PNG leader responds to student accusations

12:40 pm on 24 May 2016
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Peter O'Neill has been the subject of widespread protests by students at the University of PNG. Photo: RNZI / Koro Vaka'uta

The council of the University of Papua New Guinea is expected to meet on Tuesday to decide the fate of thousands of students who have been protesting for several weeks.

The students have been boycotting classes while calling for the Prime Minister Peter O'Neill to stand down because he is implicated in a fraud case.

Mr O'Neill, who was presented with a petition from the protesting students last Thursday, has now responded.

In a detailed written reply, Mr O'Neill said several of the students' concerns were before the courts and he could not comment.

But on the key matter of alleged fraudulent payments to Paul Paraka Lawyers, Mr O'Neill said the warrant for his arrest was of questionable political intent.

The warrant was issued nearly two years ago, and Mr O'Neill has refused to go in for questioning and his lawyers have launched a series of legal challenges to try and block the warrant.

In his letter, he said the critical question was why he was being charged when Paul Paraka Lawyers had not been prosecuted by police to establish if there was fraud.

Mr O'Neill asked if this was the logical thing to do or whether there was an ulterior motive behind it.

Responding to another point in the students' petition, Mr O'Neill said a controversial loan from the Swiss bank, UBS, was needed to ensure that state-owned company Oil Search did not come under the control of foreign interests.

The government is facing legal challenges over the $1.2 billion loan, which the opposition claims was sought illegally by Mr O'Neill without parliamentary approval.

Mr O'Neill said that with yesterday's announcement of Oil Search purchasing another company, Interoil's stake in the LNG project, the company's value to PNG has risen.

He defended his distribution of funds in the District Service Improvement Programme and also said his government was the first to bring stability to the public service.

Mr O'Neill has also defended the country's debt levels, saying in terms of debt to GDP, it is, at 28%, well below the limit set in the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

He also said the figures were good compared with other countries, such as Fiji, where he said total debt to GDP is 47%, or in Japan where it is 247%.

The UPNG Council will today consider whether students should still be eligible for a degree programme in the light of their absence from classes, and whether the current semester remains viable.

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