By FRANK SENGE KOLMA
PARLIAMENT was told never to consider selling the Swamp Ghost aircraft to any overseas salvage operators.
The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee said in its report into the National Museum and Art Gallery that the Swamp Ghost was grossly under-valued – no surprises there since the valuation taken as “independent” was done by the salvager.
The National Museum accepted as independent, a valuation of the Swamp Ghost aircraft made by a shareholder in the purchasing company who was the actual physical salvor retained by and acting for and on behalf of the buyers of the wreck.
“The valuation accepted by the Museum was a fraction of the true market worth of the aircraft and the entire valuation process was not independent or transparent,” the PAC said.
“As a result of this failure, the State was to be deprived of valuable State property for no return.”
Despite this report, the Swamp Ghost was sold and left PNG last week for the United States.
In its place, Minister for Culture, Charles Abel has promised a plastic prototype or copy.
In its investigation into the conduct and management of the National Museum and Art Gallery, the PAC found that the body had “for years issued invalid and illegal “permits” to salvage, remove and export War Surplus Materials to foreign salvors who were themselves illegally operating in Papua New Guinea”
The acting director and management of the National Museum and Art Gallery intentionally misled the Board of Trustees as to the nature and the effect of the “contract” between the Museum and Aero Archaeology LLC for the sale of the Swamp Ghost, in that the Trustees were told, inter alia,:
* That there was no alternative to approving the contract;
* That the aircraft would remain the property of the State;
* That the aircraft would be returned to Papua New Guinea;
* The aircraft would be and remain under the control of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea;
* That the Trustees could impose conditions on the export of the aircraft;
* That the Trustees could impose the terms on which the purchaser would hold the aircraft;
* The aircraft would be restored and exhibited at March Field Museum in California; and
* That litigation would issue against the Trustees personally unless they approved the contract.
Moreover the Trustees were also misled in that they were not told by Museum management, before the Board of Trustees approved the contract for sale of the Swamp Ghost that:
The State lost all rights, ownership and control of the aircraft thereby;
Provided with a copy of the contract;
Of the powers of the Museum or the Board of Trustees to enter into or approve such a transaction – which did not exist;
That the contract was illegal, void and unenforceable;
That a previous attempt to export the aircraft was refused; and
That Museum Guidelines had not been complied with by the management of the Museum.
For this and all the evidence, the PAC referred the management of the National Museum and Art Gallery to the Office of the Ombudsman and the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary, for full investigation of the sale of the Swamp Ghost and the export of other War Surplus Materials, to establish whether there is any breach of the Criminal law – and in particular, whether there is any evidence of conspiracy to illegally obtain State property.
These referrals and recommendations were made in 2006.
It is not known there the relevant agencies have taken this matter up further.