PNG Finance Officials Suspended For Alleged Corruption

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PM O’Neill requests help from Interpol to investigate

By Jeffrey Elapa

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, May 22, 2013) – Papua New Guinea Finance Secretary Steven Gibson and his deputy Jacob Yafai have been suspended over allegations of corruption and an investigation into the department will be made, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill told Parliament yesterday.

O’Neill said he had requested for the Australian Federal Police and Interpol to be called in to assist PNG police and anti-corruption agency Task Force Sweep to investigate the department.

He said claims by opposition MPs over payments made to private companies, individuals and law firms were serious.

"If I have to close the Finance Department for four months, I will do that. If I have to sack everyone, including the tea boy at Finance, I will do so to clear the place up," O’Neill said.

The prime minister revealed his actions after questions raised by Opposition Leader Belden Namah in Parliament.

Namah was not allowed to complete his questions by Speaker Theo Zurenuoc, who referred to a court order in place preventing any discussions on payments by state agencies to private companies, law firms and individuals.

Namah held a media conference last Friday but The National could not publish what was said because of that court order, which also covered the media.

Yesterday, he was allowed to question.

"It is not clear if the payments were authorized by the attorney-general," O’Neill said.

He said a high-level investigation would be conducted into the legality of all the payments.

The investigation team would be appointed by Attorney-General Kerenga Kua and Police Minister Nixon Duban.

"It is not just one individual, company or law firm we are talking about. It is about many law firms, individuals and companies that have been benefiting from public funds," O’Neill said.

O’Neill said he was unaware of the K71.8 million [US$32.4 million] in total paid (between February last year and May this year) to a single law firm as claimed by Namah but this would be investigated.

"I have now suspended the Finance secretary and his deputy and I will go down as far as suspending the cleaner if I have to," he said. "If we have to shut the Finance Department for a month, then we have to so the investigation is completed."

"I assure the opposition leader that there will be no commission of inquiry.

"We will go into investigation and the investigation report will be tabled in Parliament."

Finance Minister James Marape confirmed yesterday that some money had been paid out to some law firms.

He said he issued instruction to the department in November last year not to make any payments until the appropriateness and legal correctness of the claims were verified.

"Despite the instructions, the department went ahead to make payments," Marape said.

He said Chief Secretary Manasupe Zurenuoc would now take charge of the department and the government would ascertain the total amount paid to the law firm and establish the legitimacy of the payments.

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