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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post Courier, Oct. 11) – The Australian Government yesterday hinted its AU$300 million [US$223 million] aid program to Papua New Guinea could be in jeopardy following fugitive lawyer Julian Moti’s escape to the Solomon Islands.

The Papua New Guinea Government was quick to respond yesterday to reports the controversial lawyer flew to the Solomon Islands on a Papua New Guinea Defence Force aircraft, saying it had no knowledge of Moti’s one-hour-30-minute flight from Port Moresby to Munda in the Western Province of the Solomons onboard the Papua New Guinea army’s CASSA aircraft.

"I am disappointed that Mr. Moti’s departure was done without my prior knowledge and approval. I do not take this matter lightly and see this incident as setting a dangerous precedent that impacts on various government agencies," Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare said in a statement.

But Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told reporters in Australia that the Moti issue showed that governance continued to be a problem in the region despite Australia pouring in hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.

"Australia has had a policy over the years of just providing aid to the Pacific, and not doing anything about this issue of governance. Now we’re providing about AU$300 million a year to Papua New Guinea of Australian taxpayers’ money. We spent about AU$800 million [US$595 million] trying to salvage the Solomon Islands, which was plunged into being a failed state by its politicians, and we spent about AU$800 million of Australian taxpayers’ money to try to bail the country out, and give the ordinary people of the Solomon Islands a fair go," Mr. Downer said, "But the problem with the South Pacific, despite all of our aid, has been a problem of governance. And Australian governments over the years have just taken the view that, well, that’s a matter for them. Well the thing is, it’s not just a matter for them when we’re providing so much money and so much support."

Moti is wanted in Australia for a child sex offence he committed in Vanuatu in 1997 and was arrested in Port Moresby on September 29 when he flew in from Singapore.

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