NOOSA – The veteran New Ireland politician Ben Micah died on Wednesday morning after a suspected heart attack. He was aged about 63.
Micah had previously been admitted to Port Moresby’s Pacific International Hospital.
I republish below an extraordinary mea culpa Micah wrote two years ago, when he seemed to realise his political career might be over (although cronies say he was contemplating standing again in this year’s national election).
Tough and almost certainly corrupt, Micah was first elected in 1992 and defeated in 1997 but not before he’d bought a K1.2 million house at Port Moresby’s Ela Beach, a barge back home for K700,000 and a new printing business in Port Moresby.
Although he did not return to parliament for another 15 years, Micah was PNG’s quintessential éminence grise – exercising great influence without holding an official position and never far away from the men of power.
In 1999, although no longer in parliament, Micah managed the numbers to get the outsider (and clean skin) Sir Mekere Morauta elected as prime minister.
He was appointed chairman of the Independent Public Business Corporation (IPBC), now Kumul Consolidated Holdings, as a reward.
But Morauta sacked him less than a year later after Micah spent K2.5 million ‘renovating’ his small office.
Also in 1999, the printing company went broke after the Ombudsman banned it from taking any further government business because it was overcharging and paying kickbacks to corrupt public servants. Micah was declared bankrupt.
Although he was not discharged from bankruptcy until 2009, his career as a backroom political operative continued to flourish.
Micah found a kindred spirit in prime minister Peter O’Neill and when he was again elected in 2012, he was quickly into the rorts, one of them being the occupancy of an apartment at the Grand Papua Hotel for which the IPBC, for which he was now minister, paid nearly a million kina a year.
Finally, at the 2017 national election, the people of Kavieng dispensed with his services for the last time.
In a disingenuous obituary today, the Post-Courier referred to Micah as “a political lighthouse”, which seemed to me a thoroughly poor description.
The newspaper also called him “outspoken and influential”, which I guess these days is like saying ‘crooked and cunning’.
But one thing is for sure. The boy from Emirau Island certainly knew how to accrete and use power for the benefit of himself and his cronies.
Whether in or out of office, in or out of bankruptcy, Micah invariably benefited greatly from easy wealth.
However, I have a suspicion he enjoyed even more the power he attained and the fear he wielded.
And, after that long introduction, here is Ben Micah’s extraordinary admission and apparent contrition for his years of plundering the public purse.
It was published by PNG Blogs on 10 March 2020, when Micah had been out of office for nearly three years.
BEN MICAH SAYS SORRY TO THE PEOPLE
OF PNG FOR MISUSING KPHL FUNDS
GOOD EVENING, my esteemed friends and people of Papua New Guinea.
I wish to give my thoughts on the PAC/KPHL [Public Accounts Committee / Kumul Petroleum Holdings Ltd] debate as well as offer my personal apologies to our people.
Sir John Pundari's idea to summon KPHL to appear before the PAC is a noble idea in the name of transparency and accountability.
The decision to conduct the hearing before the media and live television coverage is brilliant and unprecedented. It must be applauded.
The government must formalise this to be the new standard of public accountability.
PM Oniel [sic] was overthrown because of secrecy and corruption so the new Marape/Steven Government must embrace it.
At first, I was wondering what it is our good PAC chairman was attempting to achieve?
But now I understand that Sir John is attempting to expose some huge corruption scandal at KPHL and misappropriation of the PNG LNG proceeds.
Thank God for Sir John. Even though Sir John Pundari is never known to be an anti-corruption campaigner at all, I applaud his move.
We need more senior leaders of Sir Johns calibre to come out and not talk but action the fight against corruption.
He has been a silent complicit member of NEC [National Executive Council = Cabinet] when KPHL was established in 2015.
He was also silent when I as Minister for State Enterprise lived in a Presidential Suite at Grand Papua Hotel paid by KPHL until I quit in 2016 after my failed attempt to remove PO [Peter O’Neill].
Also, even though we were members of the same NEC that committed USD1.2 billion (K4 billion) to UBS [Bank] for the disastrous Oniell adventure to acquire 10% of Oil Search, I can recall that Sir John did not attend that meeting.
