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13 Nov 2019 4:43
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  •   Home > News > International

    Papua New Guinea letter to PM alleges over a million dollars missing in APEC summit funds

    Controversy swirled the purchase of 40 Maseratis — now the Australian head of PNG's APEC Authority warns of hundreds of suspicious payments and more than $1.4 million in missing APEC funds.

    Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister James Marape says he is concerned about millions of unaccounted-for dollars after the country's hosting of theAPEC Summit, but he says it is too early to make corruption allegations against anyone.

    The Australian head of Papua New Guinea's Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Authority, Chris Hawkins, warned Mr Marape that almost $1.5 million is missing following PNG's hosting of the high-stakes summit last year.

    He said there are also hundreds of suspicious payments that still need to be looked into, including dozens of payments to a hire-car company that was not engaged by the APEC Authority.

    In November 2018, the Pacific nation's hosting of the logistically challenging APEC summit was marred by controversy over the cost while so many Papua New Guineans struggle with poverty.

    Of particular note was the high profile purchase, transfer and import of dozens of Maseratis for world leaders to use to jet around capital Port Moresby in, which sparked widespread outrage.

    Mr Hawkinswrote to Mr Marape this month to raise concerns about the "missing APEC funds".

    The ABC has obtained a copy of the letter, which was also sent to five other ministers and three public officials.

    "A number of payments amounting to 3,245,052 kina ($1.4 million) have been identified as not being authorised by the APEC Authority but were expended by the Department of PM & NEC from APEC funds," the letter said.

    That money was reportedly identified after a review of more than 500 sets of payment documents valued at more than 24 million kina ($10.5 million) — but some 1,700 documents are still to be examined.

    The letter said the $10.5 millionincludes 300 separate payments of $21,600 made to a number of companies over a four-day period at the end of the 2017 financial year.

    'The country deserves to know': PM looks for answers

    An audit into the finances is still yet to be completed and, according to the letter, the final APEC report must include an audit of the APEC Authority's financial statements as prepared by a first-tier firm of PNG-based auditors and accountants.

    "While an independent auditor has been appointed … I am advised that it is now intended that the audit will be undertaken internally within the Government,"Mr Hawkins wrote.

    "This would not only contravene the APEC Act, but would raise significant issues relating to public perceptions of transparency."

    Mr Marape told the ABC he is "bothered" and "concerned" by the reports of missing money.

    "Millions haven't been accounted for, I'm concerned about this — exactly what are the expenditure areas? I have no knowledge of where the expenditures went," he said.

    "Millions were transacted for APEC, the country deserves to know and all the stakeholders who supported APEC deserve to know exactly the status of those expenditures."

    He said he had already asked Mr Hawkins, Chief Secretary Isaac Lupari and Finance Secretary Ken Ngangan to present a report to him by the end of Tuesday.

    "They say they're waiting for the audit report to come in, but audited report aside, I said some sort of report must come to us, for us to have oversight as to what has exactly happened," he told the ABC.

    "I'm seeing that they're pushing blame around."

    However, he said it was too early to make corruption allegations.

    "I've got no basis to establish that fact. The report will establish that fact."

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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