PNG PM Challenges Referral To Leadership Tribunal

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Justice to rule on constitutionality of misconduct allegations

By Adrian Mathias

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Jan. 6, 2015) – Prime Minister Peter O’Neill will know today whether the leadership tribunal set up to investigate alleged misconduct in office against him will proceed later this month.

Justice David Cannings is set to make a ruling in the Waigani National Court.

It followed an application yesterday in the National Court by Mr O’Neill, raising concerns on constitutional issues on his referral, saying they should be heard and determined first by the Supreme Court.

His lawyer Mal Varitimos, QC, argued that if the tribunal went ahead with prosecution of his client without first determining constitutional issues by the Supreme Court, the findings of the tribunal and the prosecution would be unconstitutional.

Mr Varitimos said the tribunal could not deal with constitutional questions because it has no jurisdiction.

He made these submissions before Justice Cannings in an application for leave to amend his last November’s court proceedings challenging the decision of the Public Prosecutor Pondros Kaluwin to refer Mr O’Neill to the tribunal.

The amendment the Prime Minister was seeking was to have the Ombudsman Commission join the Public Prosecutor as party in that proceeding.

Mr Varitimos said the Ombudsman should be a party in the proceeding, bound by any orders of the court.

A similar request was also made on the Tribunal to be a party in the proceedings but Justice Cannings pointed out that the members of the tribunal had not done anything wrong to be a party in the proceedings, adding that they had just been appointed.

Mr O’Neill would be seeking to stay the tribunal hearing and obtain an interim injunction against the Public Prosecutor if the court rules in his favour today by granting him leave to make amendments.

"My client is insisting that the Public Prosecutor did not properly exercise his constitutional powers," Mr Varitimos said.

But lawyers for the Public Prosecutor objected to these contentions by Varitimos, saying this was to frustrate the tribunal of going ahead with the scheduled hearing on January 26.

The referral of Mr O’Neill stems from an allegation that he had bypassed set procedures and processes of overseas loan borrowing in relation to K3 billion UBS loan.

Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia announced the appointment of the leadership tribunal which will inquire into his alleged misconduct in office headed by a retired New Zealand judge Sir Peter Blanchard and members made up of retired Australian Federal Court judge John von Boussa and Justice Salatiel Lenalia.

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