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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Feb. 18, 2008) - Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare did not disclose his interest in a ship safety certification company to the Ombudsman Commission because he assumed his share was personal.

Press secretary and daughter Betha said this yesterday in response to queries by the media following revelations by the Post-Courier that Sir Michael could be accused of misleading Parliament over the shareholding of the firm Pacific Register of Ships Ltd (PRS).

"You will note that the PM (Prime Minister) answered the fifth and sixth question on the assumption that they are personal shares and therefore answered that he has nothing to disclose to the Ombudsman Commission," she said in an email to the local media.The two questions were part of a series of questions asked last year by Opposition Leader Sir Mekere Morauta.

The Moresby Northwest MP quizzed Sir Michael on why he took a shareholding in the PRS and whether he had disclosed his interest to the Ombudsman Commission.

Sir Michael in reply denied he held shares in PRS. Company records obtained from the Investment Promotion Authority (IPA) by this newspaper showed that he held a share in trust on behalf of the state. Ironically, PRS is a private company, which does not warrant a government minister or prime minister holding a share in trust. He also told Parliament the Morobe, Madang, East Sepik, Sandaun and Manus provincial governments were shareholders in PRS.

The same IPA company record showed that five individuals, including Sir Michael and not the provincial governments, had shareholding in PRS.

According to the Parliamentary Standing Order, MPs who mislead Parliament could be referred by a colleague to the parliamentary privileges committee, though the speaker as chair of the privileges committee has discretion to agree or reject the referral.

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