Abal takes over as acting prime minister

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The National – Tuesday, December 14, 2010

THE country’s founding Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare has voluntarily stepped aside.
This had allowed for Wabag MP Sam Abal, the man Sir Michael appointed last week as deputy prime minister, to take charge as Acting Prime Minister while the prime minister goes to court to clear his name.
Sir Michael is challenging his referral by the Ombudsman Commission over allegedly not submitting annual returns to the commission between 1993 and 1998, which is the substantive matter before the courts.
The substantive application involved the prime minister seeking declarative orders claiming that the Ombudsman Commission did not follow prescribed compulsory procedures under the Organic Law when it chose to refer him to the public prosecutor.
Sir Michael, who had led the country through self-government and independence, is the longest serving member of parliament in the Commonwealth, clocking 43 years of continued service.
He said in a media statement last night that he would voluntarily step aside and allow Abal to assume full function and responsibility of the office of the prime minister while he attended to clearing his name.
The decision by the prime minister stemmed from a request by acting Public Prosecutor Jimmy Wala Tamate to the Chief Justice, Sir Salamo Injia, to set up a tribunal to hear allegations that Sir Michael did not lodge three annual returns.
“While the Supreme Court has yet to give the prime minister an opportunity to be heard on his reference, the public prosecutor has proceeded to make a referral,” the statement said.
“However, the prime minister respects the due processes and will continue to avail himself to the hearings.”
However, Sir Michael said he was not given the opportunity as a citizen and a prime minister to be heard since the filing of his substantive case in 2008 until today.
His move to step aside was not new as precedent had been set by a former prime minister, Sir Julius Chan, in 1997 to allow for an inquiry into the Sandline crisis.
The prime minister’s decision, according to supporters, was the right move in light of the latest turn of events, including a Supreme Court decision nullifying the appointment of the governor-general in June.