PNG PM SKATE IN NO HURRY TO NAME DEPUTY, NEW MINISTERS

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By Neville Togarewa

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (October 20, 1998 - The National)--- Prime Minister Bill Skate "is in no rush" to announce a new deputy and replace the five ministers he sacked last week, his spokesman said yesterday.

Mr. Skate sacked Deputy Prime Minister Michael Nali and five of his People's Progress Party (PPP) ministers last Wednesday.

He was to have announced his latest selections to the Government's front bench yesterday morning, in time for Governor General Sir Silas Atopare to sign the instruments of appointment at 10:00 a.m.

However, a Government House spokesman said Waigani had called and deferred the ceremony indefinitely, "until further notice."

This was later confirmed by a spokesman from the Prime Minister's office.

"The Prime Minister is in no rush to make the announcement until later in the week," he said.

Asked when Mr. Skate would announce his deputy, the spokesman said: "Probably at the same time as he announces the new ministers."

But an official from Government called at 3.35 p.m. and advised that the swearing-in ceremony was re-scheduled to be held at 11:00 a.m. today.

The Prime Minister's Chief of Staff and political adviser, Sir Dennis Young, could not be reached to confirm why the swearing-in ceremony was deferred yesterday and whether it would be held today.

It is understood the Government coalition partners -- Mr. Skate's PNG First Party, Treasurer Iairo Lasaro's People's Democratic Movement (PDM) and the United Resources Party (URP) -- have yet to reach agreement on the deputy prime ministership and ministers' posts.

Initially, PDM, mindful of stability in Government, said it was not interested in the post, but the party has now said that as the second largest party, with 27 MPs in the coalition, it was entitled to the deputy prime ministership.

While URP is the smallest of the governing coalition parties, with five members, it has two senior and experienced Highlands MPs who should have little problem filling in the vacancy.

They are former Petroleum and Energy Minister Masket Iangalio and Foreign Minister Roy Yaki.

"The Prime Minister has created a political vacuum which he must fill quickly. All this waiting does nothing for investor confidence; his image has taken a nose dive and the longer he prolongs the announcement, the more time he gives his opponents to maneuver," said one political source.

"He should act now. There are far more important issues like the 1999 budget, the Bougainville and VAT legislation, and now the Sandline arbitration to worry about, and the Prime Minister has no justification to play this waiting game.''

As of last night, Kokopo MP Sir Rabbie Namaliu's name was thrown into the fray as a possible candidate for the deputy prime ministership.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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