He and his brother Don Polye decided to abstain and didn't attend NEC for their own reasons. All 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 revenue went to that UBS/Oil Search deal.
Our dreams of great wealth dissipated then, together with the tumble of oil prices from USD120 to USD48.
Simply put, Peter O'Neill as PM, myself as Minister responsible for KPHL, and Wapu Sonka as MD f#&ked up big time.
You don't need a stupid enquiry before the camera just to establish that. We messed up (fullstop).
I was living a lavish lifestyle at the expense of the people sponsored by Wapu Sonk and KPHL through IPBC in a panthouse (sic) suite at Grand Papua.
PO was using KPHL as a cash cow to fund our political survival.
When there was talk of government change we would run to Wapu and get cash to pay for MPs to keep the numbers.
I cannot squarely blame former PM PO. We were all so ruthless and careless.
We were deeply entangled in the web of lies, deceits and daylight robbery of what was the people's monies.
I feel so guilty. I am sorry.
Also, I feel sorry that the PAC will grill and humiliate our professional Papua New Guinean board members and managers of our largest SOE [state-owned enterprise] for my stupidity.
It is a requirement of the KPHL Act that the company provide to NEC annual revenue and expenditure plans as part of the following year’s budget.
I presented the very first annual revenue and expenditure plan for the 2016 financial year.
I hated that plan because it committed nearly all our revenues from the foundation LNG cargo to the repayment of the UBS loan. (Though I hated it, I had no choice).
Whatever was left at the bottom of the saucepan was scooped up for DSIP, PSIP, LLGSIP [district, provincial and local government improvement slush funds] and pet projects for then PM Oniell, my Grand Papua Hotel Presidential Suite at K3,080/day and other ministers who were very demanding.
Bottom line is we all approved the expenditures of the LNG revenue to fund STUPIDITY.
Whilst I was the one who always defended PO’s reckless expenditure by offering myself to be the one to catch the first bullet for PO - both in Cabinet and Parliament - I can recall Sir John hardly contributed to the discussion but he was there.
So Sir John and PAC beating their kundu to summon all Papua New Guineans to watch on TV as the PAC unpacks the stupidity of PO, myself and Mr Sonk is commendable.
Even though we set up KPHL after the Malaysian Petronas model so that we can use it as a vehicle to grow our LNG revenue and make PNG a Dubai or Kuwait of the Pacific, that dream was lost,.
PO and I plundered PNG LNG funds when we could have been more responsible.
I hope PAC will make the appropriate recommendations to Parliament to Take Back KPHL now so that the dream will one day come true as our young people learn from our mistakes and hopefully in parliaments to come they can right the wrongs of our generation.
My advice to Sir John Pundari is to proceed full throttle and get Mr Sonk and the Board of KPHL to account for their, PO’s and my actions. I am also willing to come before PAC to answer to clear myself.
Also, PAC must request the prime minister to present the KPHL 2018 expenditure report and 2020 revenue projections as part of the budget presentation. All members of Parliament can debate the report and express their views accordingly.
And for those of you government MPs who are jumping up and down on the PAC bandwagon, keep going and give your full support to the PAC.
Raise this issue at the government caucus and directly to the prime minister and ministers. Just a little advice to guide our very robust discussions.
I, Ben Micah, former State Enterprise Minister and now private citizen, offer my deepest and sincere apologies to you, the people of PNG, for my disgraceful conduct as the Minister responsible directly for KPHL in the PO Government.
In the last few weeks, I was asked by Mr Sonk to make statements in support of KPHL which I did many times for a small fee.
From here on, I denounce my association with KPHL. My thoughts are clear now. I can see that Sir John Pundari and PAC is doing the right thing.
I fully endorse and support the work of the PAC. As a sign of my sincerity, I asked the Marape/Steven Government and full authorisation was given to take UBS and other players to Court to recover the K3 billion UBS loan money.
I will sue them on behalf of the state. Thank you PMJM [Prime Minister Hames Marape] for the confidence and the opportunity to redeem me.
Sorry, the people of Papua New Guinea.
Forgive me for my disgraceful and utmost stupid conducts.
God bless you all.