The Swamp Ghost

PAC nails museum
The National [July 5, 2006 ]

By ISAAC NICHOLAS
THE National Museum and Art Gallery did not keep records of more than 30 war relics sold. Yesterday, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) ordered that the museum furnished it with these records and other documents within 48 hours. The inquiry also learnt that the sales were in direct breach of the Public Finance Management Act and financial instructions.

At the centre of yesterday’s inquiry was the Swamp Ghost, which received widespread publicity two months ago when it was salvaged from Oro and taken to Lae in Morobe province for shipment to the United States. Acting museum director Simon Poraituk was yesterday lost and confused when told of the relevant laws preventing the sale of war relics in the absence of any ministerial or cabinet approval. Mr Poraituk said he only knew of the National Museum Board of Trustees, representing the State, and a memorandum of agreement to enter into a sale agreement with a client.

He had nothing to say about breaching the Public Finance Management Act, or that no proper tender procedures were followed in entering into any sale arrangements. Acting PAC chairman Chris Haiveta said under the War Surplus Materials Act, all war surpluses are State property and lawful procedures must be followed when dealing with them. The National Museum and Art Gallery had failed that responsibility, he said.

In the 48-hour deadline, the PAC ordered the museum to produce:
*Statement of reasons for the sale of war relics;
*Statement to identify the basis for the issuance of an export permit;
*Schedule for the export permit;
*A full record of the sale of more than 30 war relics and financial records of the sales; and
*Meet with the Auditor-General to provide all financial records.

On the Swamp Ghost deal, Mr Poraituk said US$100,000 (K298,075) had been deposited by US buyers Aero Archeology into a holding account at the Westpac Bank in Port Moresby.
He said under a memorandum of agreement, 50% of that amount will go to the museum, 25% to the landowners and 25% to the Oro provincial government.

The agent acting for Aero Archeology is Robert Grienert, a collector of war relics with a museum in Sydney, Australia, was also summoned before the inquiry yesterday. Grienert said he was first hired by the museum to value the Swamp Ghost. He found that the plane had suffered heavy corrosion and “you can peel skins of the aircraft”, leaving it with a value of about K12,000. He said the company spent K20,000 on motor hire and local labour during the salvage operation.


 
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