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PNG PM Peter O'Neill threatens to sack all corrupt top officials

Staff Reporter 5/23/2013 | |

A JUDICIAL inquiry revealing a $300 million scam perpetrated by top officials and leading lawyers has provoked a sensation in Papua New Guinea, with Prime Minister Peter O'Neill warning that he may sack everyone in the Finance Department.He is seeking the support of the Australian Federal Police and of Interpol in a "high-level investigation" of the corruption, with initial funding of $1 million.He suspended Finance secretary Steven Gibson and his deputy Jacob Yafai yesterday.The 811-page report of the inquiry - which was conducted for the parliament by PNG judges Maurice Sheehan, a New Zealander, and Cathy Davani, and by prominent businessman Don Manoa - was injuncted three years ago by the law firm of solicitor Paul Paraka, who is named throughout the report.
The report reveals a large number of bogus compensation claims made by and settled within the senior bureaucracy.
And fresh information reveals that massive corrupt payments have continued, despite the comprehensive findings of the report.Although the Post-Courier newspaper - owned, like The Australian, by News Limited - failed to have the injunction lifted at the time, pressure has built to act on the inquiry's recommendations, including the criminal prosecution of 57 prominent people.
When the report was originally presented to parliament three years ago, it was only reported by The Australian, which is published outside PNG's jurisdiction.
Last week, Mr O'Neill issued a directive to fellow ministers that "the government act swiftly to determine the legal status of payments made by the Department of Finance".
"It has come to my notice that massive payments in millions of kina have been made to law firms, companies and individuals for legal fees and out-of-court settlements by the department," he said.
The Prime Minister told parliament on Tuesday: "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.
"It is not just one individual, company or law firm we are talking about. It is many that have been benefiting from public funds."
Opposition Leader Belden Namah attempted to discuss the scandal at a press conference last Friday but the local media were still prevented by the injunction from reporting it.
The Speaker, Theo Zurenuoc, also prevented Mr Namah from raising the matter in the parliament.
However, the Speaker, receiving fresh legal advice, permitted Mr Namah yesterday to ask lengthy questions on the issue, enabling some of the matters to be reported freely through parliamentary privilege for the first time.
The sensational nature of this information immediately provoked a storm of public outrage, poured out through talkback radio and social media.
The Australian

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