Govt urged to stay clear of PNGSDP funds

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OPPOSITION leader Sir Mekere Morauta yesterday urged the prime minister to show leadership by stopping ministers from destroying PNG Sustainable Development Program company.
Sir Mekere said PNGSDP was a gift from BHP Billiton (its 52% equity in the Ok Tedi mine) he negotiated and established in 2002 when he was prime minister.
“This is a gift by BHP, with parliament’s assent, to the people of Western and PNG. 
“It is not a gift to the government of the day or to future governments.  The gift was conditional to be managed properly as a trust, independent of government.”
Sir Mekere said the funds of the trust were also set up deliberately – one as a future generations fund to ensure the people of Western had access to services after the mine closes and, another, as a fund for the development of Western and, the third, as a national fund for development projects anywhere in PNG.
He said at the end of last year, PNGSDP had assets valued at K2.8 billion; K2.2 billion of the total being the long-term fund. 
Sir Mekere said since its establishment, PNGSDP had approved project funding valued at K531 million, 54% of which was in Western and the remainder in other parts of PNG.
The opposition leader said he was pleased to see that the treasurer, Peter O’Neill, had retracted his initial statement on PNGSDP last week. 
“However, O’Neill has not denied that he has written to BHP demanding changes to the trust company so that the government could appoint board members and have access to the company’s funds.
“Minister for Planning Paul Tiensten bolted into the debate, salivated by the prospect of having access to the K2.8 billion financial assets of PNGSDP.
“He has not explained to the nation what he and his colleagues have done with the K5 billion that was parked in trust accounts under his control. 
“The opposition has reports that there is less than K500 million left in the trust accounts. 
“The thought of the Somare government having access to the assets of PNGSDP is sickening and frightening.”
Sir Mekere said the reasons given by O’Neill and Tiensten for wanting control of PNGSDP were spurious. 
“They are a camouflage. Their real interest is getting their hands on the money, not on solving environmental issues in Western.
“Unlike the government, the expenditure of funds by PNGSDP is transparent with full accountability. 
“Government ministers should be taking a lesson from PNGSDP instead of trying to pollute it.”
Sir Mekere said it would be a national crime if PNGSDP were to pass into the hands of politicians.
“I hope people will speak out and tell the government to leave PNGSDP alone. 
“We all know the elections are nearing.
“This attempted takeover of PNGSDP smells to me of building war chests for elections. We must not allow it.”