SOMARE SEEKS EXTENSION OF DECLARATION IN PNG HIGHLANDS

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Feb. 22) – Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare yesterday warned he could suspend the Southern Highlands Provincial Government again if the National Government failed to get Parliament to extend the state of emergency (SOE).

The Government needs an absolute majority of 55 members of parliament to extend the SOE by another two months and adjourned Parliament yesterday afternoon to 10am today in a last throw of the dice.

The current emergency lapses at 12 midnight tonight. Only 48 MPs voted for the extension when it was first put to the vote in the House on Tuesday.

Failure by Parliament today to pass the two-month extension would see the SOE lapse and the suspension of the Southern Highlands Provincial Government lifted.

But Somare yesterday told Parliament that he could use provisions of the constitution to suspend the provincial government again if the SOE was lifted, despite opposition during debate in Parliament by the Southern Highlands Governor Hami Yawari, Morobe Governor Luther Wenge and Obura-Wonenara MP John Koigiri.

Under section 187F of the Constitution, arrangements could be made to re-establish a suspended provincial or local level government within nine months from the effective date of suspension.

"If we don’t lift the emergency, if we don’t get the support from you members, that’s OK, the emergency will still go on. We’ll come back and we will tell you, that’s what I want you to know. Law is there to provide us to allow us to go to nine months -- even if we don’t lift it now. We can suspend the provincial government; I can suspend the provincial government. The power is vested in the Constitution for us to do that so all I want to say to you, we are appealing to you, for us to extend the term," Sir Michael said. Zooming in on Mendi and its obvious lack of infrastructure, Sir Michael said the provincial capital should have been the "symbol of nation building" but there was nothing to show to confirm that the province had an annual budget of K200 million.

However, Mr. Yawari after yesterday’s heated debate, challenged the Prime Minister to declare his Government’s interest in his province and not mislead Parliament and the people of PNG. Despite the Southern Highlands governor’s concerns, most MPs including Opposition Leader Mr. Peter O’Neill supported the call for the SOE to be extended.

O’Neill said there was a complete breakdown of good governance in the resource-rich province and the SOE should be extended as security forces and the interim administration needed more time to restore normalcy.

"After 20 years of the discovery of oil in the province, there is no indication on the ground to indicate that the province is a host province for the major production of oil in the country. All the tax credit projects that have been funded in the province are non-existent," he said.

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