19 Jan 2011

PNG opposition sees Somare moves as bungling

9:42 am on 19 January 2011

The deputy opposition leader in Papua New Guinea says the Prime Minister's decision to step aside last December seems like bungling now that he's resumed his duties.

Sir Michael Somare voluntarily stepped aside as Prime Minister in December to allow for a tribunal to be set up to investigate charges of misconduct in office.

But yesterday his office announced he had resumed prime ministerial duties, after receiving advice that he could not legally step aside before a tribunal is established.

The deputy opposition leader Bart Philemon says he accepts that legally the Prime Minister is entitled to resume his duties.

But he says the reversal is of real concern.

"I think he might have made a mistake, like they have done with the appointment of the governor general, just a simple provision in our constitution, legislation and so forth. I'm not quite sure whether it was the politician overriding the good advice, legal advice from the bureaucrats or the bureaucrats bungling it up."

Bart Philemon says he does not think Sir Michael has returned because of any underlying problems with the government.

But our correspondent in PNG, Alex Rheeney, says another opposition MP, Belden Namah is now reported to be seeking clarification from the court about Sir Michael's decision to take leave after initially stepping aside.

Alex Rheeney says people are concerned about the Prime Minister's actions

There is confusion within the PNG public at the moment. When the public prosecutor actually did the referral in December last year, there were a lot of Papua New Guineans who came out supporting the decision for him to voluntarily step aside and allow the process to take its course, despite the fact that he wasn't obligated to do so under the law up until the Chief Justice made an announcement.

Alex Rheeney says Sir Michael's return could be shortlived because establishing a leadership tribunal will be a priority for the Chief Justice when the legal year begins at the start of February.