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Sir Arnold Amet says debate must not be gagged

By Kevin Pamba

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, June 20, 2008) – Political leaders in Papua New Guinea have no right to muzzle the media or gag debate in Parliament, Madang Governor Sir Arnold Amet told the governance symposium at Divine Word University in Madang yesterday.

[PIR editor’s note: Madang is the capital of Madang Province, on the northern coast of Papua New Guinea’s mainland peninsula.]

In direct reference to the recent public outcry against constant gagging of debate in Parliament by the Speaker and the Government, and the Prime Minister’s threats against the media, Sir Arnold said under no circumstance should leaders attempt to muzzle the media or gag debate in Parliament.

"Debate must be allowed. The people have the right to know how you (the leaders) are conducting the leadership business," the former Chief Justice said in a fiery speech that attracted applause from the audience.

He said leadership must be a transparent and public activity open to public scrutiny.

Instead of being edgy about media and public scrutiny, leaders must open up, he said.

"Hold regular media conferences," Sir Arnold said.

He called on the media "to be far more resilient" and ensure it continues to do its work.

Sir Arnold said the right to information be legislated so that the media and the public can, by law, have access to public information.

He said in countries such as India, this has allowed the public to demand information from Government and hold public officials to account. He said with so much that has gone wrong in the country as highlighted in the three-day symposium, and in other forums, it was time for leaders to take the lead and take action to change the course of the country.

"We leaders stand indicted for our stewardship neglect. We must have the resolve to take action (against corruption and mismanagement)," Sir Arnold said.

The former Chief Justice also called for the Ombudsman Commission to be streamlined and given the teeth to work faster and get offending leaders prosecuted quickly.

He said at present the commission was too legalistic and warped in law that by the time it gets to recommend someone for prosecution, it takes too long.

Sir Arnold also called for changes to laws to appropriately punish leaders who abuse their positions and force them to repay what they steal from the public.

He described the three-year dismissal from office of MPs found guilty of breaching the Leadership Code as a tap on the wrist and laughable.

The National:

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