What could the Opposition Leader possibly owe businessman, Jimmy Tse that would see him facilitating Tse’s considerable enrichment to the detriment of the people of Papua New Guinea…and not just once?
By PNG Echo.
The recently exposed Telikom land deal and the Bewani palm oil project both share the involvement of businessman Jimmy Tse and the Opposition Leader, Belden Norman Namah.
In a complicated web of intrigue and double dealing, Tse and Namah were seemingly acting in cahoots although it’s not immediately apparent which man has the starring role and which is the bit player, nor at what point in time this unholy alliance was forged.
The Telikom deal
With typical misguided grandiosity, Namah reminded the nation that when the original Telikom deal was sealed by Henry and Jimmy Tse for PNG Land Ltd, he was “…paying the sacrifice for the nation and its 7 and a half million people in gaol, in Bomana.”
Jimmy Tse was front and centre of the Telikom deal from the beginning – but it was only when he was having trouble completing the particularly lucrative contract, almost a decade later, that his, by then, business associate, Belden Norman Namah, rode in like a knight in shining armour and ensured that the deal went through.
This is notwithstanding that the sale represented a huge monetary loss to the seven and a half million people of Papua New Guinea to the benefit of Mr Tse, with whom Namah’s allegiances seemed to lie.
In Parliament recently, Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, queried the sale of the land to PNG Land Ltd, for K4.3 million when the land was valued by two separate entities at K32 million and K75.6 million respectively (2012).
Especially concerning was that, according to IPBC Managing Director Wasantha Kumarasiri, the sale was in breach of Section 46 of the IPBC Act that states that a state-owned enterprise must not sell or lease any land for a consideration over K1 million without IPBC approval. If there was none, the sale was wrong from the get go, and it seems there wasn’t.
Influential people opposed the sale, so for Tse’s champion, Belden Namah, all was not ‘plain sailing’.
Peter Loko, Managing Director of Telikom resisted the Ministerial directive from the Acting Public Enterprise Minister (Namah) to complete the sale.
But Namah was determined.
Loko paid the price of his opposition and was subsequently relieved of his position in favour of former apparatchik of the PNG Party, Charles Litau, who was installed as the CEO by the O’Namah government. Only then was the sale completed in 2012.
Namah’s denial that Loko’s removal from his position at Telikom had anything to do with the sale, calls for a complete suspension of all disbelief. A tall order when all the ducks are in a row.
It takes a similar suspension of disbelief to buy Namah’s proffered explanation of “only enforcing a court order.” After all, who can forget with what reverence Namah holds the courts of PNG? (That last statement requires the aid of an ‘ironic font’.)
And in the interim, the Tses are laughing all the way to the bank.
The Opposition Leader of PNG has helped them to wrest a substantial legacy from the people of PNG. What delicious irony for these naturalized citizens?
Bewani: Fast forward to 2008: The granting of the lease
Well actually, we need to go back further.
By 2007, Belden Norman Namah, having only been out of jail for a few short years, had already become a millionaire (from logging – more about that in a future edition).
He had contributed such large amounts to the National Alliance election campaign, that, on Namah’s success as a candidate for Vanimo Green, he was awarded the Ministerial Portfolio of Forestry in the Somare government.
No one questioned the conflict of interests that having a logger as Minister of Forestry represented. And this newly-mandated legislator wasted no time exploiting the high office.
In with the main chance, Namah, in 2007, introduced legislation that amended the Forestry Act (section 90) to allow large-scale conversion of forests for agriculture (Special Agricultural Business Leases – SABLs).
That done, and not allowing the grass to grow beneath his feet, by March 2008, Namah had set up Bewani Palm Oil Development Ltd (BPODL), of which he was sole shareholder, to take advantage of his own successful legislation.
The company was seeking a SABL over a huge tract (139,909 hectares) of prime forest (customary land) in Bewani, Sandaun Province.
One month later, enter Jimmy Tse ( he of the Telikom deal).
Mysteriously, at this time, Namah sold the company to Jimmy Tse for an undisclosed cash amount (before the SABL was granted).
