PNG’S SOMARE FUMES OVER LEAKED $71 MILLION DEAL

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PNG’S SOMARE FUMES OVER LEAKED $71 MILLION DEAL

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Feb. 28) – Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare yesterday angrily demanded to know how a confidential cabinet document containing a proposal to pay a consultant PGK200 million [US$71 million] for advice to the Government on gas was "leaked" to the Opposition.

As Opposition leader Mr. Peter O’Neill attempted to raise questions about the deal in the cabinet submission, the Prime Minister raised a point of order and got Deputy Speaker Mr. Bob Dadae to prevent the questions from being asked.

In his preface, O’Neill alleged that the Government was selling the country’s interest in the development of substantial gas reserves to an Italian firm and the Government was also in the process of making available PGK200 million [US$71 million] for unqualified special advisers to advise on this venture.

As O’Neill was proceeding to raise his questions relating to the deal, the Prime Minister cut in with his point of order.

The Prime Minister said the leader of the Opposition should not be asking questions on policy issue before cabinet.

"I would also like to know how he managed to get the cabinet submission. I want to know who are the people giving him cabinet secrets. That in itself is a huge offence, divulging Government information and Government policy, which has not been implemented as yet."

But O’Neill shot back saying he should be allowed to complete the questions as this was a matter of public importance.

"It is not someone’s personal property that they are trying to sell. This is a submission that has already been approved by cabinet and as it’s a public document, then I have every right to ask that question. We are talking about PGK200 million to be spent on unqualified advisers."

He said PGK200 million was a lot of money and the country ought to know what was going on.

The Deputy Speaker, who had to call the House to order several times with interjections coming everywhere, said he would use Standing Order 141, section C (2) to disallow the questions.

Dadae said this section says questions should not be asked to a minister regarding Government policy.

O’Neill pointed out that the submission he was relying on had gone through cabinet and a decision had been made, and as such this was a public document and he should be allowed to ask the questions.

But the Prime Minister interjected against, saying what the Opposition leader was trying to do was preempt Government policy.

Southern Highlands Governor Hami Yawari and others objected to the Prime Minister’s move, but the Deputy Speaker stood firm, saying until cabinet makes the document public, he would not allow the questions.

It is understood the submission relates to moves by the Government to set up a company to deal with how to develop PNG’s gas resources following the cancellation of the PNG-Queensland gas pipeline project.

Communications and Information Minister Arthur Somare last week gave notice to Parliament of the Government’s intention to set up the company, which would take over some functions and assets of Mineral Resources Development Corporation and Independent Public Business Corporation.

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