PNG admits Maserati purchase was ‘terrible mistake’ as they go on sale at discounted price

By Leanne Jorari

A fleet of Maserati cars, bought by the Papua New Guinean government for the 2018 Apec leaders’ summit in a move that prompted widespread outrage, has been put up for discounted sale.

Finance minister, John Pundari, admitted the purchase of the luxury vehicles was a “terrible mistake”, according to the Post Courier, as he announced the vehicles will be put on the market for a discount price of K400,000 (AU$158,000).

The government, led by former prime minister Peter O’Neill, bought the cars for K500,000 (AU$197,000) each, spending K20m (AU$7.9m) in total.

“If we had any foresight, the Maseratis would not have been purchased in the first place. We made a terrible mistake. If you have got no dealers of Maseratis in PNG, there was no reason to buy Maseratis,” he said.

The luxury vehicles, bought through a dealer in Sri Lanka and flown in by a jumbo jet charter, sparked widespread controversy in the weeks leading up to the 2018 Leaders’ Summit.

The vehicles were bought to chauffeur world leaders who attended the summit, however due to the controversy surrounding them, some leaders like New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern refused to be driven in them.

To quell public outrage, then Apec minister Justin Tkatchenko, promised the country that the vehicles would “sell like hot-cakes”. Three years later, only two have been sold.

Maserati vehicles on the tarmac in Papua New Guinea.
Maserati vehicles on the tarmac in Papua New Guinea. Photograph: HANDOUT/Reuters

“The purchase demonstrates a severe lack of foresight and disappointing, apparent readiness to squander public funds, in a developing country, where basic public goods, from access roads to health services, are widely unavailable or severely substandard,” said Paul Barker, executive director for the PNG Institute of National Affairs.

Barker has been a vocal critic of the purchase and expressed skepticism about the government’s assertion it would find a market for the cars after APEC ended, saying the vehicles were unsuitable for local road conditions, there were no in-country agencies to service the cars.

In 2019, James Marape, then finance minister, and now prime minister, led local press to a Port Moresby warehouse in which the vehicles were stored, to show that none of the cars were missing or stolen and were still in mint condition.

A full report on the government’s Apec spending is yet to be released publicly.