I WILL RETURN AS PAPUA NEW GUINEA PM: SIR MEKERE

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (April 25, 2002 – The National)---Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta yesterday confidently predicted that he would remain in power after the June elections.

Speaking at the inaugural "2002 Money Show" at the Holiday Inn Hotel in Port Moresby, Sir Mekere told a questioner, history showed that 50 percent of sitting Members of Parliament would successfully retain their seats.

He said if that were the case, his party, the People's Democratic Movement, would return with 20 seats, with a likelihood that its ranks would be further strengthened after the election.

"If I am leading the largest party, the Governor General will ask me to have a go at forming the government," Sir Mekere said.

Sir Mekere said he needed two to three more years to pursue reforms that had brought inflation down from a high of 22 percent under the previous government to 9.3 percent last year.

Foreign exchange reserves, which had been exhausted when he came to office in July 1999, have risen five-fold to US$ 447 million, providing a basis for economic and financial stability.

One further obstacle to development that Sir Mekere pledged to remove if he came back to office was a review of foreign exchange controls because of complaints from businesses that they were administered in ways that complicated normal and legitimate business transactions.

Sir Mekere told another questioner that his government had made it more attractive for women candidates in the coming election, enabling them to get their election campaign money back if they won only 10 percent of total votes cast.

More funds have been set aside in the current budget to encourage women in economic development. "I hope to increase that when we get back in July," he said, adding that since women formed 50 percent of the nation's human resources, a lot more needed to be done.

In his speech the Prime Minister spoke of three areas where significant progress had been made by his government in laying new foundations for development.

"First of all, the restoration of financial and economic stability has been important to investment. High inflation, high interest rates and foreign exchange crises are enemies of productive investment."

He said the government had also restored integrity to institutions that hold the retirement savings of many people - the National Provident Fund, the Public Officers' Superannuation Fund and the Defense Force Retirement Benefits Fund.

"The waste of savings in these institutions in the past was a national shame," he said. "Now the institutions are working as they should, and looking for profitable investments in PNG."

The third area of reform, he said, involved privatization, which would expand the range of productive and profitable investments.

This will allow for shares, sold at a discount, to be held by employees with a Peoples' Unit Trust eventually to be listed on the Port Moresby Stock Exchange.

Sir Mekere spoke of the prospect of a listing for the newly enlarged Bank of South Pacific, adding that privatized companies "will become constructive contributors to nation-building rather than a constant burden on taxpayers."

"A government-owned business," he said, "does not provide an avenue for investment. Not only that, the Papua New Guinean experience is that no one in their right mind would want to invest in one, even if it was possible to do so.

"They were inefficient and unprofitable, thoroughly corrupted. Virtually all faced imminent collapse.

"New ownership will bring sound management. It will eliminate the evils of corruption that brought essential parts of our national economic infrastructure to their knees."

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

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