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UPNG expert calls for ‘Constitutional’ resolution of standoff

By Ramcy Wama PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Jan. 4, 2012) - The situation that Papua New Guinea (PNG) is in now was coming yet not many people took notice of what is happening now and is bound to happen.

Constitutional Lawyer Professor John Nonggorr explained the current political standoff from the constitution perspective during his Christmas and New Year break in Mt Hagen last week.

Prof Nonggorr said Sir Michael Somare should have seen it or his advisers should have realised it three or four years ago that the language used to describe the Government led by Sir Michael at least after the 2007 general election was vicious and personal.

He said Papua New Guineans complained that Sir Michael's regime was treating the Government and PNG as a family company, and then Opposition Leader Sir Mekere Morauta called the Somare Cabinet a "kitchen cabinet".

Prof Nonggorr said there was a groundswell of discontentment against the way the country was being run.

"The Somare Government got arrogant, too arrogant. It ignored all criticism and in many ways three or four people in the Somare regime behaved as if they owned the country and rejected all opposing views as coming from people with bad motives.

"Sir Michael turned a blind eye to people in his Government being corrupt and even himself covered up unlawful actions in the Julian Moti saga (several laws were broken - civil aviation laws, defence force laws, a magistrate's order, etc on Sir Michael's direction ) and attacked the Ombudsman Commission over its report. The Somare Government got Parliament to reject the Ombudsman report on Moti that recommended for police to investigate Sir Michael," Prof Nonggorr said.

He said Arthur Somare used parliamentary committees in collusion with Speaker Jeffrey Nape to abuse Standing Orders of Parliament to frustrate no confidence motions and other procedures in Parliament. More seriously, as a political survival tactic, the Somare regime cut short parliamentary sittings periods in breach of the Constitution as clarified by the Supreme Court.

"As Prime Minister, Sir Michael allowed MPs like Arthur Somare and Patrick Pruaitch who were facing leadership tribunals questioning their leadership ethics to continue to hold ministerial positions when good governance standards would require individuals facing such ethical questions to be removed from public offices to protect these ministerial offices.

Most recently when Sir Michael was in Singapore in hospital over heart problems, Acting Prime Minister Sam Abal's Cabinet failed to follow the law to immediately appoint doctors and put in motion processes required by law to appoint a full time prime minister.

There was no account given to the people of PNG for many years on the way public enterprises were run. These and many other aspects of public administration was closed book to the people of PNG who were the real owners," Prof Nonggorr said.

He said the decommissioning of a number of ministers, Don Polye, Peter O'Neill, William Duma and others triggered the events which were continuing now.

Prof Nonggorr said Sir Michael's Government saw the erosion of ethics of equality and fairness in leadership, respect for all MPs in both Opposition and Government and of inclusiveness of all Papua New Guineans as all MPs represent.

"All such misdemeanours not only eroded respect for all public offices but hardened political opponent's criticism and personalised attacks. I have highlighted these issues in the media (sometimes paying for advertorials out of my own pocket) and calling on Sir Michael's government to set better standards. These warnings were ignored —the general attitude was that the Somare regime had God given right to power. Now the O'Neill/Namah regime has followed the example set by Somare and is blatantly manipulating everything to hang onto power. It is also claiming that it has been appointed by God, what rubbish!" Prof Nonggorr said.

"But, the O'Neill Namah regime has gone further and taken the country over the cliff. Whilst the Somare Government took PNG down the slippery slope in abusing and corrupting the executive and legislative arms of Government, it respected the judiciary and left it alone.

Consequently, Papua New Guineans had faith in this third arm of Government.

The O'Neill regime directly and blatantly attacked the judiciary bringing the judiciary into what are political differences in suspending the Chief Justice and in passing motions and laws directly deciding issues before the Supreme Court and taking over the role of the judiciary," he said.

Prof Nonggorr said such nonsense must stop.

The people for PNG deserve better — they are predominantly rural based and they require basic services.

"PNG's youth are particularly bearing the burdens of mismanagement and corruption they have no hope in their own country. Elected leaders like the MPs are responsible for the sufferings by the youth because there is more than enough money in the public purse (if managed properly) to take care of them but the MPs are fighting over power. For instance, for the 2012 budget, we are told that there will be over K10 billion. That is a lot of money," he said.

Prof Nonggorr said the standoff between the Somare and the O'Neill groups could be resolved if MPs put the interest of the seven million people PNG first. It can be done. But it must be done within the framework of the Constitution.

"The way the stand-off is resolved if done constitutionally can turn the current events into a positive episode for PNG in the sense that PNG can show to the rest of the World that PNG can resolve serious political differences within the framework of the Constitution and strengthen PNG's adherence to the rule of law, respect for the Constitution and cement its young democracy. PNG did it with the Bougainville crisis," he said.

"There are at least three ways in which the stand-off can be resolved within the ambit of the Constitution. First, without insisting on who is the Prime Minister, both Sir Michael and Peter O'Neill should hand in letters of resignation as Prime Minister forthwith making way for Parliament to elect a Prime Minister. This can happen immediately. The Parliament can then elect a new Prime Minister. If both men really have at heart the interests of the people, they should agree not to put their hands up and allow new faces to contest the Prime Minister post.

It is only for less than six months.

The new Prime Minister could take the country to the elections it could be a coalition Government made up by MPs from both sides of the two camps.

Second, Sir Michael and Peter O'Neill could agree on the constitutional issues now in dispute to be framed for the Supreme Court to sit immediately and decide the issues. Both men must agree to the issues and accept the decision of the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice may be asked to constitute a court without himself comprising the Court. In the interim, the two men take leave and allow an agreed acting Prime Minister and core Cabinet to hold the fort of Government.

Third, failing the above, the Parliament must sit and allow a no confidence motion to be moved against Sir Michael Somare who was reinstated by the Supreme Court accepting the Supreme Court decision. If successful, this will trigger a general election because the Constitution says that a successfully no confidence motion entertained in the last 12 months will trigger a general election. This is the only constitutional way a general election can be held earlier than the normal election period fixed by the Constitution - there is no other way a general election can be held earlier to resolve the current impasse," Prof Nonggorr explained.

He said the last option may not be attractive to MPs who did not want to cut their terms short and face the electorate early but indeed the O'Neill group now could trigger an early general election using its numerical strength in Parliament by moving a no confidence vote against Sir Michael.

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