GROUP QUESTIONS PNG MINISTER’S APIA TRANSACTIONS

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Challenges Namah to declare business interests

By Belden Namah

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, July 21, 2009) - The PNG Cabinet Minister who has negotiated the purchase of a number of properties in Apia has been told to declare whether he wants to be a businessman or a representative of his people.

Yesterday, Transparency International PNG Inc (TIPNG) asked that country’s Forests Minister Belden Namah to declare his status – a businessman or an MP and Minister.

The call was made in light of recent reports by the Samoa Observer that Mr. Namah had negotiated the purchase of prime property worth millions of dollars in Apia.

The sellers of those properties were convinced that Namah was the purchaser, though he has denied this saying he was acting for unnamed overseas associates.

Namah’s lawyer Siaki Tuala confirmed to this newspaper last week that a venerable company, Chan Chui Co Ltd, was bought for more than WST2 million [US$767,000] by Namah. This was in addition to other properties purchased on his shopping spree, a statement by TIPNG said.

Namah told the Parliament in Port Moresby last week he had nothing to hide. He also said he had instructed his lawyers to commence action against the Samoa Observer and The National newspaper published in PNG for alleged defamation.

Chairman of TIPNG Peter Aitsi said: "It is not unreasonable for the public to demand from the minister an explanation how he has paid for this property and as reported paid a deposit on another. If there is nothing to hide TI calls on the minister given his role in government to declare his business activities to the Ombudsman Commission and allow the Ombudsman full access to review and vet the transaction."

Considering the substantial amounts of money used for the reported property buys and the minister’s involvement in facilitating the purchases, TIPNG wants the minister to clarify whether he wants to be a businessman or representative of the people in Parliament, a TIPNG statement said.

TIPNG says that as an MP, Namah should be careful not to invite accusations of conflict of interest in his role. The anti-corruption watchdog insists politicians should forego direct commercial dealings while serving in Parliament to ensure they do not leave themselves or their office open to criticism or be placed in situations that may compromise their public office. To do otherwise would suggest politicians are not interested in maintaining the levels of integrity that are a requirement of their office.

TIPNG says if Namah wants to facilitate business for his overseas partners, he should stick to business and leave the task of representing the people’s interest to persons who will be committed to delivering services to the people.

TIPNG says Namah as a member of parliament and specifically as a member of the NEC (National Executive Council -- PNG’s Cabinet) his principal responsibility should be to the people of Papua New Guinea and he should not put his own personal business interests before that of his constituents and the country as a whole.

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