Some folks in economically-struggling Papua New Guinea weren’t thrilled when their leadership approved the acquisition of expensive Maserati Quattroportes and other vehicles to drive around foreign leaders during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit last November. And now that the event has long concluded, there’s a problem: Police are still on the hunt to get some of the cars back.
The number of missing vehicles is currently at 284, according to Reuters. So, where are Papua New Guinea’s vehicles? Well, the answer is, it’s complicated.
First, why there was so much public outcry over the purchase of the vehicles. Last fall, the government released this statement apparently trying to justify the acquisition of the expensive vehicles in a country then suffering a polio outbreak:
In the press release, APEC minister and current member of parliament for Moresby South and Minister for Sports Justin Tkatchenko describes why the country bought the Maseratis, saying:
“The sedans will provide the level of carriage for Leaders that is the standard for vehicles used at APEC Summits…Papua New Guinea is delivering a world-class APEC Summit and we are ensuring Leaders and dignitaries are transported properly between events through APEC week.”
He also says in the release that buying vehicles for such use has been done before, and that, in the end, Papua New Guinea would bear no cost. In particular, per the Papua New Guinea Post-Courier, the country would sell the cars to the private sector:
Tkatchenko dismissed the backlash, saying the government had only paid a deposit – believed to be about K40m – for the cars, which would be reimbursed by private citizens who had expressed interest in buying them after APEC.
But in December, the Post-Courier wrote that the cars still hadn’t been sold, and that inventory would be taken in two weeks. Well, now it’s February, and many of the cars still haven’t been returned, with Reuters speaking with police superintendent Dennis Corcoran. From the story:
“There are 284 vehicles … that were issued to personnel to use during APEC that haven’t been returned as yet,” said Superintendent Dennis Corcoran, who heads the State Asset Recovery Unit.
The vehicles include Landcruisers, Fords, Mazdas and Pajeros, he said, but not the luxury marques, which have been tracked down and recovered.
The good news is that the Maseratis and three Bentleys are “in top condition and locked away in the old wharf shed down on the main wharf,” according to Corcoran.
The story goes on to say that nine of the vehicles issued for APEC had allegedly been stolen, and that some cars had been returned “pretty seriously damaged” according to the superintendent. In a statement to German news agency DPA International on Wednesday, he said that there will be repercussions:
“The state assets especially vehicles purchased by government agencies and authorised for certain purposes have been claimed by certain individuals through unlawful means…Anyone [who] obtained or is in possession of state assets through illegal means will be arrested and charged.”
Reuters says in its story that police think they know where the nine stolen cars are, and that according to a government spokesperson, many of the cars that haven’t been returned are either in government lots or being used in a public service capacity (such as by firefighters or paramedics).
In addition, the story indicates that police superintendent Corcoran is sure he can come up with the vehicles since he has a list of who signed them out, telling the news site:
“Basically, I know where all 284 vehicles that I’ve got to collect are”
It is worth noting, though, that PNG’s Constabulary Chief Superintendent Dominic Kakas told DPA International something a bit more bleak on Wednesday:
“We are currently investigating the cars and their status. We are not sure exactly where they are”
He also said that the PNG Department of Finance had asked the police to assist with rounding up the cars, and that a special police unit had been formed for the task.
It seems that PNG has a lot of cars to round up.