PNG Defence Minister Says Commander Will Not Be Sacked

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Pok denies replacement rumors, re-instatement of retired colonels

By Isaac Nicholas

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Jan. 3, 2013) – Brigadier-General Francis Agwi will complete his term as Commander of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force.

Defence Minister Fabian Pok gave that assurance at a press conference in Port Moresby yesterday.

Mr. Pok said the purported National Executive Council (NEC) submission to remove Brig. Gen. Agwi and replace him with someone else is being circulated by people with vested interests.

"There is no NEC submission or decision to change the commander at this point in time. It is not coming from me and I am not sure where this information is coming from," Mr. Pok said when responding to media reports that a submission is before Cabinet to replace the commander.

Commander Agwi, Defence Secretary John Porti and Minister Pok called a joint media conference to address the media and senior army officers at Murray Barracks headquarters yesterday.

Mr. Pok said the commander has got a few more months before he retires from the Defence Force and Cabinet will deal with the position when it is vacant.

"I do not know where the media got their information from. They have not checked with me or any of the officers to verify this information. The commander is here and he has got a few months yet before he goes," he said.

The Minister also brushed aside reports that he had written a letter for the re-instatement of Colonel Geoffrey Wiri and Colonel Joe Kewa back into the PNGDF in a move to install one of them as the new commander.

Mr. Pok said he wrote the letter on humanitarian grounds to Commander Agwi for them to be put back on the payroll because they have been off the payroll for a very long time - almost eight months, and still living with their families in the city.

"Colonels are appointed by Cabinet and it is Cabinet who retires them. I have not seen a Cabinet submission and if there is a Cabinet decision, I am not aware of it," Minister Pok said.

"I asked the commander because if somebody is in that predicament in the military, then they are off the payroll for a very long time. It is inhuman. Whether we retire them or we put them back on the payroll - that is what I asked the commander to do.

"If they are retired we should now pay their entitlements and let them go. If they are not retired by NEC we should put them back on the payroll. That is all I asked for. There is no sinister motive and nothing behind it.

"I did that because if any member of the military is affected by this I will surely write to the commander to ask him to either reinstate them or retrench them. We cannot keep people in Port Moresby without paying them for so many months. It is totally inhuman.

"I did this on this ground alone. I did not do it because of any ulterior motives as the media alleges. But if there is an NEC decision then I will sit with the commander and ask that they be paid their retirement entitlements correctly and they leave the Force," the minister said.

[PIR editor's note: Meanwhile, the NEC has approved a business arm for the PNGDF. The commercial side of the force will hold titles to the Murray Barracks land for residential and commercial purposes to sustain force operations. The force will be allowed then to sub-divide the land, and any profits made will be reinvested in the corporation. The NEC has also approved a K170 million [US$81.08 million] fund package for a re-fleeting of the force, which is hoped to rejuvenate the PNGDF with new vehicles and support.]

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