PNG Supreme Court Rules Ombudsman Not Obliged To Inform PM Of Investigations

O'Neill challenged Commission's authority to investigate him over UBS loan

By Daisy Pakawa

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, ) – The Ombudsman Commission is not obliged to inform Prime Minister Peter O’Neill of its intention to investigate his conduct, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday.

The court also ruled that Ombudsman could publish the result of the investigations and comments.

Those were the findings of a Supreme Court reference handed down in relation to a A$1.239 billion (about K3 billion) [US$948 million] Union Bank of Switzerland loan received by the Government which the Ombudsman Commission believed amounted to improper conduct by officials, including Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.

The matter, comprising 11 questions, was referred by a National Court proceeding initiated by Mr O’Neill who questioned the Ombudsman Commission powers.

The 47-page Supreme Court decision was handed down by Deputy Chief Justice Sir Gibbs Salika, Justice Panuel Mogish, Justice David Cannings, Justice Stephan Kassman and Justice Terence Higgins.

"The OC is and was not required by Section 17 (1) of the Organic Law on the Ombudsman Commission to inform the Prime Minister of its intention to make investigation relating to his conduct regarding the UBS loan," the court ruled

"The Prime Minister is an officer of a governmental body. Therefore his administrative conduct can be investigated by the OC under Section 219 (1) (a) of the Constitution and Section 13 of the Organic Law on the Ombudsman Commission.

"It follows that the commission may in its discretion publish the results of its investigation by forwarding a copy of its conclusions, recommendations and suggestions to any of the persons holding positions described in Section 23 (1) of the Organic Law on the Ombudsman Commission or in any other lawful way."

Parties to the reference were the Ombudsman Commission, Chief Ombudsman Rigo Lua, Ombudsman Phoebe Sangetari, Peter O’Neill and Attorney-General Ano Pala.

On May 2014, the Ombudsman Commission gave notice to 11 permanent heads of various government departments and other governmental bodies of its intention to investigate, on its own initiative, the alleged improper borrowing of the UBS loan to buy 149,390,244 shares in Oil Search Ltd and improper tender and procurement of consultants in relation to the borrowing.

No notice was given to the Prime Minister.

An investigation was conducted and on December 2014 the Ombudsman Commission distributed a provisional report of the results of its investigation, on a confidential basis, to various persons, including the Prime Minister.

Mr O’Neill challenged the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman in the National Court in 2015. His contention was that the Ombudsman Commission lacked jurisdiction to investigate and distribute a provisional report which contained comments said to be adverse to and derogatory of him.

Before the matter could go on trial, Mr O’Neill made an application asking the National Court to refer to the Supreme Court certain questions for constitutional interpretation and application.

PNG Post-Courier
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