A Foreign Affairs taskforce was launched last year amidst widespread concern about a racket whereby foreigners were able to obtain genuine PNG passports. The taskforce issued a report earlier this year, but no action was taken until now.
MCLEOD: It's one of the highest profile cases of bureaucratic corruption in Papua New Guinea...and eighteen public servants are the first to be punished over the so-called passport scam. Foreign affairs secretary Evoa Lalatute.
LALATUTE: Just before lunchtime today I laid formal charges to 18 foreign affairs officers who had been working within the immigration and citizenship division. Those letters are consistent with the public service management act, and is within jurisdiction of the dpeartmental head to lay charges. Those letters also contain the specific allegations or charges against these officers in the taskforce report.
MCLEOD: The taskforce report was instigated last year by the then minister John Pundari. He wanted to clean up his department, after a series of high profile instances where it appeared the passport issuing process had been corrupted. Mr Pundari then lost his ministry -- and his replacement, John Waiko, was forced to take an arms length approach to the issue, after admitting links to figures allegedly involved in the scam. In one case that caught public attention, a foreigner was found to have five passports -- one from Thailand, one from Malaysia, and three from P-N-G.The P-N-G passports had listed at least two different birthplaces for the man, who was also listed as being a P-N-G citizen. The taskforce reported earlier this year, but action was delayed, and delayed again, until today -- with new foreign minister Sir Rabbie Namaliu promising to crack down on dubious practices within his department.
NAMALIU: That report was considered by the former NEC, former government. It obviously identified a number of issues and a number of problem areas including the identification of a number of individuals as well as organisations which were involved in this situation. So I made certain commitments last week that follow up action would be taken on this report and accordingly the secretary before we leave today has signed papers relating to the first 18 people implicated.
MCLEOD: And it's likely there'll be many more implicated in the scam. Secretary Lalatute's action today is under the Public Service Act. He's foreshadowed there may be more criminal charges to be laid against people both within and outside his department, and companies, implicated in the taskforce report.
LALATUTE: There are other areas that require swift follow up and that includes people outside, other Papua New Guineans outside the department as well as foreigners and companies they are associated with. Those will also receive attention from myself and the department relative to pursuance and laying of charges under various laws.
MCLEOD: Sir Rabbie Namaliu has promised a crackdown on corruption within his department. Passport is the first task, and next he's foreshadowed tough action on visas -- particularly illegal work permits that keep foreigners in jobs he says should be reserved for his fellow countrymen. In Port Moresby, Shane McLeod, for Asia Pacific.