12 Aug 2015

PNG pays Somare $1m over dumping

6:07 pm on 12 August 2015

Papua New Guinea's government has paid almost $1 million in compensation to former prime minister Sir Michael Somare for his "illegal removal from office" in 2011.

Sir Michael Somare

Sir Michael Somare Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

A spokesperson for Sir Michael said the payment was part of an out of court settlement agreed to earlier this year.

The spokesperson said the constitution allowed Sir Michael to seek redress for a series of breaches committed during the 2011 impasse, as determined by the Supreme Court.

In 2011, PNG's parliament voted to remove Sir Michael from office while he was in Singapore for extended medical treatment. The current prime minister Peter O'Neill was elected in his place.

The Supreme Court later ruled the change of prime minister was unconstitutional but the O'Neill government drafted legislation that retrospectively authorised the decision.

For a short period, both men claimed to be the rightful prime minister, and the country faced instability, with rival cabinets, police commissioners and governors-general.

The bitter political impasse ended with Mr O'Neill staying on as prime minister, partly on the argument that "parliamentary supremacy" should decide the matter.

Four years later, a 2,049,800 kina ($A972,570) payment has been made from a treasury fund that caters for "unforeseen and urgent expenditure".

The payment was described as: "Compensation to Sir Michael T Somare from losses incurred during his illegal removal from office as prime minister and member for East Sepik region".

The compensation was not ordered by a court, but was reportedly agreed to as part of a $A97 million civil lawsuit filed last year against Mr O'Neill and the state.

The payment for special damages was less than that the $A2.3 million Sir Michael was originally seeking, but his office said two further claims were still pending.

One of the claims is for $A72 million in general damages for mental anguish and public humiliation, and the other is for $A24 million in exemplary damages, according to unverified local media reports in November last year.

This is just one of several controversies over treasury spending and comes at a tough time for the resource-dependent nation, which has been hit hard by the commodities slump.

Last week Mr O'Neill announced spending cuts in non-priority areas of the budget.


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