NOOSA – The board of the Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) faces a challenge from ex-Major Charlie Lynn today over its decision to support third parties with funding designated for track infrastructure.
The KTA is holding a forum in Port Moresby amidst another controversy over what critics say has been a failure to support reforms to improve the welfare of guides, carriers and communities along the Kokoda Trail.
Mr Lynn, whose company Adventure Kokoda has self-regulated reforms and is leading a push to have other trek companies do the same, has asked that the issue of third party funding be placed on the agenda of today’s meeting.
He has also demanded that the matter take precedence due to the urgency and potential illegality of KTA’s plan to fund a scholarship program proposed by NGO the Kokoda Track Foundation.
Mr Lynn said KTA should reverse its decision to donate money to an Australian NGO and instead use the funds to save the life of a 14 year old Kokoda schoolgirl.
He said 80% of funds from trek permit fees are required to be used for community infrastructure projects on the Trail with 20% set aside for administration expenses.
“There is no mention of supporting a third party such as the Kokoda Track Foundation in any sort of scholarship program,” he said.
“If there is no proper authorisation by the Board and the KTA does not annul the agreement with KTF, Adventure Kokoda will reserve its right to proceed with legal action against the KTA over the unauthorised use of trek fee income to a third party.”
Mr Lynn’s ire has been amplified by the case of schoolgirl Freda Dumu of Kokoda, who has a serious congenital heart defect requiring urgent surgery that is not available in Papua New Guinea and would cost $100,000 in Australia.
In seeking Mr Lynn’s help, Freda’s mother Doreen, a nurse at the Kokoda Hospital, wrote in January, that “further delay of her operation has been a concern for us which is becoming desperate, thereby resulting in our plea”.
Seeking to assist, Mr Lynn approached PNG’s health minister, who did not reply, and two other organisations, which did not have the funds required.
He then contacted the Kokoda Track Authority and suggested it contact each of the 600 Australians who trekked Kokoda during the Anzac period to seek donations for Freda’s operation.
“For reasons known only to the KTA they did not respond,” Mr Lynn said.
“On Monday I learned that the KTA, which has not produced a financial statement for seven years, suddenly ‘found’ K350,000 ($147,600) worth of trek fees in some KTA Account to donate to an Australian NGO to pay the ‘parent contribution project fees’ for 1,850 primary students from ‘along and around the Kokoda Track’.
“This is obviously an illegal disbursement of KTA funds which are supposed to be used for ‘community development’ along the Trail.
“An amount of this magnitude should require KTA board approval,” Mr Lynn said.
“This is obviously not possible because the KTA Board has been dysfunctional for a number of years – no board minutes have ever been distributed and no audited financial reports have ever been published to account for the K13 million ($5.5 million) they have collected in trek fees over the past decade.”
Mr Lynn said that Freda can no longer attend school because of her heart condition and “her parents are beyond desperate in seeking support for her as she battles to stay alive.
“It must gall them to know that her plight is being ignored by the very organisation that was established to help her.
“Her only hope now is for the Acting CEO of the KTA to reverse his decision to give K350,000 ($147,600) trek fees away to an NGO and offer to pay for the operation that will save Freda’s life.”