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Communications minister, planning secretary

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Feb. 10, 2011) – In Papua New Guinea (PNG), Communications Minister Patrick Tammur and National Planning and Monitoring Secretary Joseph Lelang were understood to have been suspended yesterday over separate cases of alleged forgery and funds misuse.

Mr. Tammur bore the brunt of the Prime Minister’s wrath over the use of his name, office and signature in a Press release, issued by his staff, and published as an advertisement on the Post-Courier on Monday.

The statement was delivered under the Prime Minister’s official letterhead and purportedly signed by Sir Michael Somare. It announced the establishment of a Sovereign Community Infrastructure Treasury Bill under which 125 million- kina [US$47.4 million] was obtained by the Government from Nasfund to finance community projects in Kokopo electorate. Mr. Tammur is a Member for Kokopo Open.

And in Mr. Lelang’s case, has been made a sacrificial lamb for releasing 112 million- kina [US$42.4 million] for various projects under political directives from Finance and Treasury Ministe,r Mr. Peter OꞌNeill in the presence of Planning Minister Mr. Paul Tiensten and former Treasurer Mr. Patrick Pruaitch.

When Mr. Lelang learnt that certain Ministers were conspiring to have him removed as Secretary, he wrote a letter of explanation to his Minister (Tiensten) saying he was directed by Mr. OꞌNeill to release funds to shore up government support in the face of an impending no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister (PM).

Mr. Lelang said he was also directed by State Enterprises Minister Arthur Somare to release 28 million- kina [US$10.6 million] for Hela Province and a further 14 million [US$5.3 million] for provincial governors.

Mr. Lelang said 51 million- kina [US$19.3 million] of these checks were given directly to Minister OꞌNeill for disbursement. Most of them were released to district treasuries while the one check of 10.9 million [US$4.1 million] was paid to a family company based in Kokopo called; Teariki Holdings Limited. The shareholders of the company are: Mr. Lauatu Tautea (51), Nialapan Tautea (20), Pute Tautea (27) and Ruth Tautea (55). The directors are all of the above and Falope Tautea (22). Mr. Lauatu Tautea who appears to be the manager is former executive officer of the Cocoa Board of PNG.

According to the Registrar of Companies office, Teariki was incorporated on August 10, 2010 and several months later it was a lucky recipient of 10.9 million- kina [US$4.1 million].

The newspaper could not ascertain what the funds were for but it was believed to be for fighting cocoa pod borer disease.

Another payment of 6 million- kina [US$2.3 million] was paid to a trust account in Aitape, West Sepik Province also believed to be for a campaign against cocoa pod borer disease.

Mr. Lelang’s letter to Mr. Tiensten had been widely circulated to thousands of people in PNG and overseas through Bulolo Member of Parliament Sam Basil’s internet blog-site. Mr. Tiensten had been conspicuously quiet over the matter, despite attempts by this newspaper to reach him and the political pressure against his departmental head. A lot of complaints have been raised by the public from all over Papua New Guinea questioning the implementation of the 4 billion- kina [US$1.5 billion] development budgets in the 2010 financial year. The funds were parked in the Planning and Monitoring Department and gradually released to various impact and stimulus projects in education, health, infrastructure and agriculture.

Treasurer OꞌNeill told Post-Courier on Tuesday he had ordered for a full-scale audit of the 4 billion- kina [US$1.5 billion] to find out why there were so many complaints amid huge development budget expenditure. He instructed Secretary of Treasury Simon Tosali and his deputy Anthony Yauieb to draw up the terms of reference for the audit which Mr. OꞌNeill said would be undertaken by an independent auditor.

It is understood that Mr. Lelang would remain suspended for a month to allow for the audit to take place. And in relation to the Tammur suspension, it is understood that Sir Michael was furious over the use of his signature and demanded his staff find out how it was forged or scanned onto a media statement which he denied signing.

Spokeswomen from the PM’s media unit Ms Theresa Kumo told Post-Courier that she was disappointed at the manner in which the advertisement, bearing the Prime Minister’s name and signature were accepted and published by the newspaper. It was not from either the Prime Minister’s Office or from the PM’s Media Unit, she said. She said it was unfair and unethical that the validity of the advertisement was not checked.

The Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Mr. Paul Bengo has already written to the advertising department of the Post-Courier expressing the same, she said.

Post-Courier spokesman said last night the advertisement was brought in very late on Sunday evening and our staff accepted it in good faith for publication in the paper in much the same way as any other advertisements.

Post-Courier understands that there is a feud brewing among senior ministers over the so-called Treasury Note valued at 125 million- kina [US$47.4 million] for community projects in one electorate alone.

The Government took the loan from Nasfund and would be required to pay back the 140,000 kina [US$53,000] contributors funds with interest. Senior government sources said last night they could not understand why Nasfund and Kokopo electoral officials were so secretive about the deal only to anger Governor Leo Dion who placed paid advertisements in both dailies to express his disgust.

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