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Friday 1 April 2016 | Published in Regional


NAURU – Some of Nauru’s most powerful families are benefiting financially from the island’s multi-million-dollar Australian-funded refugee processing centres.

When Australia and Nauru reopened detention centres on the tiny island nation four years ago, it was pledged that the tens of millions of dollars to be poured into Nauru would offer “a broader benefit” to the community.

While household incomes have improved across the board on Nauru, some locals appear to be benefiting more from the policy than others.

Documents obtained by the ABC show that some Nauruan politicians have family members who own shares in the land on which Regional Processing Centre 3 (RPC3) is located, while relatives of Nauru’s Minister of Justice and Border Protection, David Adeang, have secured contracts and high-level jobs at the centre.

Processing centre service provider Broadspectrum stands by its tender assessments, and while the Australian Government is spending tens of millions of dollars redeveloping the site, the Immigration Department said land leases were the responsibility of the government of Nauru.

Lease agreements for Nauru’s main refugee processing centre obtained by the ABC show that some Nauruan politicians have family members with interests in the 5.6 hectare site, which earns at least $480,000 in rent each year.

The land is a mined-out phosphate site in the island’s interior, left largely barren after decades of mining.

The mother of Nauru’s Environment Minister, Aaron Cook, earns rent worth $30,000 a year from the lease, making her the second largest beneficiary of all 256 landowners listed.

Several other Nauruan politicians, including opposition MPs, also have family members listed in the lease agreement.

It includes Adeang, who in a leaked email sent days before the Australian resettlement deal was struck in 2013, told his cabinet colleagues:

“The proposed site for RPC3 is a site largely owned by the Daimon clan, of which I am a member. I clearly have an interest – albeit tiny because I’m fourth generation in a huge family,” Adeang said at the time.

“But it’s important our caucus know that I played no part in the selection of the site.”

Adeang signed off on the lease agreement, on behalf of the government of Nauru, in June 2014.

Pacific political analyst Tess Newton Cain said a lack of public land in Nauru was one possible explanation.

“The land was going to belong to somebody, the land is owned by customary owners, so from what I understand there is little or no government owned land,” she said. “So somebody was going to get the benefit of the rent.”

Former president Sprent Dabwido, banned from sitting in parliament for nearly two years for speaking to the foreign media said his administration had already bought land for the third camp, RPC3, before losing office earlier in 2013. However, this site was never used.

“I was hoping that the Australians could build on the land that is owned by the government of Nauru. So every single Nauruan will have a benefit of that, instead of just landowners. But that’s all changed,” he said.

Nauru’s former resident magistrate Peter Law said he remembered the land purchase.

“I knew about that because it was very controversial, it hadn’t been done before, the government owns very little land,” he said.

“But it seemed to me from everything I knew about it to be a very worthwhile process, and one with integrity and highly appropriate.

“It certainly would have been one that would have benefited all of Nauru and Nauruans generally, rather than a select few, which appears to be the case with the current lease.”

While Adeang’s family does have only a small interest in the land selected for the third processing centre, Dabwido said the Justice Minister had links to the larger landowners.

“All the camps are built on his land. He’ll have some share in all of these camps. But where he has a small share, the bigger share there will belong to his campaign managers or his supporters,” Dabwido said.

As well as the rent, centre landowners will also benefit from the $10.5 million redevelopment of the site, paid for by the Australian Government.

The three-phase project includes the new air-conditioned housing that refugees are currently residing in, built on the same land as the processing centre.

The second phase of the project will cost a further $11.4 million, and according to the agreement, the buildings will become the landowners’ property at the end of the lease.

Dabwido said the additional Australian investment in the site goes against the principles of the resettlement agreement.

“They build on these people’s lands, and as soon as RPC leaves Nauru – in, let’s say, five or whatever years – these people have $20 million worth of assets,” he said.

“Not the Nauruan people, not the Nauruan Government. To me that’s almost a crime, in my view. Because we’re here to develop Nauru, not to develop individual families.”

Adeang’s family members have also secured high-level jobs and contracts at the detention centre.

One of his cousins, Bervena Adeang, is the operations manager at the camp, the top government-appointed position.

Jovick Adeang, another cousin of the justice minister, previously held the local security contract at the site, awarded by the Australian company Wilson Security, which are in turn sub-contracted by primary service provider Broadspectrum.

Suspended opposition MP Mathew Batsiua said perceived interference in detention centre contracts has been a complaint on the island for some time.

“There was a lot of comments around Nauru – Nauru is a small community – that the contracts were not being awarded fairly. There were accusations of nepotism in the selection process,” he said.

“The ultimate aim is for David Adeang as minister for justice to be able to have a big say or influence what the companies do.”

Service provider Broadspectrum responded to allegations of political interference by defending its tender process, which it said involves comprehensive assessments.

Newton Cain said concerns over perceived nepotism were not helped by the lack of transparency in how processing centre contracts were awarded.

“Nauru is a very small place and the connections between people are very complex. The reality is that you are going to be doing business with people that you know, and possibly with people that you’re related to,” she said.

“I think it does highlight what we’ve known for a long time, which is that there is a degree of opacity about how those Australian contracts are awarded.”

Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection referred questions on lease arrangements to the Government of Nauru, while the government of Nauru said it would not be responding to any questions regarding contracts or leases, the ABC reported.