ASIA NEWS DESK
| British Broadcasting Corporation
LONDON - Papua New Guinea has admitted making a ‘terrible mistake’ after struggling to sell a £4.2m (K20 million) fleet of luxury cars bought to impress politicians during a meeting of regional leaders.
The then-O’Neill government boasted the Maseratis would be snapped up after being used for the 2018 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference.
The purchase caused a controversy, with some leaders, including New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, refusing to use them.
Now the country - one of the poorest in the Pacific - will sell them at a loss.
"If we had any foresight, the Maseratis would not have been purchased in the first place," finance minister Sir John Pundari told local media.
"I don't know the reasons we went down the path of purchasing Maseratis and now we are caught up with this dilemma," he added.
The cars will now be sold for around K400,000 each ($A160,000), around a 20% loss on the original price.
The Quattroporte sedans were bought through a dealer in Sri Lanka and flown into the country by a chartered jumbo jet.
At the time, the country's APEC minister, Justin Tkatchenko, defended the purchase, claiming that the cars would provide "the level of carriage for leaders that is the standard for vehicles used at APEC summits".
Mr Tkatchenko claimed that the vehicles would "sell like hot-cakes" once the summit had concluded and then prime minister O'Neill promised that the government "will not be out of any funds".
However, the cars have reportedly remained in a warehouse in Port Moresby since the summit ended.
In 2019, James Marape, then finance minister and now prime minister, led local media to the warehouse in an attempt to prove that none of the cars were missing or stolen.
The country also faced other difficulties soon after the summit.
In November 2018, police and security forces stormed the parliament buildings in a dispute over unpaid bonuses of around K350.
Authorities were also forced to appeal for the return of almost 300 other cars that went missing after being loaned to officials during the summit.
Papua New Guinea is one of the poorest countries in APEC, with 40% of the population living on less than K4 a day according to the United Nations.