Sunday, February 13, 2011

Prime Minister's leadership tribunal of national interest

The opposition has urged chief justice Sir Salamo Injia to decide speedily on prime minister Sir Michael Somare’s referral by the public prosecutor for a leadership tribunal to be set up to hear alleged misconduct charges relating to declaration of annual returns by the grand chief.

Leader of PNG Party Belden Namah said the matter was of national interest and the citizens of Papua New Guinea were entitled to get a decision.

Namah said Sir Salamo had a constitutional duty to the nation to announce the setting up of the tribunal without any unnecessary delays.

“Any delay in appointing the tribunal will cause the public to becoming suspicious,” he said.

“It is judiciary’s interest to bolster the public confidence in the judiciary.”

The pending leadership tribunal stem from allegations by the Ombudsman Commission (OC) that Sir Michael failed to lodge annual returns for the periods 1994/5, 1995/96 and 1996/7, his lodgement returns for the periods 1998/99, 1999/2000, 2000/01, 2001/02, 20003/04 and incomplete statements for periods 1992/93, 1993/94, 1997/98, 1999/2000, 2000.01, 20001/02 and 20002/03.

The OC referred Sir Michael to the public prosecutor for it to ask the chief justice to appoint a leadership tribunal to deal with the allegations, but Sir Michael went to court seeking orders to stop the OC from investigating him.

On June 24, 2008, National Court judge, Justice Derek Hartshorn rejected an application by Sir Michael for a temporary injunction to stop the OC from investigating him.

When rejecting Sir Michael’s temporary injunction, Judge Hartshorn ruled that it was not in the interest of the justice of the general public that lawful authorities should be prevented from performing their legal and constitutional duties.

He went to the court asking it to grant him certain declarations and a permanent injunction preventing the OC from continuing its investigations.

Sir Michael had contended that the OC lacked jurisdiction to continue the investigations.

The conduct of their investigations was oppressive, subject to excessive delays and breached the rules of natural justice to act fairly reasonably and in good faith.

He also alleged that the decision not to engage an independent examiner under section 19 of the Organic Law on Duties and Responsibilities of Leadership, as requested by him was decided by an individual and not the majority quorum of three independent constitutional office holders despite bias allegations raised by his client against the commission.

However, Judge Hartshorn in a seven-page decision stated that Sir Michael did not have a strong case to stop the OC from continuing its investigations.

“It is not in the interest of justice or the public interest that lawful authorities should be prevented from carrying out their lawful investigations.

“Any such prevention should only occur in very clear cases of abuse,” Judge Hartshorn said.

The judge was satisfied given the evidence before him that the PM’s appeal was not serious and the OC be allowed to continue its investigations.

Effectively, the ruling meant that the public prosecutor could proceed to ask the chief justice to appoint a leadership tribunal to determine the charges against the prime minister.

On June 30, 2008, the PM’s lawyers refiled their appeal matter in the Supreme Court to be heard that afternoon.

The appeal matter related to the refusal of the National Court to grant an order restraining the OC from investigating the PM on an alleged breach of the Leadership Code.

PM’s lawyers filed a notice of appeal basically appealing the whole of the judgment of Derek Hartshorn in dismissing their notice of motion.

In the notice of appeal,  they relied on seven grounds saying that in respect of each and every grounds, the National Court erred in the exercise of its discretion which if not overturned would result in the unlawful actions of an authority going unscrutinised by the court and causing serious injustice to the appellant.

The Supreme Court rejected the appeal.

Section 4 of the Organic Law on the Duties and Responsibilities of the Leadership require every person who is subject to the Leadership Code to furnish the OC every year details of assets, income and other required information.

Namah stressed that he was merely asking the chief justice to perform his constitutional duty and role in the public interest.

“The chief justice owes it to the nation and people to make an effort to set up the leadership tribunal in the national interest.

“It is not my intention to interfere with the work of the chief justice, but expect him to do his job speedily.”


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