PNG Former And Founding PM Resigns Amid Allegations

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Approached by the opposition to be the alternate PM

By Girish Sawlani

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, October 31, 2015) – Papua New Guinea's former and founding prime minister Sir Michael Somare has resigned amid claims he was approach by the opposition to be the alternate prime minister.

Higher education minister Malakai Tabar has told Pacific Beat that party members put the demand to Sir Michael early this morning.

Mr Tabar, also a member of the ruling National Alliance (NA) party, confirmed that Sir Michael had been approached by opposition leader Don Polye.

"Don has effectively asked the grand chief (Sir Michael) to be the alternate prime minister," he said.

"From this party, we asked Sir Michael 'please respect the party caucus, our party leader'.

"'If this offer comes to you, you bring it to our party'. And he brought it to this party and we said 'don't go that way'.

"He's decided to resign from this party."

Mr Tabar said the time is right for Sir Michael to resign after being forced out by current prime minister Peter O'Neill in 2012.

The minister said he supports Mr O'Neill amid moves by the opposition to call for a motion of no-confidence in the coming weeks.

"I think the O'Neill government will survive," he said.

"The vote of no-confidence, I don't think it's going to help anybody.

"As a party, we are in the prime minister's government and we are supporting him."

Corruption cases continue to dog the O'Neill government, with some levelled against senior government ministers and the prime minister who is still subject to an arrest warrant.

Debt level questioned by former PMs

Within hours of resigning from the party, Mr Somare and fellow former prime minister Sir Mekere Morauta called for local and international authorities to investigate the government's controversial decision to take out a loan to buy shares in an oil company.

In 2014, the PNG government took out a $A1.3 billion loan with the Australian branch of UBS bank to buy shares in the nation's biggest company, Oil Search.

The move was controversial, with criticism over the approval and the level of debt incurred by the nation.

At a press conference on Monday, Mr Somare and Mr Morauta called on Mr O'Neill to explain details of the loan following a Fairfax Media investigation which proffered a series of leaked documents alleging proper process was not followed.

"We are calling on our prime minister Peter O'Neill to explain to the nation why he has saddled Papua New Guinea with a huge financial burden with the UBS-Oil Search loan which is aggravating the government in simmering fiscal crisis," Mr Somare said.

"Loan documents made public by the Fairfax Media group in Australia show that due process was not followed in many aspects of borrowing.

"We believe the information revealed about the transaction warrants an independent investigation by the fraud and anti-corruption directorate of the police."

Last year, Mr O'Neill said he stood by the decision to buy the shares and said the allegations against him were political.

Correction: A previous version of this article included a paragraph quoting Higher Education Minister Malakai Tabar as saying the National Alliance Party had asked Sir Machael Somare to step down. The author acknowledges the statement was inaccurate and the result of misinterpreting a quote. The error was unintended and the author wishes to apologise to the Mr Tabar and the National Alliance for the misunderstanding.

 

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