A little-known Singaporean company, Paladin Holdings Pte has been in the limelight in Australian news recently for being awarded A$420 million (S $407 million) in contracts to provide security services in refugee detention centers in Manus Island, which is part of Papua New Guinea.
Questions about the company arose when the Australian Financial Review reported that it had very little experience with providing security services.
In addition to this, Paladin was found to have ties with a senior official from Papua New Guinea and that its registered address was a beach hut on Kangaroo Island. Paladin has since changed its office address to a serviced office in Canberra on Monday.
Christian Porter, Australia’s attorney-general, spoke up in defense of Paladin’s security contracts. In a media interview, Porter said that the tender “was the subject of a full independent Commonwealth procurement process”.
When asked further about the contracts, he added, “I’m sure that the claims are going to be very thoroughly investigated. The reality is that doing these types of things offshore in Papua New Guinea and in Nauru is a very costly exercise.”
However, the attorney general also said that the claims of the connection between Paladin and the official from Papua New Guinea, whose family lives in Manus Island, “have to be investigated thoroughly”.
Paladin’s operations in Manus are included in Australia’s policy of keeping refugees and asylum seekers in camps in different islands in the Pacific, some of whom have gotten stuck there for several years.
Australia has come under fire from other countries, as well as human rights organizations, who have criticized this policy as unnecessarily harsh.
These organizations have taken issue with both the conditions in the camps, as well as the length of time it has taken to process asylum-seekers.
The refugee policy is under the purview of Peter Dutton, Australia’s Home Affairs Minister. Dutton has only commented, however, that the tender process involving Paladin had been accomplished by lower-level officials.
Other Australian leaders have called for transparency from the government, particularly Murray Watt, an opposition Labor Senator.
“It’s about time they started providing some answers, about why A$400 million in taxpayer contracts can go to a company that no one has heard of, with no scrutiny about how the money is being spent,” said Watt, in reference to Home Affairs officials being questioned in Parliament this week.
In late 2017, a court in Papua New Guinea ruled that the camp on Manus Island was unconstitutional, and refugees from that camp were relocated to three other centers.
Growing criticism for Australia’s refugee policy, both on international and local levels, caused some security and service providers to cease their services to these camps.
But Australia has claimed that more asylum seekers are yet to come and therefore announced at the beginning of the month that it would reopen a detention centre on Christmas Island.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters, “We have approved putting in place the reopening of the Christmas Island detention facilities, both to deal with the prospect of arrivals as well as dealing with the prospect of transfers.”
A considerable victory was won by the opposition Labor party and independents, who voted to change existing immigration laws, in order for doctors to be allowed to move around 1,000 men and women from detention centers in Nauru and Manus Island should they be in need of medical attention. This amendment was approved by the Senate on February 13.
In the past, no refugees detained in Nauru and Papua New Guinea were allowed to come to Australia until the Government agreed to their need for critical medical care.
The Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea has publicly weighed in on the matter concerning Paladin Holdings as well, urging Australia to launch an investigation of the awarding of the multimillion-dollar contract.
He told the media, “We welcome any investigation by Australian authorities in the manner in which the issued Paladin contract was awarded to an inexperienced and unknown company but that is a matter for the Australian government. We will request a full briefing on this matter from our Immigration Department who handles all operational issues with Australia.”
He added that the Government of Papua New Guinea had “no input into the awarding of this contract in Canberra”.
Despite Australia’s Home Affairs officials claiming that Paladin’s performance was satisfactory, court documents show that the Home Affairs department had asked that Craig Thrupp, Paladin’s managing director and major shareholder, around half a year ago.
According to Senator Stirling Griff, “This puts into question the department’s assertion that it has been satisfied with Paladin as a service provider. It needs to lay on the table the full chronological history of its dealings with Paladin and the actions it is currently taking and intends to take going forward.”
Questions arose when the multimillion-dollar security contracts were awarded to Paladin without any other contenders considered, even though Toll Holdings, a multinational company well-known in the industry, expressed interest in the contract.