Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Some thoughts on recovering stolen money



ADDRESSING THE annual conference of the Institute of Internal Auditors in Port Moresby last Friday, PNG Ombudsman John Nero raised the prospect of recovering misappropriated funds.

Mr Nero said leadership tribunals should be empowered to order their restitution.

"As it is, a leader can steal millions of kina and is not be obligated to pay back even though found guilty by the tribunal," he told the conference.

"The public prosecutor, in consultation with the police, (needs to) invoke certain provisions of the Proceeds of Crime Act where a guilty verdict is recorded to commence recovery of stolen assets in-country or abroad.

Mr Nero went on to say there was a need for permanent leadership tribunals whose membership could comprise retired judges and magistrates, accountants, lawyers, engineers, business people and the clergy, so members could be drawn at short notice.

This would obviate the strain on judicial and magisterial services in terms of cost and stress on court programs.

He said the chief justice, in consultation with the chief magistrate, should appoint a leadership tribunal within 30 days of receiving a request from the public prosecutor.

Earlier this year the government of the Maldives Republic faced a similar problem of recovering misappropriated government funds that the former Maldives president (who himself had taken over from a kleptomaniac) had reportedly used for personal enrichment.

The previous president, Mr Gayoom, who had held power for 30 years, has now had his extravagant life style audited.

The audit report said in part: "An estimated $9.5 million was spent buying and delivering a luxury yacht from Germany for the president; $17 million was spent on renovations of the presidential palace and family houses. Mr Gayoom built a saltwater swimming pool, a badminton court and a gymnasium, and he bought 11 speed boats and at least 55 cars - including the country's only Mercedes-Benz."

The new Maldives government has asked the World Bank and the UN to help in recovering the funds, said to amount to $US 400 million.

In PNG's case, misappropriated funds recovered could be available for health, education, law and order or any one of a number of areas that desperately need assistance.

An effective audit of trust funds would be an excellent place to start. Bulolo MP Sam Basil recently highlighted the operations of government trust funds as an area needing to be audited and tightened up.

I wonder what might be revealed by an effective audit of government expenditure. Surely those charged with safeguarding PNG's public monies must urgently give thought to Mr Basil's and Mr Nero's suggestions. Who knows, perhaps the PNG Chief Justice, if he were to be sent a copy of this article, might consider these suggestions as a practical way forward? Just the thought that audits will definitely be initiated on Trust funds and those who have been guilty of misappropriation will have to repay the monies and be charged might stop or least slow down the currently reported haemorrhaging. Positive action must start somewhere.

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