Agency had to go: PM

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PRIME Minister Peter O’Neill told Parliament yesterday that the Investigation Task Force Sweep Team was disbanded in 2014 because it was becoming “too political’ and going on a political witch-hunt.
O’Neill said the inter-government agency was set up to investigate “specific issues of massive corruption” at the National Planning Department, especially the Rehabilitation Education Sector Infrastructure (RESI) funds and National Agriculture Development Programmes.
“It was not investigating suspects involved in misappropriating public funds from the National Planning Department,” he said.
“Millions of public monies were stolen without proper procurement process. And, of course it was due to mismanagement.
“Subsequently the Task Force was becoming too political and targeting politicians when it was not authorised to do so. That’s why it was disbanded.”
O’Neill said the Independent Commission against Corruption Bill was tabled in Parliament to replace the disbanded agency.
“But in the last parliament, we could not pass the Bill because we didn’t muster the numbers. It will be reintroduced in this parliament. And I’m urging all the 111 MPs to support this Bill.”
He was responding to Moresby North West MP Sir Mekere Morauta who claimed that the disbanding of the Task Force was because O’Neill was under investigation.
He also claimed that O’Neill had ordered Police Commissioner Gari Baki to close the National Fraud and Anti-Corruption Directorate.
“There was no direction from me or the Cabinet to shut down the fraud squad. This matter has been dealt in court,” he said.
“And many court decisions have justified Government’s decision to date.” Koim later challenged the Cabinet decision to disband the agency in court. But Justice Collin Makail said it would be contrary to the law for the court to intervene in policy decisions made by the Government. He said the appropriate actions, if people were aggrieved by a Cabinet decision, were to exercise their constitutional rights to replace the Cabinet members at the elections, or have the prime minister voted out of office in a vote of no-confidence through Parliament.