PAPUA NEW GUINEA OMBUDSMAN TO PROBE COMMANDER SINGIROK

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By Isaac Nicholas

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (November 4, 1998 - The National)---The Ombudsman Commission has started its own investigation into PNGDF Commander Brigadier General Jerry Singirok.

Brig. Gen. Singirok, who has been charged with sedition by police, would be investigated by the Ombudsman Commission for alleged contravention of the Leadership Code during his previous term as commander.

Ombudsman Commissioner Simon Pentanu said the sedition charge was being dealt with independently by the police as a criminal matter.

In related developments yesterday:

Prime Minister Bill Skate denied having met Brig-General Singirok on Friday as reported or that he had recalled Police Commissioner Peter Aigilo from the United States; a military aide said Commander Singirok would not resign his job to face the current charges; and Defence Minister Peter Waieng called for restoration of order at the military headquarters at Murray Barracks following power blackouts.

Prime Minister Bill Skate had invited the Ombudsman Commission and the police to investigate Brig. Gen. Singirok if they saw fit when he re-appointed the commander three weeks ago.

This invitation both authorities appear to have taken up separately.

Last week, NCD police commander, Chief Superintendent John Wakon, announced he was resurrecting sedition charges which had been set aside when the disturbances of March 17, 1997 became the subject of a commission of inquiry and a separate Defence Force board of inquiry.

Yesterday, the Ombudsman Commission announced it was pursuing investigations to ensure the same incidents did not contravene provisions of the Leadership Code.

"This is a separate matter which is being dealt with under the Leadership Code," Mr. Pentanu said.

He said the Office of the Commander of the Defence Force was subject to the Leadership Code and Brig. Gen. Singirok again became a leader upon his recent appointment as commander.

"He has been advised of the Ombudsman Commission's investigations into the allegations of misconduct in office relating to his previous term as commander," Mr. Pentanu said.

He said Brig. Gen. Singirok had pledged his full cooperation.

He cautioned people against speculating on the verdict because of mere investigations.

"There is no need for panic," Mr. Pentanu said.

"No-one has been judged guilty. Every person in PNG is guaranteed the full protection of the law under the Constitution. The law should be allowed to take its course."

The Ombudsman Commissioner said that while Brig. Gen. Singirok is in office he is covered under the Leadership Code.

Mr. Pentanu declined to give the scope of the misconduct investigations saying: "I don't think it's proper to do that without giving the man a chance to reply."

On the sedition charge against Brig. Gen. Singirok, he said the police must be allowed to do their job without political involvement.

"I can appreciate the type of concerns which have been expressed about the possibility of the political involvement in the law enforcement role of the police force," he said.

Mr. Pentanu said the police force must always be allowed to do its job unobstructed by any political force.

He said the Constitution imposes a clear demarcation between the operational heads of the various disciplined forces in the country and the political leadership.

"We must have, and display, confidence in the ability of our constitution to provide a fair and just outcome; even when sensitive cases like this one crop up," said Mr. Pentanu.

"It is heartening to hear law enforcement officers say they will enforce the law of the land "without fear or favor.

"These simple words express a great virtue of our constitutional democracy."

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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