Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Panel to probe prime minister appointed


A LEADERSHIP tribunal has been named to inquire into misconduct charges against Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare, The National reports.
The tribunal would begin its inquiries on March 10.
Sir Michael was not automatically suspended from office as was the case with other leaders, and was at liberty to remain in office until the matter was decided by the tribunal.
Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia yesterday named a three-member tribunal comprising pre-eminent retired judges from Australia, New Zealand and England to inquire into allegations that Sir Michael had failed to submit his leadership annual returns to the Ombudsman Commission.
The tribunal was unprecedented in the history of PNG in that no prime minister had ever faced such a fate in the past. The process required Sir Salamo to seek the concurrence of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission, again unprecedented, to approve his going outside PNG to appoint judges to be members on the tribunal.
The prime minister’s office said the process was taking its course and that there was no comment from the prime minister, only that he would “continue to fully comply by the law”.
On March 10, the public prosecutor would formally present to the tribunal the PM’s alleged misconduct charges relating to his acquittal of annual returns.
The three overseas high court judges from three separate common law jurisdictions were tribunal chairman Roger Gyles, a former judge of the federal court of Australia (at the first instance and on appeal), the supreme court of Australian Capital Territory and the supreme court of New South Wales; and tribunal members Sir Bruce Robertson of New Zealand and Sir Robin Auld of England.
Robertson is a former judge of the Court of Appeal and High Court of New Zealand who currently presides as judge of the Court of Appeal of Vanuatu and Judge of the Court of Appeal of Samoa.
Sir Robin was the former lord justice of appeal of the court of appeal of England and Wales. He was also the former judge of the high court of justice, Queen’s bench division of England and Wales and current president of the court of appeal of the Solomon Islands.
Making the announcement, Sir Salamo said: “The membership of the tribunal wholly comprises former judges from other common law jurisdictions, namely Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
“The appointments were made in consultation with the chief justices of those countries. Their appointments are provided for in section 27(7)(d)(iii) and (8) of the Organic Law on Duties and Responsibilities of Leadership.
“The importance of the high office Sir Michael holds prompted me to appoint eminent former judges from the high courts of the three well-established common law jurisdictions.”
The PM was yesterday informed of the appointment of the tribunal.
On whether or not the prime minister would be suspended following the set-up of the tribunal, Sir Salamo was emphatic that he would not.
He said, to avoid doubt, “the question of suspension pending investigation into the question of misconduct in office of the prime minister is to be determined by the tribunal”.
That may well be the first matter of business when the tribunal convenes at court room 1 at 9.30am on March 10 at the Supreme Court building in Waigani.
The request to appoint a leadership tribunal was made by acting Public Prosecutor Jim Wala Tamate on Dec 16 last year following allegations that Sir Michael had failed to lodge with the Ombudsman Commission his annual leadership returns between 1994 and 1997.

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