SOMARE BACKPEDALS, RESTARTS PNG FINANCE INQUIRY

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More than $101 million missing from Finance Department

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, April 24, 2008) – The Commission of Inquiry into the Finance Department will restart with two more commissioners and the parameters of inquiry broadened.

Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare told reporters in a news conference yesterday that after receiving the interim report and advice on the inquiry, he decided to re-scope the commission and broaden the parameters of the inquiry.

Sir Michael said: "I share the concerns of both Sir Mekere and Mr (Bart) Philemon that this is an important inquiry."

[PIR editor’s note: The Commission of Inquiry was established to investigate the disappearance of more than PGK270 million [US$101 million] in public funds from the Finance Department between January 2000 and July 2006.]

While he did not name the two commissioners, he said the inquiry will restart as soon as the gazettal is out.

"As the time of the inquiry has lapsed, I terminated the inquiry to broaden the investigation by appointing two more commissioners to assist the chairman Judge Maurice Sheehan in the inquiry."

Sir Michael said the terms of reference are good and will remain unchanged.

He also said from here on the Commissioner Judge Sheehan reports directly to him and not other persons "purporting" to represent him.

Sir Michael said: "When I start something, I never let it go halfway, that has been my character, I will do it and I will continue it to the end. I just want to assure the country, I share the concern."

He also said the responsibility of the appointment of a commission of inquiry under the Act rests on the Prime Minister.

"Prime Minister appoints, Prime Minister disbands or suspends and that prerogative is mine and mine alone, not belong to any other, not even vested in the Cabinet ... vested in me."

He said he will give the commission six to nine months for the inquiry to be completed and furnish a report.

The Prime Minister said he would make sure the budget is appropriated for the inquiry so that there are no delays due to financial constraints.

"When we recommence, I can reassure you, the commission will complete its task. I know its very, very important inquiry," he said.

Sir Michael assured all staff working with the commission that once the new gazettes were published, work would start immediately.

He also commends Commissioner Sheehan and all his staff for their commitment to the inquiry in the face of many challenges and gave further assurance that funds will be made available to pay outstanding costs and ongoing salaries.

He said: "After consultation with various parties, I understand the constraints that the Inquiry has been facing and will do all possible to ensure that the Commission goes ahead without further disturbances.

"Finally I would like to assure the public that the materials collected by the commission to date are safe and remain the property of the Commission of Inquiry."

On Friday, the Opposition called for Sir Michael’s resignation if he could not provide a good explanation for terminating the inquiry.

This call was also supported by Transparency International.

Papua New Guinea Post-Courier: www.postcourier.com.pg/

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