Effectively, a person with no connection to the landowners whatsoever was about to own an SABL of almost 140,000 hectares – facilitated by the then Minister of Forestry.
The lease , the landowners, their representatives and other facilitators
Tse had to wait until July of the same year to have the SABL granted.
The deal was signed off by Pepi Kimas the then Secretary of the Department of Land and Physical Planning who complained to the Commission of Inquiry into SABLs (COI SABL – that has been recently completed) that he was under considerable pressure to grant the lease “from the Prime Minister’s level down.”
I imagine Tse was putting his own pressure on Namah having expectations of owning a substantial SABL when he bought Namah out.
Subsequently, in November 2008, Tse issued additional shares in the company (999,900) and in March of 2009 transferred them thus:
- 80% to a foreign company Million Miles Group Ltd, (whose director, Andrew Lim is a notorious Malaysian logger) who were going to work the Bewani palm oil project (and, I assume, sub-lease the land.)
- 15% to the landowners
- 5% to Bewani Palms Management Ltd (BPML) – a company whose sole director is currently Philip Eludeme who is also currently, Head of The Central Supply and Tenders Board (CSTB) and the man of NPF Inquiry infamy.Past directors of BPML have purportedly been Charles Litau (Head of Telikom when the Telikom land deal went through), and former PNG Party apparatchik) and Bob Namah.
The plot thickens
But the machinations weren’t over.
in a subsequent mysterious deal the sub-lease is sold to a different entity to Andrew Lim’s, effectively cutting him out of the deal.
Malaysians Kim Tee Tee (who was a passenger on the Falcon Jet with Namah in November, 2011 where two Indonesian fighter jets took a sinister interest) and Lip Hia Tee obtained the sub-lease on behalf of their company, Bewani Oil Palm Plantations Ltd and would run the palm oil plantation.
In October 2010, all shares in Bewani Palm Oil Development Ltd, are transferred to four landowners companies (notwithstanding that they’d already once been transferred to Million Miles Group). In the agreement Tse signed with the Tee’s, he agreed that the rental for the term of the sub-lease (99 years) would stand at Nil.
For this substantial landholding the rental would be nil for almost one hundred years.
From the transcript of the SABL Inquiry on 21 November 2011:
Peter Wuni (landowner): My concern is with this paper and the conditions here [lease agreement for Bewani]. It says that we have given our land free. My thinking is, the landowners, we did not give our consent to give this land free.
Commissioner: So who are the people that sold it off?
Peter Wuni: My thinking is they handpicked a minority group and signed these papers in Port Moresby.
Commissioner: By who [sic. ie – Who picked the minority group]?
Peter Wuni: Myself, I will say that the former forest minister, Belden Namah.
To top off the deal, the Malaysian sub-lease holders operating the Bewani palm oil Project were granted a ‘tax holiday’ of 10 years to compensate them for having to first clear the land of trees (log) – notwithstanding that ‘clearing the trees’ (otherwise known as ‘logging’) will be highly profitable, bringing them riches beyond the wildest dreams of most PNGeans.
In a recent ironic twist, Chairman of BPODL, John Wuni, (identified by his brother, above as one of Namah’s “handpicked” lieutenants ) has spoken out against Namah and the Malaysian company operating the Palm Oil business, He is accusing Namah of fraud and threatening to run the Malaysian developers out of Vanimo
These are the deals that one PNG politician (at least) is doing – for the benefit of his people. (I need that ironic font again.)
What’s it all mean?
How strong is the Namah/Tse connection?
It is evident what Jimmy and Henry Tse stand to make from the Telikom land deal, it is less evident what he made from the Bewani deal and why the negotiated deal with the sub-lease holders was so inequitable.
Why did Belden Namah sell off the company to Jimmy Tse so quickly, even before the lease was in place – a question about which the Commission of Inquiry was also curious?
Was Namah’s passing of the legislation and his subsequent acquisition of a company that applied for a SABL just to facilitate a deal for Jimmy Tse?
How far back does Namah’s association go with Tse?