O'Neill strips Polye of finance portfolio

28/02/2012 00:18


Treasurer Don Polye has been stripped of his finance portfolio by PM Peter O'Neill.



The siege tactics that Southern Highlands landowners have subjected the Finance and National Planning departments to is creating cracks in the O’Neill government with Treasurer Don Polye stripped of his finance portfolio.

Parliament-elected Prime Minister Peter O’Neill announced the withdrawal of the finance portfolio from Mr Polye tonight in a decision that would raise further questions about the solidarity of his cabinet. The Kandep MP would now only be responsible for the treasury portfolio in a move which is bound to send shock waves within the O'Neill government coalition.

“This decision is in light of complaints in relation to various landowner funds as per the state’s responsibilities and commitments under the Oil and Gas Act and UBSA (umbrella benefit sharing agreement) and various LBBSA (license-based benefit sharing agreement) under the PNG LNG agreement,” Mr O’Neill said in a media statement.

Pressure has been mounting on Mr O’Neill to intervene in the standoff, which has seen hundreds of people who claim to be landowners from the resource-rich Southern Highlands province, converge on Vulupindi House in Port Moresby over the past week demanding that they be paid K290 million in LNG monies owed by the government. However it is understood the monies are infrastructure development grants, which according to law should be used to fund the building of infrastructure in Southern Highlands and cannot be paid out as cash to recipients.

Mr Polye reportedly told the protesters last week that there were procedures that the government needed to follow before the development grants could be released.

But Mr O’Neill indicated in his statement tonight that besides the delay in the payment of LNG-related monies, the finance ministry and department was also guilty of operating outside budget, despite him expressing his concerns to Mr Polye in previous correspondence.

“Furthermore, the continuing lack of ability by the department and ministry of finance to contain expenditure overruns outside of budget appropriations has not abated since I wrote to you last,” Mr O’Neill wrote.

Under the changes Mr O’Neill, as finance minister, will oversee all public accounts, departmental and regional audits relating to the implementation of the budget, loans and revenue, the central agencies coordinating committee (CACC) and the Central Supply and Tenders Board.

The removal of the finance portfolio from Mr Polye was confirmed by a government gazette dated February 27, 2012. Ironically, the gazette states that the decision to amend Mr Polye’s title and responsibilities was made on December 14, 2011, two days after the controversial Supreme Court ruling which reinstated Sir Michael as PM. It is not known if Mr Polye was advised at that time of plans to strip him of the portfolio.

The developments add to the rollercoaster ride that the O’Neill government has had since last December, when it controversially used its parliamentary majority to re-elect Mr O’Neill after the court ruling and removed Sir Michael as the East Sepik Regional MP, matters which are now before the Supreme Court for its deliberation.