THE Office of the Public Curator is established and operated under the Public Curator Act 1951 (“the Act”).
Its main functions are:
* Administration of deceased estates both intestate and testate under the Wills and Probate Administration Act 1966;
* To act as agent or attorney for estates.
* Act as trustee under the Insolvency Act 1951 for wills, deeds of trust and other trust investments, and as an executor, distributor and administrator of deceased estates;
* Act as trustee for minors properties;
* Act as official trustee to administer estates adjudged insolvent by the National Court in accordance with the Insolvency Act 1951; and
* Act as trustee or manager for the management of properties of persons certified insane, infirm or incapable of managing their own affairs under the Public Health Act 1973.
The Public Curator has offices in Port Moresby with regional offices in Rabaul, Lae and Mt Hagen.
The Public Accounts Committee found during its inquiry that the Public Curator owes very strict obligations to carry out the work of a trustee in a lawful and efficient manner.
The position of Public Curator requires the appointment of a person with highly specialised training, experience and qualifications.
“Moreover, that position and all staff positions within the Office of the Public Curator require high standards of probity, accountability, analysis and judgment by persons who hold those offices,” the committee concluded.
It found those attributes “have been lacking for many years”.
It said: “The skills required are legal, financial, accounting/management, investment and property management, office support, public management and capacity to deal quickly and honestly with property entrusted to the office.
“The committee finds that the Public Curator also owes a moral and ethical responsibility to beneficiaries and that the person holding the Office of Public Curator must be trained and experienced in carrying out this highly specialised statutory role, but has failed to meet those obligations.
“The Public Curator has the power to appoint agents to carry out certain functions – see section 4 Public Curator Act.
“This committee considers that the position of agent, contractor or consultant of the Public Curator requires the appointment of persons of high repute, honesty and competence.
“This committee concludes that those attributes were lacking in the majority of agents so appointed.
“The committee finds that consultants, contractors and agents were unlawfully appointed and were often incompetent or ineffective.
“Equally, this committee finds that when the Attorney-General should have intervened in the operations of the Public Curator he did not, to the detriment of the office, the State and beneficiaries.”