Treasurer hits back at K112mil claim

Main Stories, National

The National – Tuesday, February 8, 2011

FINANCE and Treasury Minister Peter O’Neill has brushed aside claims by National Planning secretary Joseph Lelang that a total of K112 million was paid out to shore up government support in the face of a vote of no-confidence against the Somare government.
He described the comments as “misleading and irresponsible”.
Lelang, in an alleged letter to Minister Paul Tiensten last Dec 6, stated that political directives were issued to the department to honour certain government commitments in 2010.
He claimed the department was advised to find money and make necessary payments irrespective of its source.
Lelang stated that on Aug 12 last year, the department was directed by O’Neill, who was Public Service Minister and acting Treasurer, at Havana Club in the presence of Tiensten and Patrick Pruaitch, to release K51 million from the development budget to shore up coalition numbers in view of an impending vote of no-confidence expected last November.
He claimed another K33 million was raised, upon direction by Tiensten and Public Enterprises Minister Arthur Somare, for presentation at the inauguration of the proposed Hela province in Southern Highlands.
Lelang said in the letter that from political direction, a total of K28 million was paid to 14 provincial governors when, in fact, the governors were entitled to only K1 million under the provincial service improvement programme; which meant each governor was paid an extra K1 million or an extra K14 million collectively.
He also claimed that a total of K98 million was dished out on unbudgeted projects following directions from the minister for finance and treasury and the prime minister’s office.
Funds were allegedly drawn from the district service improvement programme (DSIP), business development grants (BDG) and infrastructure development grants (IDG).
O’Neill, however, said he was disappointed that a person holding a senior position in the public service would make media statements that were not based on facts, were outrageous and damaging to the government.
He said the government had done its best to fund all projects submitted by MPs, depending on the availability of funds and irrespective of which side on the floor of parliament they sit.
“The projects listed in the news story are some of the projects identified under Resi (rehabilitation of education sector infrastructure), district and provincial roads, health programmes and growth centre projects which are appropriated in the 2010 budget.
“The government did not push these projects to MPs to buy their support. That is not true.
“Many of these projects came direct from the districts and were submitted to Lelang and the Department of National Planning. But, they were sitting there because of Lelang’s long absence from office, and his inability to deal with them in a timely manner.
“It became very frustrating, and that is why he was given directions to deal with the projects.
“At no time was he told or directed to breach the Public Finance Management Act. If he did, he chose to do so on his own accord and he should be dealt with.”
O’Neill said for the projects identified, cheques were written to the appropriate district treasury accounts with instructions that normal procurement processes and public accounting requirements be followed.
He said no cheques were written to any member of parliament.
“As secretary of national planning, it is Lelang’s responsibility to identify and fund projects, monitor and ensure they are implemented.
“He has failed in his duty and is attempting to pass the buck.”
O’Neill said Lelang was stepping away from his responsibilities and making political statements, breaching his employment conditions, and using false and misleading information to attack the government.
He said an independent audit would be done on the implementation of the 2010 development budget.