The National – Friday, December 10, 2010
By ISAAC NICHOLAS
PRIME Minister Sir Michael Somare has confirmed that he will step aside if the chief justice appoints a leadership tribunal.
“Should a tribunal be set up, I will step aside in the interim as prime minister,” he told a media conference yesterday in Port Moresby.
And, he officially confirmed Wabag MP Sam Abal as the new deputy prime minister – the man who could be acting prime minister as early as next week.
“However, I would like to make it clear to the public that this case is not a criminal case,” he said of the 2006 decision of the Ombudsman Commission to refer him to the public prosecutor for failing to submit returns or acquittals of his pay, as required of all public office holders, between 1993 and 1998.
When Sir Michael was referred by the Ombudsman Commission to the public prosecutor in 2008, he appealed against that in the National Court.
He also sought to restrain the public prosecutor from asking the chief justice to set up a tribunal until the substantive matter against the Ombudsman Commission was dealt with.
However, last week, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, allowing acting public prosecutor Jim Wala Tamate on Wednesday to notify Sir Michael that he would ask Sir Salamo Injia, within three days, to appoint a tribunal.
Sir Michael yesterday said the dismissal of the appeal did not affect the Supreme Court application challenging the Ombudsman Commission’s referral, which is the substantive matter before the court.
He said, as a citizen, he had every right to pursue the matter in court and he would only step aside when a tribunal was appointed. Sir Michael said: “It is an administrative issue that my lawyers are addressing in the Supreme Court.
“I cannot make comments that will be seen as an attempt to influence the courts, however, I do take exception that an alleged administrative breach can be confused with cases that are criminal in nature.
“My substantive case is pending in the Supreme Court but I respect the decisions taken by the office of the Ombudsman Commission, public prosecutor and the chief justice.”
The prime minister made a brief statement on his referral when confirming a reported cabinet reshuffle in which Sam Abal was appointed deputy prime minister and minister for works.
The media briefing was done after Abal was sworn in by acting Governor-General Paul Tiensten at Government Haus.
Sir Michael had the support of Abal, Internal Security Minister Mark Maipakai, Public Service Minister Moses Maladina and Lagaip-Porgera MP Philip Kikala, who were present.