SPEAKER Jeffrey Nape yesterday declared a vacancy in the East Sepik provincial seat, removing Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare from the parliamentary seat he has never been voted out of since 1968, The National reports.
In a move sure to shock PNG, Nape declared at about 4 pm that there was a vacancy in the East Sepik provincial seat. Parliament then voted on voices to dismiss Sir Michael.
Sir Michael, who had earlier been wheeled into the chamber in a wheelchair, and the opposition MPs were absent when the announcement was made.
The opposition and the National Alliance executive later expressed shock and said it was the work of power-hungry politicians.
Reading from an extensive legal brief he obtained from Twivey Lawyers, Nape told parliament that the power to declare a vacancy in both the office of the prime minister or the office of a member of parliament was vested in the speaker.
Nape further declared that his actions and the procedures of parliament, including the election of the prime minister, were non-justiceable, that is, they could not be challenged in a court of law.
Using parliamentary privilege, Nape discussed at great length the powers, functions and procedures of parliament in the event of a vacancy in the office of the prime minister, the subject of the reference now before the Supreme Court. Nape is named as the second intervenor in the reference.
The move now automatically creates a vacancy in the office Sir Michael had held as prime minister prior to his hospitalisation and this may have a bearing on the Supreme Court reference challenging the validity of the new government of Prime Minister Peter O'Neill.
Sir Michael, who made the trip home from Singapore on Sunday to be present at yesterday's sitting in order to avoid being automatically disqualified, was told he was disqualified anyway.
In a letter to Sir Michael's lawyers, Nape claimed that parliament's grant of leave for Sir Michael from the May sitting of parliament was defective and that he had already absented himself from three consecutive parliament sittings by the Aug 2 sitting.
The speaker said Sir Michael had been away for too long "without excuse", stating that no official statement for the long absence had been received from himself or the acting prime minister at the time.
Nape said: "There is nothing specifically provided in the Constitution, or the Prime Minister and NEC Act 2002 or the PNG Parliamentary Standing Orders for the procedure to be followed where a prime minister is absent without excuse for a prolonged period.
"Where there is a gap in procedure, there is, however, provision in the standing orders for a remedy, which is that pursuant to the functions and duties of his office under Order 284(1) in any matter that is not provided for in the standing orders, the speaker shall decide.
"It is then the speaker's role to determine what procedure should take place when a prime minister is absent from duties for an extended period without proper excuse.
"Further, the general provisions of the Constitution and the standing orders that govern the role, functions and the powers of the speaker clearly are wide enough to allow the speaker to determine the appropriate authority to declare a vacancy in the office of the prime minister and that appropriate authority to declare the vacancy is the speaker."