PM tones down land probe

By MATTHEW VARI

PRIME Minister Peter O’Neill has assured the country that the administrative inquiry will take four weeks to conduct and a report will be presented in on the floor of Parliament later this month.

He announced the National Executive Council’s decisions to undertake an administrative inquiry as opposed to the Commission of Inquiry (COI) announced in early February to probe the Manumanu land deal and other land dealings by the various state departments and agencies including state-owned enterprises.

Mr O’Neill said with the previous COI, it probed principles of accountability and transparency in transactions that the agencies of government do on behalf of the state.

Saying that the inquiry in its entirety will remain the same apart from being administrative in nature as a response to legal action taken by various parties aggrieved on the legality of COIs.

“That is that the Western Provincial Government and Posman Kua lawyers have taken action against the government, and NEC and myself as chairman of NEC questioning the legality of commissions of inquiry in relation to the matter during that inquiry in relation to legal fees paid to many lawyers that was subject of the enquiry,” Mr O’Neill said.

“It is also important to note that after so many legal advises regarding the initial commission of inquiry probe, because of ongoing court case that is now before the Supreme Court of country.

“A five-man Supreme Court bench set for the hearing of that case and the decision is pending and that questions the legality of commissions of enquiry.”

He said due to the case, NEC has resorted to conduct an inquiry administrative in nature with accountability and the other investigative requirements, will be still conducted by a leading legal professional.

“NEC today appointed John Griffin, Queens Counsel of the Queensland Bar to enquire and report on the five land transactions through this inquiry,” Mr O’Neill said.

“Mr Griffin is a leading lawyer well experienced, highly qualified and he is well versed in the laws if our country.”

Mr O’Neill assured all concerned parties that the appointment would not prevent ongoing investigations currently underway through the police fraud squad, ombudsman commission, and the department of personnel management.

“This enquiry will look into the role of relevant ministers of relevant departmental heads and their officers, particularly the secretaries of departments, heads of various state owned enterprises,” he said.

“It will look at the role of management of many of these organisations, the role of the Valuer General, in terms of the valuations of the lands purchased, and of course the recommendations on this particular enquiry will be made to cabinet within four weeks.”

“We believe that the inquiry, headed by Griffin with the assistance of many other professionals in due course and that enquiry will now start from tomorrow (Wed, Mar 8),” he said.

He said a budget of K2 million has been allocated for the investigative team headed by Mr Griffin.

“We will have a team because this is a really refined investigation we want them to do it on a timely basis,” Mr O’Neill said.

“This is the last session of parliament before the writs are issued. We do not want to be holding parliament around before this particular report to come, we want to adjourn so people can go to the elections.”

Mr O’Neill maintains the case as being one of great public concern.

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