PRIME Minister Sir Michael Somare and his former deputy prime minister Don Polye compromised maritime safety in their choice of chairman of the National Maritime Safety Authority, the Ombudsman Commission has found.
It also found that Mr Polye had been “co-erced” to have Coastal Shipping owner Hamish Sharpe appointed as NMSA board chairman.
Elsewhere in the Ombudsman’s 38-page report, which was tabled in Parliament this week, it was established that Sir Michael was the major player in Mr Sharp’s appointment.
But given the nature and scope of its investigations, the Ombudsman could only blamed Mr Polye and Mr Sharp for “wrong conduct”.
Transport secretary Henry Parakei told investigators Mr Polye “was co-erced to make the (Sharp) appointment without due compliance with the requirements of the law”.
The Ombudsman noted that:
*Sir Michael had written three times to Mr Polye, who was Transport Minister, in 2005 to push for Mr Sharpe’s appointment;
*Mr Sharp was appointed NMSA board member on August 2006 – three months after a damning report by NMSA on his mv Sealark, which had sunk in Lae in April of that year;
*Mr Sharp’s appointment was at the expense of Michael Kasi, representing coastal regions, after the latter was promised the post of deputy chairman of the Lands Transport Board;
*Since his appointment as board chairman in November 2006, he had only called two board meetings and the failure to meet thereafter “seriously impacts on safety for the travelling public and crews”; and
*Prior to his appointment, Mr Sharp had taken the NMSA to court over two matters – first, challenging the findings of its inquiry into Sealark’s sinking and removal of the wreck from Lae port and, secondly, seeking damages of K1 million from NMSA defamation for the “clearly biased” NMSA report.
The Ombudsman Commission had investigated Mr Sharp’s appointment and his conduct at NMSA board meetings following allegations that Mr Polye had not followed procedures with the appointment.
According to account of events before the Ombudsman, Sir Michael had called a meeting on June 17, 2005 with Mr Polye, Mr Parakei and governors Carlos Yuni (Sandaun), Dr Jacob Jumagot (Manus), James Yali (Madang) and Luther Wenge (Morobe) to provide more effective coastal shipping services.
During the meeting, it was mentioned that Lae-based Bismarck Shipping, owned by Mr Sharp, was willing to provide the service provided that it received Government subsidy to cut operational costs.
During the meeting, it was also suggested that Mr Sharp be appointed to the NMSA board, leading to a series of events which prompted the Ombudsman Commission to investigate.
Overall, it recommended that:
*The minister must comply with dismissal requirements of the NMSA;
*NMSA must develop a policy to guide appointments;
*The chairman to schedule and hold quarterly board meetings in a year and to give advance notice in writing to board members on date and venue; and
*Mr Sharp’s appointment as NMSA member should be reviewed by the minister on the basis of him having a “real conflict of interest” on matters discussed in board meetings.