By JEFFREY ELAPA
A GOVERNMENT minister has questioned how K26.2 million of the development budget was allocated when Joseph Lelang was reinstated as secretary of the Department of National Planning and Monitoring by the court early this year, The National reports.
Minister for National Planning and Monitoring Paul Tiensten said K26,287,777.75 was drawn from the development funds and paid to two organisations within three days after Lelang, who was on suspension, was reinstated by the court.
He said within two days, three separate cheques of K235,925.25 each were raised to be paid to the Korowi law firm as legal costs.
Altogether, K707,775.75 was paid to the law firm.
The cheques (000509 and 000512), for K235,925.25, were raised on June 23 this year.
A cheque (000514) for the same amount was raised the next day and addressed to Korowi Lawyers.
Tiensten said another cheque (000513) for K290,000 was paid to Vigilant Ltd for security services provided on June 24 this year.
Another cheque (000522), dated June 27, for the same amount was paid to the same company.
Tiensten also revealed a move to refer lawyer Philemon Korowi to the PNG Law Society for unprofessional conduct and for illegally obtaining development funds.
He said Korowi Lawyers was not engaged by the state, through the Department of Justice and Attorney-General, to provide legal services.
“No efforts will be spared by the government to recover all payments fraudulently paid to this Vigilant security firm and a company called Niugini Ltd belonging to Lelang and Jeffrey Yakopia,” he said.
Tiensten said according to last year’s development budget expenditure report, two of Lelang’s political associates (named) had illegally obtained development funds totalling more than K25 million.
The matter is under investigation.
“I am of the view that Korowi Lawyers and its principal Philemon Korowi be referred to the police fraud squad and the law society for his unethical and unprofessional behaviour.
“Such actions by the government will minimise such practice by lawyers using the judiciary and court system to defraud the state,” Tiensten said.
However, Korowi yesterday welcomed Tiensten’s move to refer the matter to the police fraud squad and the law society.
He said he had no idea of three payments allegedly made to him.
“I only know of one cheque of the said amount and I do not know of the other two cheques.
“How can I be paid three times for the same amount?
“I was only owed one amount for legal fees and trying to get double payment is not my style.”
Lelang said Tiensten was trying to divert attention from the real issue of fraud of public funds by officers from his office and the department’s senior management.
He said the payment made to Korowi was in accordance with a court order in which the National Court ordered the state to pay for legal fees together with the orders of his reinstatement.
Lelang said the payment made to Vigilant Ltd was done in accordance with the Public Finance Management Act, which allowed him to exercise his powers to make payments of less than K300,000.
He said the procurement processes were met and there was nothing sinister about the payments.
He said the security firm was picked because it gave the lowest quotation from the three received.
He also denied making any payments to the two people named.