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Thursday, 28 February 2013

No Witch Hunt at UNITECH

Picture: Auditor General's 2011 report to Parliament with adverse opinion for UNITECH only

Anyone thinking that UNITECH's true financial situation would go unnoticed can be deemed mildly delusional.

UNITECH is financed by the tax revenues from the people of PNG, and the companies operating in the national territory. It has the unique responsibility of educating the professionals who will lead the country to a higher level of social and economic development. Its finances are therefore rightly subject to extensive and constant public scrutiny.

Witches do not exist, but auditors do, and they produce reports.

In the Auditor General's report to Parliament for 2011, a public document, UNITECH appears as the only state institution in PNG with an "adverse opinion" (see picture). It is therefore public knowledge that something is wrong with UNITECH's financial management. In fact, the external audit reports since 2006 indicate serious deficiencies in the financial administration. The former Council and management were apparently unable to take effective corrective measures. This is what prompted government interventions, and the dissolution of the former Council.

The first government intervention was the Mediation Team, which started in May last year and produced its report in November. In the process, everybody was heard, and their stories were registered. The nature of this process, however, did not allow for systematic discovery of evidence.

The second government intervention in November was the appointment of the Interim Council, when it became clear that the former council had failed in its duties of oversight, and hold the previous management accountable. This small Council with 5 members was given a specific set of priorities, which require urgent action: a fraud investigation, improved internet, professional and institutional accreditation, salary revision, among other things.

The third intervention in January this year is the official enquiry, which is now taking place under the leadership of Judge Mark Sevua.

There is no hunt either, just an honest effort to provide leadership towards the future.

Our Management team has been mostly interested in bringing UNITECH into the future, improving facilities on campus, providing leadership and professional management, and bringing teaching and research to a higher academic level.

Nobody in particular and no specific actions were required to bring the truth out about UNITECH's past finances, because it was out in the open for everybody to see: in the external audit reports, in the assessments by the professional organizations, and in the consulting reports. Staff knew, civil servants knew, students knew, and parents knew all the time.

Last year, the facts about UNITECH's finances inevitably started coming out by a chain of events that was initiated and prolonged by those who probably had a stake in hiding the truth through their incessant harassment of the UNITECH management through the courts, the media and the police. The latest is my attempted arrest, illegal deportation and ongoing exile from the country.

Back in April, I did what any professional would do, and I showed Council the situation I found UNITECH in when I took over based on the available external assessments. I was mostly interested in presenting our strategy on how to carry UNITECH forward. I said publicly and privately to former Council and management team members, that I was not primarily interested in enquiries into a past about which I knew little. To my honest surprise, however, panic broke out among Council members, and our strategy towards the future never received the attention and scrutiny it deserves.

Worried about the presentation of the UNITECH budget to treasury, the Council's Finance & General Purpose Committee (F&GPC) ordered the internal enquiry into the spending of the PIP Funds under the previous administration. Subsequently, the management team established the technical terms of reference, and a large committee with a broad membership spent a few weeks finding the evidence and reporting it. There are no single witches here, all committee members contributed. For this enquiry, normal University procedures were followed and there is no reason now to personalize the issue. The documents spoke for themselves.

We are sorry that given the time and budget restrictions, during the internal enquiry not everybody was heard. With the ongoing external enquiry ordered by the government, the full truth will undoubtedly come out. Anyone who feels unjustly accused will have the opportunity to clear their name.

Those who see witch hunts, are not shy and name a few witches of their own. We must not make this personal issue, and get stuck in conspiracy theories that do not befit educated people. The truth is coming out, because of a succession of events that was a reaction to incessant harassment of management, and attempts by former Council members to cover their tracks. This is ironic, but true. When one's actions are inspired by fear, the worst fears will become true.

Let everybody keep their heads cool in the coming months, and let the process that was decided upon by the government follow its course. We must not allow for raw emotion to cloud our judgement, for self-interest to make us speak partial truths, and for fear for inspire our actions. Those who were responsible for the management of UNITECH, should not start to act as victims in an attempt to win public sympathy, but instead take their full responsibility, and explain the signatures on the documents.

There is no witch hunt at UNITECH, the PNG Government and former Council ordered enquiries: the Mediation Team, the PIP enquiry, and now the enquiry led by Judge Sevua. Those who are in trouble now have only their own behaviour to blame, which inevitably drew attention to the past. We must not allow them to hold UNITECH hostage, but instead allow it to move beyond this phase towards new glory.

1 comment:

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