Southern Highlands Governor Anderson Agiru has called on Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare to direct an investigation into how K180 million in memorandum of agreement funds earmarked for projects in his province and Gulf were used.
Mr Agiru made the call after officials from Department of Petroleum and Energy went public in the media last week about how the funds were accessed and paid out to various individuals and entities, apparently without the proper process being followed.
Mr Agiru worked hard for six months to secure K300 million to fund outstanding MoA commitments for his province, which was approved by the NEC.
So far, K100 million was provided in last year’s Supplementary Budget, while K200 million is yet to be allocated by the National Government.
But the K100 million has now been depleted. Government officials, worried about the backlash from the depletion of the funds, scrambled last Friday to look for money to replace the K100 million for SHP.
A senior government official in Waigani said K20 million was drawn from a trust account and was to be paid to the Southern Highlands provincial government, while they seek another K80 million from elsewhere.
The official said he believed the K20 million was diverted from funds meant for the health sector, which were kept in a trust account.
Finance secretary Gabriel Yer could not be reached yesterday to comment.
Mr Agiru could also not be reached yesterday, but in a statement issued last Friday he wanted an inquiry to get to the bottom of the payments.
“An inquiry must be conducted to establish the projects submitted, who authorised these payments and who these funds were paid to, and whether the recipients of these funds have the capacity to carry out the projects.
“A lot of people are angry about this, and they deserve an explanation.
“Therefore, the Prime Minister must act decisively and intervene. If ministers or senior public servants have their fingerprints on these payments, they must face the consequences.
“Nothing must be swept under the carpet. That is unacceptable,” Mr Agiru said.
He said there were good intentions to set up MoA funds – to fund infrastructure development in project areas so the lives of people in these usually remote areas could improve.
“Looking at the project list, only the K6 million for Para-Komo road is genuine.
“I have grave doubts about the rest. That is why an investigation is necessary.
“There is too much money involved to ignore, and our people demand this.”
Mr Agiru said to do justice to his people, the K100 million earmarked for Southern Highlands must be restored before the Government team visits the province next month to conduct the licence-based development forum for the LNG project.
He said the licence-based development forum would take place in the project areas in the province, as stipulated in the Oil and Gas Act, and nowhere else.
With landowners angry about promised MoA funds and projects not reaching them, a fiery confrontation is expected, and Government officials are now planning to shift the licence-based forum to another province.
But Mr Agiru rejected this outright.
“I will be waiting with my people and the Government must come prepared.
“We will have the forum in the project areas, however long it takes, and conclude it there for the LNG project to move to a final investment decision.”