TREASURER and Finance Minister Patrick Pruaitch, in the spotlight this week following the appointment of a leadership tribunal to probe allegations of misconduct in office against him, is fighting back.
Yesterday, he received the backing of the powerful Momase bloc of the National Alliance party to continue as minister and deputy leader of the party.
Mr Pruaitch met with his lawyers yesterday and decided to challenge the decision of the Public Prosecutor to refer him to the Chief Justice to appoint a leadership tribunal to inquire into allegations of misconduct in office against him.
He said he has been advised by his lawyers that there are some serious doubts about the validity and fairness of the process followed by the Ombudsman Commission in his case that had led to his referral.
“Accordingly, I have made an application to the National Court under the provisions of Section 23 of the Constitution for a ruling on the issues.
“I hope for an early resolution of this application to the court, so that I can continue to discharge my duties as Minister and Member of Parliament,” he said in a statement.
If leave is granted by the court for Mr Pruaitch to challenge the process, the tribunal appointed will be prevented from sitting pending the hearing of this challenge.
Mr Pruaitch will be automatically suspended from office when the tribunal, headed by Deputy Chief Justice Gibbs Salika, convenes to inquire into the allegations of misconduct against him.
Mr Pruaitch attended a meeting of the Momase bloc late yesterday afternoon, held at the Morauta Haus in Waigani, to brief members regarding his case. He received their backing to continue as minister and their leader in the party.
In attendance were Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare, Angoram MP and State Enterprises Minister Arthur Somare, Nawaeb MP and Public Accounts Committee chairman Timothy Bonga, Bogia MP John Hickey and Sandaun Governor Simon Solo.
Forest Minister and Vanimo-Green MP Belden Namah arrived late for the meeting.
Health Minister Sasa Zibe and Wewak MP Jim Simatab are overseas on duty travel.
Sources at the meeting said the Prime Minister will retain the Finance and Treasury portfolio when Mr Pruaitch steps down to face the leadership tribunal.
The Prime Minister is likely to reshuffle his Cabinet next week, but Mr Pruaitch is not likely to be affected by that change.
The Momase bloc of the NA met after the Highlands bloc met on Wednesday night to re-instate Works, Transport and Civil Aviation Minister Don Polye as the deputy leader (Highlands), replacing Education Minister James Marape.
It is understood that the Highlands bloc meeting was not all smooth. A source at the meeting said some MPs questioned whether a vacancy existed for the caucus to consider a bid by Mr Polye.
“Mr Marape did not relinquish the deputy leadership post as reported. Questions were raised about the issue, and after a heated exchange, a vote was taken on a resolution passed last year. This is what was used by Mr Polye to take back the position,” the source said.
The Highlands bloc was also positioning itself for the changes the Prime Minister will make to Cabinet next week. The Islands bloc of NA is divided, with one group urging the Prime Minister to sack Planning Minister Paul Tiensten.
The Papuan bloc, led by Deputy Prime Minister Sir Puka Temu, is quiet and appears to be stable and united.