10 Dec 2010

PNG PM mounts legal challenge, swears in new deputy

10:00 am on 10 December 2010

Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare says he will step aside if a tribunal is established into his alleged misconduct, but he has lawyers ready to fight the matter in the Supreme Court.

The matter relates to alleged improprieties regarding Sir Michael's listing of financial statements, some dating back to 1993.

Sir Michael told reporters that while he respects decisions by the Ombudsman, the Public Prosecutor and the Chief Justice, he also had lawyers challenging the original report.

He says should a tribunal be set up he will step aside in the interim as prime minister.

Flanked by the new deputy Prime Minister, Sam Abal, and a raft of new ministers, Sir Michael would also not say why he made the sudden cabinet reshuffle.

The snap reshuffle, eventually confirmed by the PM on Thursday afternoon, is believed to have been a pre-emptive strike against PNG's Public Prosecutor, who issued a statement on Wednesday outlining the intention to establish a tribunal into the allegations against Sir Michael.

Mr Abal was sworn in as the new deputy prime minister on Thursday afternoon while former deputy PM Don Polye became foreign affairs minister.

Mr Abal, who is from Enga Province as Mr Polye, is seen as a safer option if Sir Michael has to step aside.

But many questions remain about what Mr Polye will now do in light of the reshuffle.

Mr Polye, who this week described the PM as a close friend, expected to be gifted the top job next year considering his loyalty and the crucial role he played to keep the Highlands faction together in stifling a recent vote of no-confidence.