FIVE-year-old Iluh Kara, dressed in her mother's Manus traditional bilas, was at the Jackson
International Airport yesterday morning to welcome home her bubu and East Sepik regional MP Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare. Iluh presented Sir Michael with a basket. Iluh's dad is the son of Sir Michael's only sister, Rosa. – Nationalpic by EKAR KEAPU
THE state has paid K3.7 million to keep Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare in Singapore's Raffles Hospital and for related costs, The National reports.
The actual hospital bill is less than K1 million but travel and accommodation expenses and sustenance allowances for his family, minders and visitors blew up the amount to K3,718,981.82.
An amount of K67,703.52 was still outstanding as of Aug 29.
All the expenses was borne by the Prime Minister's Department, which does not have any allowances within its budget for the medical expenses of the prime minister, deputy prime minister and other ministers of government, department sources said.
Sources also said Prime Minister Peter O'Neill had directed his department to transfer all future expenses to parliament and to have parliament reimburse the department's expenses so far.
At any time, there had always been three security officers and a protocol officer in attendance at the hospital as well as Lady Veronica, press secretary and daughter Betha Somare and personal assistant Seki Karingal. All their expenses were met by the department.
This came to light as the Grand Chief jetted in on an Air Niugini commercial flight from Singapore yesterday morning to an emotional welcome at the Jackson International Airport.
It was important that Sir Michael was in the country to attend tomorrow's sitting of parliament. To miss it would mean his third consecutive absence, rendering Sir Michael an automatic disqualification as the regional parliamentary representative of East Sepik.
The Grand Chief spoke briefly upon his arrival yesterday, looking frail but walking without assistance.
Scores of people, including Governor-General Sir Michael Ogio, who broke with protocol to be present personally to meet Sir Michael, wept openly when they saw the former prime minister who had been in a Singapore hospital for the past four months.
Sir Michael greeted the airport crowd and spoke briefly on health care, clearly avoiding the events of Aug 2 and the election of O'Neill as prime minister.
"The days ahead of us are tough but I am one of those who have proven to be a fighter and to make things work," Sir Michael said.
A strategy meeting is expected to be held by the Somare camp today for tomorrow's parliament meeting.
The topic of where Sir Michael would sit would feature prominently with expectations that he would attempt to occupy the prime minister's chair.