PNG GOVERNMENT ACCUSED OF HIDING MONEY

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (March 5, 1999 – Post-Courier)---The Government has been accused of stashing away money in secret trust accounts from statutory organizations and disaster and emergency relief funds for political purposes.

Acting Opposition Leader Chris Haiveta claims he has evidence to show that several members of the Skate Cabinet operated these trust accounts, which were being used at the discretion of the Prime Minister to buy political support.

In a brief comment yesterday, the Office of the Prime Minister would neither deny nor confirm the claim.

The statement read: "If Mr. Haiveta is aware of any secret bank accounts in which money belonging to the people of Papua New Guinea is being held, he should inform the relevant authorities.''

Mr. Haiveta did not give details of the accounts but one Opposition official said they had information that money from the Aitape Disaster and the 1997 drought relief appeal funds, the Motor Vehicle Insurance Trust, the National Provident Fund, the Public Officers Superannuation Fund and the National Gaming Control Board were being used to prop up these trust accounts, which were being operated outside the annual budget.

He estimated the secret funds to be in the "tens of millions of kina.''

Mr. Haiveta said the funds were also being used for handouts, especially those made by Mr. Skate during his so-called holiday period.

"Where is the money coming from?'' he asked.

Commenting on the Government's sudden announcement of K 11 million in further support to tertiary institutions, Mr. Haiveta said: "Will this money come from slush funds held by the Prime Minister and some senior ministers outside of the 1999 Budget in secret trust accounts or cuts to its 1999 Budget?

"The Government must clarify rumors and inform the nation if large sums of funds are currently being held in unauthorized secret bank accounts by various ministers outside of the 1999 Budget and outside the ambit of the Public Finance Management Act.''

Mr. Haiveta also claimed Mr. Skate had wasted K 250,000 of public money during his holiday to travel around the country.

He called for a full and transparent accounting of what he termed as a "holiday gravy train'' through the Highlands, Islands and Goilala.

"Who is meeting his holiday expenses?'' he asked.

"I do not know of previous Prime Ministers who have spent so much for a private holiday or if they ever had one at all.

"For the duration of the PM's holiday, I am reliably informed that the total cost of the charters, hired government pool transport, drivers and overtime pay, the hotel accommodation for him, his wife, staff and other MPs who escorted him, as well as the hand-outs, is well over K 250,000.''

Mr. Haiveta said Mr. Skate should explain and declare how many handouts were made during his two-week holiday.

"I would like to repeat for the record that no other Prime Minister had ever gone on such a holiday at the expense of the Government dishing out money to local chiefs when their local government is still crying out for funds.''

Mr. Skate's office dismissed the K 250,000 cost claim as "mythical'', saying it was designed only to capture newspaper headlines.

The office said Mr. Skate's recent leave was far from a holiday because he spent time visiting people, "because he was a grassroots leader who wanted to meet with as many people as possible.''

"Mr. Skate has his own style of Government that does not follow predecessors,'' a spokesman said.

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