some money has been paid out, he ought to disclose how much and supply details as to which contractors have been paid and what projects they are supposed to be working on at present.
Mr Rimua will not confirm nor deny any of the details we published so we will let him explain to the landowning groups from Gulf and Southern Highlands provinces.
MoA funds are not cash handouts to landowners. They are neither royalty payments, levies nor special support grants. They are for projects that have been identified, have been agreed to and which were to have been funded by the National Government.
Some of these MoA projects have been outstanding since 1990. The State and the Kutubu Landowners signed the Kutubu MoA on Dec 10, 1990, committing the State to certain projects which are still outstanding to date. Kutubu was followed by Hides gas fields owners on Nov 4, 1996, by Gobe oil project owners on April 17, 1998, and by Moran oil project owners on Jan 11, 2001.
While projects have gone ahead, the promises for infrastructure development in affected areas have not. That the resource owners have borne the frustration with tremendous restraint and without destabilising the projects is something that is little heralded but which bears testimony to the type of leadership the landowners have had over the years.
When the State was about to sign the LNG agreement last May, the ugly specter of unfulfilled MoA projects was hanging over its head, threatening to immobilise the project permanently. After a midnight vigil by Southern Highlands Governor Anderson Agiru where he refused to attend the negotiation table unless outstanding MoA monies were released, the Government pledged K300 million in outstanding MoA money to Southern Highlands and K200 million to the Gulf province.
We expect that the money in the trust account in question is part of this promised outstanding MoA money.
Mr Rimua will know that the various projects are still owed money in royalties and Special Support Grants. From memory, the Gobe project is owed K120 million in outstanding Special Support Grant and K60 million in royalties. The Kutubu project is owed K22 million in SSG while K100 million is required to complete the Tari-Homa road under the Hides project. The Tari International Airport and the Kulu-Puga road, Hides-Fugwa road and Para-Komo road are still outstanding.
Although work has started on Tari hospital and Tari airport, funds are needed for their completion and we do not see any of the contracting companies’ names in the list that were published last week.
Those who attended the Kokopo Benefits Sharing Agreement talks will know how deeply suspicious the landowners are of the Government and its departments, agencies and consultants.
The promise of the outstanding MoA funds calmed their fears and brought them to the table to sign the BSA. If questions are being asked today about that same MoA money disappearing or ending up in the wrong hands, these people are going to need some very good reassurances before their faith in Government is restored. That might include reluctance to allow the LNG project to go ahead.