PNG PM SOMARE MOVES TO FIND TAINTED MPS

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By Mary-Louise O'Callaghan South Pacific Correspondent

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (August 10, 2002 – The Australian)---In a bold move to clear his Government's ranks of corruption, Papua New Guinea's new Prime Minister, Michael Somare, has asked the country's ombudsman to vet all cabinet members before they are appointed.

Sir Michael, who is expected to announce his full cabinet this weekend, said yesterday that using the country's leading watchdog against corruption to screen potential ministers was a simple solution to a problem that had dogged his predecessors.

"I wanted to make sure that the people we appoint don't carry any old scars into the team," he told The Weekend Australian in his first interview since taking office on Monday.

"I'd like to put a new team in place, and a new team should be credible."

Sir Michael said he had sought and gained the agreement to the procedure from all seven of his coalition partners before making cabinet appointments conditional upon it.

"We need to have a screening process before you appoint people, so that the new Government is not marred by allegations of corruption," Sir Michael said.

This poses an immediate barrier for at least one member of the caretaker cabinet, Michael Nali, who is one of six MPs re-elected to Parliament facing prosecution under the country's Leadership Code.

Mr. Nali recently assumed the leadership of the People's Progress Party when the outgoing leader, former prime minister Julius Chan, failed to regain his seat in last month's general elections.

Sir Michael, who was elected on Monday for the fourth time in the country's almost 30-year history, has pledged to clean up the upper echelons of PNG's political tree as well as more widespread corruption in the bureaucracy and private sector.

He has announced plans to "review" the practice of paying slush funds to MPs for use in their home electorates. These were significantly reduced by the outgoing Morauta government, but remain one of the major distortions in PNG's political system.

In a separate development yesterday, Mekere Morauta was re-elected leader of the People's Democratic Movement. Sir Mekere stood down from the position on Sunday, saying his leadership had become an obstacle to the party forming government.

Party president Thomas Niggens, in a statement released yesterday, said the party was likely to shed its name along with its founding leader, former prime minister Paias Wingti, who appears to have been expelled.

Sir Michael also indicated yesterday that he would not be trying to incorporate the bloc of 20 independents and single-party members who moved en masse to vote for him during Monday's prime ministerial vote.

For additional reports from The Australian, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Australian.

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