Students' deadline passes for PNG PM to stand down

6:40 pm on 20 May 2016
Papua New Guinea prime minister Peter O'Neill.

Papua New Guinea prime minister Peter O'Neill. Photo: PNG Blogs

The deadline set by protesting students for Papua New Guinea's prime minister to step down has passed, with little word on whether they will follow through on their threat of a mass withdrawal.

Students at the University of PNG yesterday gave Peter O'Neill a 24-hour ultimatum to stand down to face questioning on a major fraud case he is implicated in.

The prime minister has yet to accede to ongoing demands for him to resign over his alleged role in illegal state payments to the law firm, Paraka Lawyers.

Police fraud squad officers had secured an arrest warrant for Mr O'Neill two years ago, but his lawyers have launched a series of legal challenges which are yet to be finalised in court.

The student body threatened a mass withdrawal from their courses if the prime minister did not stand aside.

The students on Friday gained the support of the National Doctors Association, which called on the Governor General to dissolve parliament if Mr O'Neill refused to comply with the demands.

Its general secretary, Sam Yockopua, said a mass withdrawal of medical students would be a terrible set back for the national health system.

Dr Yockopua said at least 158 graduate doctors, dentists, pharmacists and specialist nurses were due to graduate this year alone.

"We have asked the other unions of the public and private sector and align with us and support the students," he said.

"We have called on the parents of the students and the civil society and the general Papua New Guineans to rise up, stand united and support the university students because they are not fighting for their own benefit they are fighting for Papua New Guinea as a whole."

But a cabinet minister, Justin Tkatchenko, said there was no reason for Mr O'Neill's arrest, despite an outstanding warrant.

"There's no evidence at all that the prime minister has ever received or taken any money from Paul Paraka. There is no evidence. So at the end of the day what are they arresting him for? Nothing. Political gain to get rid of the prime minister so the government can fall."

Despite the minister's claims, the police fraud squad's probe of the illegal payments to Paraka Lawyers was last month allowed to resume by the Supreme Court.

Following the ruling, fraud detectives made a series of high profile arrests, including the attorney-general Ano Pala, the prime minister's lawyer Tiffany Twivey and a Supreme Court judge, Sir Bernard Sakora, who was alleged to have taken a bribe while deliberating on matters related to the fraud case.

However, Justin Tkatchenko said the coalition government was standing firm in support of Peter O'Neill who he says has done more than any other prime minister in PNG's history to bring tangible developments to grassroots communities, including in education and sanitation.

The Moresby South MP said the prime minister is a remarkable man and is coping well given the mounting pressure to resign from the public.

"He takes this all on his chest as the leader of this country and rolls with it," said Mr Tkatchenko who admitted he couldn't do what the prime minister is doing.

"Honestly speaking, I could not put up with the pressure and the huge, consistent hounding that he gets in social media and by all other areas."