‘Mexican standoff’ ends, as PNG court orders locks removed over unpaid bills

The PNG goverment lockout over rents
The five major PNG government agencies affected by the lockout were the Department of Finance, Department of Treasury, Department of Lands, Department of National Planning and Internal Revenue Commission. Image: PNG Post-Courier

PNG Post-Courier

The Mexican standoff over the closure of Papua New Guinea government offices due to nonpayment of rentals has ended.

The National Court has ordered superannuation fund landlord Nambawan Supa Limited (NSL) to remove all locks to Vulupindi Haus, Treasury Haus, Eda Tano Haus in Waigani and Revenue Haus in downtown Port Moresby.

At the same time, the government has honoured its commitment to pay a further instalment of K30 million (NZ$15.3 million) to NSL, bringing the outstanding total paid up to K82 million (NZ$42 million).

The Waigani National Court presided by acting judge Justice Emma Wurr granted on Friday the ex-parte application filed by Finance Secretary Dr Ken Ngangan for the removal of locks to the buildings.

Dr Ngangan instituted the proceeding as the chairman of the Government Office Allocation Committee through his lawyer Milfred Wangatau of ACE Lawyers, ordering Nambawan Super Ltd to remove the locks on government offices.

NSL had locked doors to its buildings that housed major government departments over outstanding rental arrears.

The five major government agencies affected were the Department of Finance, Department of Treasury, Department of Lands, Department of National Planning and Internal Revenue Commission.

During the hearing, Wangatau submitted to the court that the state had paid NSL more than K50 million in September.

Committed to settle arrears
He submitted that while the state did admit that there may be some outstanding rental arrears, it stood committed to settle its arrears but NSL decided to go ahead and lock the offices.

“NSL’s abrupt decision to lock out very important government public service delivery agencies should be the last resort as it only goes to hold the people of the nation at ransom when vital government services are disrupted,” Wangatau submitted.

He added that damages would be irreparable if the reliefs sought in the application were not granted as it would certainly have an adverse effect on the public at large.

Wangatau further submitted that it was in the interest of justice that the court should grant temporary mandatory orders ordering NSL to unlock all the government offices and allow government business and public service delivery to return to normalcy pending the substantive hearing.

Justice Wurr agreed and granted the interim orders and adjourned the matter until this Friday, for inter parte hearing.

Among the orders issued, Justice Wurr ordered that the defendant (NSL), its employees, servants and agents must immediately unlock all doors to the Vulupindi Haus, Revenue Haus, Treasury Haus and Eda Tano Haus to allow staff and officers of the respective state departments to have access to ensure government business and service delivery can resume as usual.

Justice Wurr ordered NSL to comply with the orders immediately upon services of the orders.

NSL ‘relieved’
Meanwhile in a press statement, NSL said it was relieved to receive a further K30 million payment from the state last Friday in its new commitment to offset rental arrears it owes to the fund’s contributing members.

This brings the total amount paid by the state to K82 million.

And representatives from the Departments of Finance and Treasury have signed a Letter of Agreement committing to pay the outstanding balance of K90 million in a series of monthly payments starting in November.

Nambawan Super chairman Mr Reg Monagi said: “We are pleased to have received the second payment of K30 million and we thank the Departments of Finance and Treasury, who after extensive discussions and negotiations, have committed to an agreement for the settlement of these arrears.”

“Acting in good faith after the State’s positive actions, on Friday night, we lifted the lockout of the Revenue Haus (Internal Revenue Commission), Vulupindi Haus (Department of Finance) and EdaTano Haus (Department of Lands & Physical Planning) and Treasury Haus (Department of Treasury).

“We hope that as we have acted in good faith, the State will continue to honour its commitment to our members by settling the remaining outstanding rental arrears.

Retirement outcomes ‘now protected’
“Nambawan Super appreciates that the State has recognised how important the payment of these arrears are to ensuring that our over 214,000 members’ retirement outcomes are protected.

“The unpaid rentals that accumulated over three years have already impacted the returns for members causing fewer funds available to reinvest and grow.”

“Any further delays to the scheduled payments will have a further detrimental impact on the returns of Nambawan Super members.”

“NSL remains committed to working closely with the State to ensure the payment of all outstanding arrears are made as agreed in the payment schedule, and will not hesitate to lock out the State again if it is unable to do so,” Monagi said.

Republished with permission.

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