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Pressure on as vote looms

Wednesday 20 July 2016 | Published in Regional

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PAPUA NEW GUINEA – Pressure continues to build on Papua New Guinea’s prime minister to stand down to face fraud allegations.

Peter O’Neill is to face a motion of no-confidence vote in parliament this Friday.

This comes amid growing calls for his removal over his continued refusal to stand aside to answer to fraud police over his alleged role in illegal payments to a law firm.

The allegations against O’Neill have been a source of controversy since anti-corruption police first obtained an arrest warrant for the Prime Minister in June 2014.

They alleged O’Neill had signed a letter authorising a $30 million payment to Paraka Lawyers, the firm at the centre of a long-running scandal over fraudulent legal bills charged to the PNG Government.

The allegation is that these legal bills were inflated or fabricated, and do not represent real legal work done for the government between 2003-2006.

O’Neill insists a letter authorising the payment is a fake. But, forgery or not, his lawyer argues that authorising the payment of bills that are technically considered valid can hardly be a criminal offence.

While a majority of MPs appear to be still backing O’Neill and his government, there have been defections to the opposition in recent days and more key professional groups are going on strike, demanding the prime minister’s removal.

The governor of Oro Province Gary Juffa said O’Neill should simply stand aside to clear his name.

“The doctors have just recently come in and said that they’re going to stop going to work. Pilots for the national airline have already refused to go to work, it’s disrupting flights. Dock workers are claiming that the might join in and stop working as well.”

“So in the greater interests of the nation, it is my belief that the prime minister should perhaps appoint someone while he attends to this,” he said.

Ahead of the challenge this Friday the all government MPs and ministers supportive of O’Neill have been whisked out of Port Moresby to remote the provincial outpost of Alotau in remote Milne Bay.

Deputy Prime Minister Leo Dion said that the time in camp at Alotau was an opportunity to take stock of what was required to complete the government’s commitments before the next election.

Dion praised the “spirit of unity and community cohesion that was evident among government members currently in Alotau”.

He said as well as discussion on policy advancement, members had also been engaged in local community activities in Alotau.

“We have more than 80 members of parliament who are taking the opportunity this week to plan for the final year of this parliament, and stand strong in their support for Peter O’Neill as prime minister.

“The O’Neill-Dion Government is united, and we all look forward to demonstrating our numbers in the chamber on Friday.

“There is only one person that we see who can guide our nation through the current global challenges, and that is Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.”

Meanwhile, former prime ministers Sir Michael Somare, Sir Julius Chan and Sir Mekere Morauta pledged to be on the floor of parliament to vote for the removal of O’Neill, announcing their support for the opposition in Friday’s vote of no confidence.

Sir Mekere said: “The government’s lack of accountability and transparency has been comprehensively detailed by the office of the auditor-general. O’Neill is not a fit and proper person to remain as prime minister.”

- PNC