Thursday, March 05, 2009

Police Minister grilled over deals

Rambi denies using position to get payment


By MADELEINE AREK in The National


PRIME Minister Sir Michael Somare was yesterday pressured to investigate allegations that millions of kina from the Police Department were pumped into a car rental company owned by Minister for Internal Security Sani Rambi, The National reports.

The Opposition raised the allegations on the floor of Parliament yesterday, and Sir Michael promised to look into the matter.

But while Mr Rambi admitted his company was doing business with police, he denied using his position to influence payments.

Bulolo MP Sam Basil told Parliament Mr Rambi had placed himself in a conflict of interest position, and this was a stumbling block in the minister’s administration of his duties as police minister.

Mr Basil alleged that Mr Rambi and Police Commissioner Gari Baki needed to be investigated over their alleged involvement in diverting millions of kina that could have been used to improve the working conditions of police personnel throughout the country into the Mt Hagen-based car rental company.

He also told Parliament that Mr Baki operated two bank accounts, the police commissioner’s trust account and the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary infrastructure trust account into which monies transferred for special operations were being used “uncontrollably”.

Mr Basil identified Mr Rambi’s company as Mountain Hire Cars Limited, which he said had a very lucrative business engagement with the police force.

“The bills run into millions (of kina) which can be saved and used for vehicle purchases that can be used by the police department, which can cut costs by almost 50%, and the savings expanded into other logistical support that the department did not have,” Mr Basil said.

“Millions of kina had been transacted into these accounts for special operations and some excessive funds have run dry, therefore, bringing the morale of investigating officers very low.

“Regular cashing out of cheques and transfer of funds to other operating accounts needed to also be scrutinised,” he added.

He later circulated to the media copies of what appeared to be bank transactions of those accounts.

Mr Basil asked the Prime Minister to appoint an independent auditor to probe the expenditure in those two trust accounts, and monies paid to the car rental company.

Sir Michael said he would look into this as he had received documents relating to the matter and was aware of it.

Speaking to The National outside Parliament, Mr Rambi did not deny that his company, Mountain Hire Cars Limited, had business with the police department.

He said the department, in fact, still owed him K700,000 in outstanding hire car fees.

Mr Rambi said the payments were for a five-year period, from 2002 to 2006, before he entered politics and were for police special and election operations in the Highlands.

Mr Baki concurred with Mr Rambi, saying the department owed K1.2 million to two other Mt Hagen-based car rental companies.

Mr Rambi said Mountain Hire Cars leased vehicles to the police department for the Chuave and Anglimp-South Waghi by-elections as well as all the cars that were used in the state of emergency in Southern Highlands province.

However, all that was before he entered politics in 2007.

And, while he did receive some payments, Mr Rambi said he did not take it up as a matter of priority after winning in the 2007 general elections and was given the police ministry because he knew it would amount to a “conflict of interest” situation.

“I have been paid only K1.5 million; the State still owes me K700,000,” Mr Rambi said.

He said after he became minister, the police department rented vehicles from his company only once – during the ethnic clash in Mt Hagen last year.

He said the vehicles were rented for 42 days, but he got paid for 21 days’ use only.

He did not say by how much.


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