PNG TRIBUNAL: SOMARE SENTENCE CALLED MOCKERY

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Opposition says corruption given green light

By Todagia Kelola PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, March 25, 2011) – Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare was yesterday slapped with a 14-day suspension without pay for the 13 charges that he was found guilty of by the Leadership Tribunal this week.

And the Opposition hit back yesterday saying it’s a mockery of the rule of law in PNG and gives licence to leaders to steal and hide their benefits from the Ombudsman Commission

The tribunal recommended to Governor General Sir Michael Ogio that Sir Michael be suspended from office without pay for a period of 14 days from and including Monday April 4.

In a packed courtroom at the Waigani Supreme and National Court the three-man tribunal delivered a landmark decision in a two to one ruling. This is the first time a PNG Prime Minister was tried in a leadership tribunal and found guilty on official misconduct charges.

The chairman and former Australian Federal Court judge Roger Gyles and New Zealander Sir Bruce Robertson recommended for 14 days suspension while Englishman Sir Robin Auld dissented and ruled for the Prime Minister to be dismissed from office (See separate story)

In a 17-page majority decision by Chairman Gyles and Sir Bruce, the two eminent former judges stated: "Having satisfied ourselves that the two constitutional requirements (No serious culpability and Public policy and public good) have been met, we are able to recommend a penalty other than dismissal of the leader as provided in the alternative penalties regime set out in section 2 of the Leadership Code.

"The maximum fine which can be imposed is K1000. That has been the sum since the statute was enacted more than 35 years ago. Tribunals in the past have frequently noted how the value of money has changed and what would then have been a substantial penalty is now a relatively small sum," they stated.

They also cited the final report of the Constitutional Planning Committee produced in 1974, and quoted five paragraphs, among them: "Our recommendation that each leader should disclose to the Ombudsman Commission various financial particulars concerning himself and his immediate family, each year, accords with our recommendation that the Leadership Code should be enforceable. Unless leaders declare their assets, liabilities, and business activities, the Ombudsman Commission will not be in a position to know whether they are living up to what is expected of them."

They stated that Sir Michael was a member of that committee at that time, but the inevitable conclusion from the evidence is that for many years, this leader did not give the attention or the priority which the law required to the timely filing of complete statements.

"There is no denying that he was busy, and at times held high office, but it was important that he, like every other leader, met his obligations to report regularly and fully, to help ensure that this country could be governed with integrity and free from corruption."

They found that there was no serious culpability in their assessment within the total context of acts or omissions which could constitute misconduct in the circumstances of the case. But that does not mean that the failures were not important.

With the passage of years, the maximum fine that they could impose namely K13,000 is quite inadequate to mark the failures, and to send a message to all other leaders of the importance of their fulfilling their clear duties of disclosure in a timely way.

A reprimand alone would be inadequate.

They concluded that it is only by recommending a limited period of suspension from office as Prime Minister that the necessary message can be properly sent to all leaders and the public.

"Limited suspension will be a proportionate response to the level of offending established, and a clear signal to all, that the Leadership Code, and the mechanism for enforcing it, are not mere words but solemn responsibilities.

"Accordingly we would recommend to the Head of State, His Excellency the Governor General, that the Leader be suspended from the office of Prime Minister without pay for a period of fourteen days from and including the 4th day of April 2011.

"He would remain a Member of Parliament," they stated.

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