By EDDIE MOSES
PNG FOREST Minister, Belden Namah, has refuted reports by the Public Accounts Committee that K100 million disappeared without trace over a three-year period and that more than K8 million in royalty payment vouchers for the years 2001-2004 and 2007 were missing.
Minister Namah, responding to last Thursday's local media reports on the missing millions in the two dailies, told reporters that, it was unfair for the National Forests Authority and its Management to be ridiculed by the press when, the matter had already been death with in 2008.
He said the issue of K100 million 'lost' or missing from the NFA is not a new issue. The Post- Courier first reported the matter on Tues, Sept 23, 2008. As far as the PNGFA is concerned, it is a dead issue.
"The MD provided explanations to re-state the facts on the next day in the same newspaper. And the fact is the K100 million is an aggregate or total of the NFA's National Budget Appropriations for the five years from 2000 to 2005,"the Minister stressed.
He stated the Auditor General (by its appointed auditors, Tengdui & Associates of Mt. Hagen) had audited the financial accounts for the five years and that all payment vouchers and records are kept by the PNGFA in accordance with the requirements of the Public Finances (Management) Act 1995.
Mr Namah said if such amounts of money had been pilfered or mismanaged, the entire NFA would have had serious operational problems.
He said, however, the Forests Authority was one of the most transparent organisations in the country.
"We have carried out major reforms in the industry and have developed one of the best Forestry Management Acts in the world and we should be commended," the Minister stressed.
He said Parliamentary Committees and any other group sensationalising issues should be mindful of the use of words such as 'misappropriation' as it harms the reputation of qualified people.
"These Committees must realise that they have to present their reports to Parliament before they can present it to the public," he said.
On the missing K8 million in royalty payment vouchers, Minister Namah said the process for collecting and accounting for royalties involves not only forests officers but landowners as well.
Minister Namah said the landowners as the resource owners know their basic right to receive royalty at the agreed intervals and they themselves ensure that the system is effective.
"It acts as a check and balance and nobody, not even the FA would mismanage these funds as the landowners would shut down logging operations if such were true," he stressed.