PLANNING Minister Paul Tiensten and his department have been stripped of their financial powers by Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare.
The dramatic move took place early last week, but was not made public until it was leaked to the press.
The move leaves Tiensten and his department powerless to spend, approve, allocate or fund any projects or expenditures under the development budget, the PIP, MoA and other funding that comes under the Planning Department.
Sources in Waigani said Tiensten threatened to resign last Wednesday when he received a copy of the letter advising of the removal of powers, but close friends and other cabinet ministers talked him out of it.
Tiensten and his department came under the spotlight last week in questions raised in Parliament by the opposition. The questions related to funding of projects in West New Britain and raised allegations of impropriety.
But Tiensten and his departmental head, Joseph Lelang, countered the allegations in the media, describing the allegations as false and saying proper procedures were followed in the approval of the projects. Tiensten even threatened in Parliament on Monday to sue Kandrian-Gloucester MP Tony Puana and the Sunday Chronicle newspaper for defamation. The newspaper retracted part of the story in its publication yesterday.
But it seems his explanation was not enough for the prime minister.
In his May 11, 2010, letter, Sir Michael said: “The government has been adversely criticised over a number of financial transactions made by the Ministry and Department of Planning.”
He said as such, public perception was that the ministry and department had now become an expenditure organisation, when it should be playing its tradition role of planning and monitoring.
The prime minister directed that the financial powers be transferred to Finance and Treasury Minister Patrick Pruaitch and his departmental head, Gabriel Yer.
Yer moved quickly to assume control by writing to Lelang the next day on May 12, advising that he had assumed all powers of the department.
But the move caused confusion last Thursday and Friday, with clients and goods and service providers with payment queries told to go away and return to Vulupindi House today when the issue becomes clearer.
Concerns were raised about the development budget, which one official said could be reduced in significance to a one -line item under the control of Finance and Treasury.
The removal of the role of National Planning in determining resource allocation might also put at risk various government programmes, another official said.
Pruaitch downplayed the significance of the move when contacted last week.
He said the prime minister was merely restoring to finance and treasury financial powers that had been delegated.