The Opposition has urged the Supreme Court to decide speedily on Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare’s court appeal to stop the Ombudsman Commission from investigating his alleged misconduct charges relating to declaration of annual returns.
Leader of the Opposition, Sir Mekere Morauta and Deputy Leader Bart Philemon stressed that the matter is of national interest and the people of Papua New Guinea are entitled to get a decision one way or another.
Sir Mekere and Mr Philemon pointed out that the case went before the High Court in 2008, over two years ago.
“Why has it taken the Supreme Court so long? The public is becoming suspicious. It is in Supreme Court’s interest to bolster the public confidence in the Supreme Court,” they stressed.
The Ombudsman Commission (OC) alleges that Sir Michael failed to lodge annual returns for the periods 1994/5, 1995/96 and 1996/7, his lodgement returns for the periods 1998/99, 1999/2000, 2000/01, 2001/02, 20003/04 and incomplete statements for periods 1992/93, 1993/94,1997/98, 1999/2000, 2000.01, 20001/02 and 20002/03.
The OC referred the PM to the Public Prosecutor for it to ask the Chief Justice to appoint a Leadership Tribunal to deal with the allegations, but Sir Michael went to court seeking orders to stop the OC from investigating him.
On June 24 , 2008, National Court Judge, Justice Derek Hartshorn rejected an application by Sir Michael for a temporary injunction to stop the OC from investigating him.
When rejecting Sir Michael’s temporary injunction, Judge Hartshorn ruled that it was not in the interest of the justice of the general public that lawful authorities should be prevented from performing their legal and constitutional duties.
The PM had gone to court asking the court to grant him certain declarations and a permanent injunction preventing the OC from continuing its investigations.
Sir Michael had contended that the OC lacked jurisdiction to continue the investigations. The conduct of their investigations was oppressive, subject to excessive delays and breached the rules of natural justice to act fairly reasonably and in good faith.
He also alleged that the decision not to engage an Independent Examiner under section 19 of the Organic Law on Duties and Responsibilities of Leadership, as requested by him was decided by an individual and not the majority quorum of three Independent Constitutional Office Holders despite bias allegations raised by his client against the Commission.
However, Judge Hartshorn in a seven-page decision stated that Sir Michael did not have a strong case to stop the OC from continuing its investigations.
“It is not in the interest of justice or the public interest that lawful authorities should be prevented from carrying out their lawful investigations. Any such prevention should only occur in very clear cases of abuse,” Judge Hartshorn stressed.
The Judge was satisfied given the evidence before him that the PM’s appeal was not serious and the OC be allowed to continue its investigations.
Effectively, the ruling meant that the Public Prosecutor could proceed to ask the Chief Justice to appoint a Leadership Tribunal to determine the charges against the Prime Minister.
On June 30 2008, the PM’s lawyers refiled their appeal matter in the Supreme Court to be heard that afternoon.
The appeal matter related to the refusal of the National Court to grant an order restraining the OC from investigating the PM on an alleged breach of the Leadership Code.
PM’s lawyers filed a notice of appeal basically appealing the whole of the Judgment of Derek Hartshorn in dismissing their notice of motion.
In the notice of appeal, they relied on seven grounds saying that in respect of each and every grounds, the National Court erred in the exercise of its discretion which if not overturned would result in the unlawful actions of an authority going unscrutinised by the court and causing serious injustice to the appellant.
The Supreme Court is yet to make a ruling of this matter.
Section 4 of the Organic Law on the Duties and Responsibilities of the Leadership require every person who is subject to the Leadership Code to furnish the OC every year details of assets, income and other required information.
Sir Mekere and Mr Philemon said that they were merely asking the Supreme Court to perform its constitutional duty and role in the public interest.
“The Supreme Court owes it to the nation and people to make an effort to decide in this case in the national interest. It is not our intention to interfere with the work of Supreme Court, but expect the Court to do its job speedily,” they concluded.