PAC gags media

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THE Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee raised questions about its own conduct yesterday when it barred the media from an inquiry into the Civil Aviation Authority and the Office of Climate Change.
The PAC Inquiry into CAA was headed by Eastern Highlands Governor Malcolm Kela-Smith, raising further questions about conflict the PAC might have placed itself in by allowing Mr Kela-Smith to preside over the hearing.
He owns or controls Pacific Helicopters, which had issues with the CAA and on one occasion had locks to its office at Seven-Mile changed by CAA officials due to non-payment of rentals.
The PAC hearing yesterday took place at the B2 conference room at Parliament.
Media personnel including reporters and camera crews from the National Broadcasting Commission and Kundu 2, EMTV, The National and Post-Courier arrived there only to to be turned away.
When the media team assembled inside the conference room in the morning, an expatriate officer from the PAC requested the media personnel to excuse them and leave the room so that they (PAC) would have their briefing before the hearing proceed.
Officers from the Auditor-General’s Office and the CAA were called into the conference room for the hearing to proceed.
An unidentified officer from the committee emerged to tell media personnel that the enquiry was a closed-door hearing and the media was not allowed.
PAC member and Bulolo MP Sam Basil said that the media was barred because there were several very sensitive and “heavy” questions being posed. The chair of the meeting, in the absence of Nawaeb MP Timothy Bonga was Mr Kela-Smith.
The media raised concerns why Mr Kela-Smith, who is the owner of an airline firm, was allowed to chair a meeting looking into affairs of the regulator as there might be a conflict of interest.
However, Mr Basil said Mr Smith had made it clear prior to the start of the meeting that he was going to be fair and partial.
“There is nothing suspicious and nothing serious in the meeting, the reason the media were locked out was because several ‘heavy’ questions, that required closed doors needed to be asked,” he said. 
Mr Basil also said as Mr Kela-Smith had a wide knowledge of the issues surrounding the industry, he was allowed to chair the hearing.
In a change of tone later, Mr Basil said the PAC was “a waste of time and money” unless real results were derived from the recommendations put forward.
He said an estimated K3 billion in public funds was stolen every year and despite the recommendations of the PAC for the past two years, nothing had come to fruition. 
Mr Basil, who has resigned from the bi-partisan committee investigating the anti-Asian uprisings recently, said he would quit the bi-partisan PAC by mid-next year if nothing was done.
Mr Bonga, who was not present at the hearing yesterday, could not be reached to comment on the ban on the media.
Calls made to Mr Kela-Smith’s mobile phone rang out.