The Papua New Guinea Government says it wants security company Paladin’s contract to work on Manus to be terminated at the end of the month, despite the Home Affairs Minister saying it would likely be extended.
The $423 million contract with the security company is being investigated by the Auditor-General, and ends in a fortnight.
PNG Immigration and Border Security Minister Petrus Thomas said the country’s chief migration officer had written to the Home Affairs Department about it through the High Commission in Port Moresby.
“[The] PNG Government’s position is to … terminate the Paladin contract by the end of this month,” he said.
“[The PNG Government] wants a transparent tender process.”
Mr Thomas said his government would “strongly recommend” local involvement, saying PNG companies “have the capacity and expertise to do the job and should be given the opportunity to participate”.
Just a day earlier, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the “likely arrangement is that there will be a continuation” of the contract.
He said the matter was being handled by his department.
“They have obviously got people on their panel, they’ve obviously got contracting arrangements, and they will look at the history of the people who are applying, the suitability for them to provide services, and they will make judgements based on that,” he said.
“Services need to be provided.”
He did not specify when asked if arrangements were being put in place for PNG to take over the services.
“The department will work with the PNG authorities. We’ve got to make sure we’re getting value for money,” he said.
There has been ongoing scrutiny of how little-known security firm Paladin obtained the contract to provide security and other services for the refugees and non-refugees in Papua New Guinea.
The Home Affairs Department has previously defended the awarding of the contract, which was done under a so-called “special measure” provision because there was not enough time for an open tender.
Home Affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo told a Senate hearing in February that the PNG government was planning to take over responsibility for the services in October 2017, but in July that year decided it could not proceed because it was in caretaker mode ahead of its election.
“My very strong preference would have been to have a long lead time, an open tender, a global search assisted by specialised consultants and advisers,” Mr Pezzullo said.
“That plan held fast until mid-2017 when the sovereign state of PNG advised us, ‘We don’t intend to proceed’.
“We were dealing with an urgent situation but were never desperate in doing so.”
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said Mr Dutton’s comments about extending the contract were concerning.
“We will be raising further questions in Senate estimates about the value for money – that’s the concern here,” he said in Darwin.
It has been almost six years since asylum seekers were first brought to PNG. They have been living in accommodation centres in the local community, which are guarded, since the detention centre was closed in late 2017.