SOMARE BASHES INQUIRY, SEEKS TO STOP REPORT

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Feb. 28) – Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Michael Somare has accused members of the PNG Defence Force Board of Inquiry of illegally conducting their probe beyond February 4 and convicting him using a trial in the newspapers.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday, and using its privilege, the Prime Minister attacked the board, chaired by Justice Gibbs Salika, and senior counsel John Kawi, of going beyond the bounds of law and "going political."

As Somare launched his attacked in Parliament, his lawyers went next door to the National Court in Waigani and filed an application to void the entire proceedings of the inquiry and to prevent its final report from being published.

Lawyers representing the Prime Minister attempted to serve papers relating to this proceeding on the board of inquiry, but chairman Salika rejected it, telling them the proper process was to serve the papers (originating summons) on the Solicitor General, since the inquiry was an instrument of Government.

In Parliament, the Prime Minister said, in response to questions from deputy Opposition leader Mr. Byron Chan, "The board, and particularly the counsel assisting the board, had gone beyond the requirements of what the law stipulated, and I cannot sit and just wait for board members to go to newspapers and make newspapers a trial for me.

"I’ve already been convicted, so when the time expired (February 4), I directed the minister to terminate the board so that’s where it stands. They were conducting meetings after February 4; that’s illegal as far as the law is concerned."

Somare said if he had got the advice for an extension he would have given time but the inquiry had gone "very political indeed" and the integrity, ethical and professional conduct of the members of the inquiry came into question.

He confirmed that he had sacked Defence Minister Martin Aini on Monday night.

But he denied receiving a request from Mr. Aini to extend the inquiry to March 23.

"I never received a request from the minister to ask me for an extension, and the board was given an allocation of PGK1 million [US$356,000] to carry out the functions in two months."

He also hit out at criticisms leveled at him by the TUC general secretary John Paska, saying if the TUC leader wanted to run for the New Ireland regional seat, he should do so instead of using newspapers and radio.

"Go and play politics, go and stand as regional member for New Ireland and see if he can win," Somare said.

Meanwhile, National Court officials confirmed that an urgent application was filed yesterday and Deputy Chief Justice Salamo Injia would hear it today.

The officials said the Prime Minister was seeking orders to declare the entire PNGDF Board of Inquiry null and void and not legally constituted, and was also seeking an injunction to stay the findings of the inquiry from being published.

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