"We declare our first goal to be for every person to be dynamically involved in the process of freeing himself or herself from every form of domination or oppression so that each man or woman will have the opportunity to develop as a whole person in relationship with others".

- Papua New Guinea National Goals and Directive Principles

Monday, 4 July 2011

State Corruption and Exxon: Where does the buck stop?

From today’s (4/7/11) Post Courier. It raises the question, Exxon Mobil might not be writing cheques out to senior Ministers, but if it reasonably knows that the revenues it pays to government will be misappropriated, does this create complicity?  
Report: K1.2 billion missing, MPs named

Certain Ministers and senior bureaucrats have been named in a report that forms part of the Department of National Planning and Monitoring Secretary, Joseph Lelang’s affidavit now before the National Court.

The copy of the affidavit obtained by Post-Courier highlights that about 90 per cent or K1.2 billion of the total of K2.1 billion direct PNG Government funding for its development budget has allegedly gone missing in the three months when Mr Lelang was out on suspension. Philemon Was Korowi, from Philemon Korowi Lawyers who is representing Mr Lelang in court, confirmed that the national fraud squad will provide its own report to the court.

In the report, the total 2011 development budget stands at K4.2 billion of which K2.1 billion is direct funding from the National Government while the balance comprises foreign aid monies with almost 75 per cent of these coming from AusAID.

The report, which highlights alleged massive corruption within the department, states that K1.9 billion was the total warrant authorities which was issued by the Department of Treasury of which K735 million in project monies are placed under trust accounts held by the Department of Finance.

The report states that the Department of Finance will be responsible for funding development projects directly and that the remainder of K1.2 billion was released to projects by DNPM over the three months from March – May, 2011. There has been abuse of project screening and planning processes and that officers of the DNPM had been directed and pressured to make sure that they manipulated the appraisals of projects to pass the screening criteria so that they are eligible for funding, the report states.

The report highlights that the investigation established that certain payments were made to companies which were allegedly linked to senior officers at the Department of National Planning. Further checks with the bank records as to the signatories to these company accounts show actual names of the department officers and bank transactions of payments to certain individuals and politicians, the report states.

Somare, Pruaitch out
TWO senior ministers facing leadership tribunals were suspended from office last Friday by operation of a Supreme Court ruling that leaders referred to a tribunal must step down from office with immediate effect.

Public Enterprises Minister Arthur Somare and Finance and Treasury Minister Patrick Pruaitch, both facing separate leadership tribunals over misconduct charges, were automatically suspended from office by a three-member Supreme Court bench. 

The leadership tribunal investigating Mr Somare’s alleged misconduct in office charges starts today while Mr Pruaitch’s case is pending before a National Court.

The Supreme Court also ruled that any move to take out court injunctions against leadership tribunal proceedings are viewed as abuse of process and should be declined without exception. 

And if the Minister for Bougainville Affairs, Fidelis Semoso, is also referred to a Leadership Tribunal by the Public Prosecutor, he will also be suspended from office.

The Supreme Court decision last Friday clarified that the Constitution was specific that all public office holders except for the Prime Minister and a few others, are automatically suspended from office when they are referred to a leadership tribunal. 

The Ombudsman Commission and the Public Prosecutor’s Office are expected to write to the two MPs to inform them of the judgement today and its effect.

Deputy Chief Justice Gibbs Salika, Justice Nicholas Kirriwom and Justice Ambeng Kandakasi clarified the operations of the law on the suspension of leaders facing misconduct charges when dismissing the constitutional reference filed by Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare on the powers of the Ombudsman Commission to investigate and refer leaders in April this year.

In its deliberations, the Supreme Court reviewed two earlier decisions it made in the Patrick Pruaitch case, in which in the earlier decision, the same court suspended Pruaitch but this was overturned in the second judgement when the same matter returned to the same court.

“In developed democracies, people who hold public office, who become the subject of allegations and investigations for any misconduct in office, readily either resign or step aside to allow for the investigations and the due process of the law to take its course. They do this out of respect for themselves, the integrity of the office they hold and respect for the due process of law,” the Supreme Court ruled.

The court ruled that the tradition of voluntary stepping down in the light of allegations and accusations of misconduct in office or criminal conduct of a public office holder became part of PNG’s democracy and tradition. 

It cited two cases involving sitting MPs stepping aside, the first being Opai Kunangel and then Sir Julius Chan.

“It is becoming a norm for most leaders in PNG who are subject of allegations and investigations for misconduct in office or criminal offences to continue to occupy their offices and are readily applying for injunctive orders,” the court ruled. 

“Some of them are interfering into the proper conduct of investigations. Others are doing everything they possibly can to remain in office, continue to function and in most instances are either committing more misconduct in office from tampering with evidence, interfering with witnesses, swindling of funds or abusing their powers knowing that they may not last long in those offices.”

The court touched on the first case involving Pruaitch and reaffirmed what the first judgment highlighted about duly appointed tribunals being left frustrated and unable to perform.

“This will make a mockery of the Leadership Code, particularly the work of the Ombudsman Commission in enforcing the Leadership Code. The inquiries will continue to be stalled and the leaders whose integrities are already called into question will continue to discharge leadership responsibilities,” the court ruled.

The three-man bench upheld the ruling in the first Pruaitch case that a leader who is referred to a leadership tribunal is automatically suspended from office if the leader had not already stood down voluntary. The court stated that the decision in the second Pruaitch case did not refer to any authorities in the way the decision in Pruaitch case No. 1 did and arrived at the view that, the question of suspension does not arise until the charges and statement of reasons are presented to the leadership tribunal. 

It observed that Pruaitch case No. 2 did not refer, discuss and demonstrate how various authorities and provisions of the Constitution and the Organic Law on the Duties and Responsibilities of Leaders Decision No. 1 referred to and relied upon, were wrong and therefore no good law for them to follow.

The court also ruled that Pruaitch case No. 2 failed to note that the Constitution provides for automatic suspension of leaders that were subject of investigations and referred to a leadership tribunal except for the Prime Minister and others covered under specific provisions, given the importance of the office they held.

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