PM steps aside

Main Stories, National

The National – Tuesday, December 14, 2010

PRIME Minister Sir Michael Somare yesterday stepped aside to face allegations of misconduct in office, but not before firing a broadside at the judiciary that he is a victim of “gross injustice”.
Leader of government business Paul Tiensten fired a similar salvo later in the afternoon, saying that the judiciary could not force the legislator to recall parliament over the appointment of a new governor-general following the June 25 debacle.
And, last night, for the first time in its history, PNG had an acting governor-general, acting prime minister, acting speaker – all ordered by the court – and an acting chief justice in coming days when Sir Salamo Injia goes on holiday.
In major developments yesterday, and since the Supreme Court nullified Sir Paulias Matane’s appointment last Friday:
*Sir Michael’s lawyers failed
to obtain and prevent the public prosecutor from moving to appoint a tribunal;
*Deputy Prime Minister and Wabag MP Sam Abal took over as acting prime minister; and
*Attorney-General Sir Arnold Amet said any decisions on instruments signed by Sir Paulias since June 25 were binding. In other related developments:
*Tiensten said any early recall of parliament would only be for the appointment of a new governor-general;
*Opposition leader Sir Mekere Morauta insisted that the opposition would pursue its no-confidence agenda; and
*Public Service Minister Moses Maladina urged the judiciary, legislator and executive to prevent a constitutional crisis.
Sir Michael said he was voluntarily stepping aside so that a leadership tribunal could hear allegations that he failed to lodge three annual financial statements in the 1990s.
It came hours after his lawyers failed to obtain an injunction at the Waigani National Court to prevent the public prosecutor from moving to appoint a tribunal.
He said in a statement that he was the victim of gross injustice because there had not been a judge available to hear his application for an injunction in the past few days.
Sir Michael also said he had filed a challenge against his referral to the prosecutor in the Supreme Court two years ago but he had not been given his day in court.
The 74-year-old East Sepik Regional MP said he was stepping aside so that the tribunal could take place unhindered and he could work to clear his name.