Too much misuse of public funds

Editorial, Normal

The National, Wednesday June 24th, 2015

 THERE is no substitute for personal freedom. 

The indignity of being reduced from a position of honour and respect to the status of a common criminal should be a strong enough deterrent for anyone. 

It is quite a different matter when a “small man” on the street gets slapped with the jail term than for a “big man” to be given the same punishment. 

As was reported yesterday, two more men of some standing in their communities in Madang and East New Britain were sentenced to a total of 18 years jail for crimes of a similar nature. 

They were found guilty of dishonestly applying public monies for their personal benefit and that of others.  

For the court determining the cases, that consideration was, however, of little consequence.  

The fact that public money had been paid to them or their businesses was all that was needed for proof of culpability. 

The Madang man who had operated three companies when he applied for and obtained public funds totaling K4.75 million was handed a sentence of 11 years while the East New Britain man got seven years for an amount of K1.5 million deposited into his company account for the construction of a church. 

In both instances, these large amounts of public monies have resulted in nothing – no business or public facility or church building as indicated in initial project submissions to the government. 

Heavy penalties have so far been given to a number of businessmen, senior public servants and politicians for their part in the theft or misapplication of public funds.

These cases as well as those of two convicted politicians and the others have been the result of investigations by the Task Force Sweep.  

All the cases would have a common thread running through them: Cleverly worded project submissions or business proposals to obtain funding that was readily available through the Department of National Planning and Monitoring under a noble government incentive to support business and or provide community services. 

However, the funding initiative was open to widespread abuse. 

The Task Force Sweep team, in a statement a few years ago, described in part how such abuse thrived. 

“Companies with nil track records in the business sector have been among the forefront of collecting millions of kina from the Department of National Planning and Monitoring (DNPM) in the recent past.

“As records shown through investigations carried out by Investigation Task Force Sweep (ITFS), most if not all of these companies that obtained money from DNPM had no tax records and certificate of compliance (CoC) to carry out business.

“All they had was a company or business name with the PNG Investment Promotion Authority and a bank account which had very little or no cash to do business prior to collecting massive funds from DNPM.”

The discovery of such practices has caused commercial banks, especially those who had hitherto and perhaps unwittingly transacted some of these amounts of public funds, to now step up their approach to detect suspicious transactions and furnishing reports to the relevant government agencies. 

The banks have trained their officers to detect suspicious transactions pursuant to the demands of the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) and also identified people they classify as “high risk customers” who habitually use their bank accounts to launder proceeds of crime. 

While, it is entirely the prerogative of the O’Neill Government to disband the Task Force Sweep, there is no arguing that it had succeeded where earlier efforts by state institutions had failed. 

The successful conclusion of cases may have also resulted in greater diligence by National Planning and other agencies handling public money.

Except for people with truly evil intentions to siphon public money, this greater vigilance serves not only to safeguard against theft but can actually help people who may otherwise be caught with mistakes they would later live to regret.

There have been too many of such cases where ignorance of process and law have been offered and rejected as an excuse for crime or misdemeanor in the use of public money.  

Recent convictions over the theft and misuse of public monies must send a clear signal to those dealing with public money to be more vigilant.