It’s vote-of-no-confidence time again.

By PNG Echo.

Prime Minister Peter O'Neill - unlikely to be rolled
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill – unlikely to be rolled

Papua New Guinea is, once again, finding itself looking through one of those windows of opportunity whereby the government can be defeated and removed on the floor of parliament by a vote of no confidence.

This window is smaller this year because of legislation that increased the grace period from 18 to 30 months. It will be back to normal next year, the legislation having been deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

But why is it expected that because it could happen that it should?

What’s more, why do people expect an attempted vote of no confidence as a matter of course?  And do people really consider that the politicians most desirous of wresting power would be a suitable replacement or have the wherewithal to effect the overthrow of the government anyway? Continue reading It’s vote-of-no-confidence time again.

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Thin blue line between justice and contempt

Editor-in-Chief of 'Post Courier' - Is he obeying the laws or manipulating politics using the law?
Editor-in-Chief of ‘Post Courier’ – Is he obeying the laws or manipulating politics using the law?

As a reasonably litigious society, it is often too easy for the PNG media to eschew publishing about matters that don’t flatter their prejudices using the excuse of subjudice contempt as their morally pious shield, notwithstanding that PNG does not have trial by jury so the only person who can be influenced by publication is judges who are supposedly impervious. In the article below which I wrote for ABC The Drum, more than four year ago, I lamented that the charge is used by the unscrupulous to avoid scrutiny. Is the press in PNG also using it to promote and cover up their own particular bias? I have reproduced the article from 2011 below.

Updated

Derryn Hinch, known as the 'Human Headline' convicted of subjudice contempt on more than one occasion.
Derryn Hinch, known as the ‘Human Headline’ convicted of subjudice contempt on more than one occasion.

Radio announcer Derryn Hinch, known as the ‘human headline’, has just been convicted of four counts of contempt of court after breaching a suppression order by broadcasting the names of four sex offenders.

It’s not his first conviction, Hinch is a serial offender.

Sub-judice contempt laws specifically target the media, preventing it from publishing or broadcasting details of cases before the courts. The intention of the legislation is to ensure a fair trial for the accused although there is an exception if the broadcaster/publisher can prove that it is in ‘the public interest’.

Nevertheless, there are few media outlets that would be prepared to take on the vast resources of the Government arguing that one in court. Hinch tried and failed.

Yet, in its intention, this law is sound. No-one believes trial by media is fair play – all other things being equal. But, of course, they never are – are they?

In fact, our laws acknowledge the inequality between the prosecution and the accused in criminal cases and take steps to redress the imbalance. The administration of justice, the function of our legal system, needs to have altruistic intentions and generally it does. It’s why the statutes exhort the Commonwealth to be a ‘Model Litigant’ with the idea of fairness and the discovery of truth uppermost in its considerations.

Yet if the acts (laws) are altruistic, the actors are not always. Too often sub-judice contempt laws, designed to protect the weak (the defence) are hijacked by the powerful (the prosecution and its agencies), providing a brilliantly effective shield from public scrutiny where the unscrupulous can operate with relative impunity. Without public scrutiny the temptation to treat obligations under the law contemptuously, is ever-present.

Secrecy causes the worst abuses to occur – transparency and fair play can seem unnecessary when no-one can see you.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) is a case in point.

Under Mick Keelty the AFP underwent radical changes
Under Mick Keelty the AFP underwent radical changes

Under former commissioner Mick Keelty the service expanded exponentially and became more clandestine – ostensibly in response to the ‘Age of Terror’. Since then the AFP has made names like Haneef and Habib household  – and not in any good way.

Take the case of the Australian pilot Fred Martens who was a long-time resident of Papua New Guinea (PNG). He was convicted in 2004, under Australian child-sex tourism laws, of raping a 14-year-old girl in PNG and served two and a half years in jail.

Yet he didn’t do it. OK, sometimes mistakes can be made – not this time.

According to Martens not only did the investigating AFP officer find evidence that could have exonerated him but the agent uplifted the evidence then denied its existence. Well the officer would, wouldn’t she?  How else was she going to win her case in the face of such a damning discovery?

Her actions were not only morally bankrupt but also contrary to the Queensland Criminal Code (section 590) that requires the prosecution give full and early disclosure of all things in its possession that would tend to help the case of the accused with the purpose of determining the truth. (Material in the hands of government agencies, such as the AFP, is deemed to be in possession of the prosecution.)

Winning is not the point. The AFP (and often the CDPP) has yet to get the point.

Because of the sub-judice contempt laws, Martens was solely reliant on the Australian justice system – he was unable to garner public opinion as leverage. As the Australian legal system has a reputation for the integrity of the judiciary and the transparency of its laws this shouldn’t have been problematical. Except the court acted on the assumption that officers of the court (the AFP and prosecution) were acting within the spirit and the letter of the law.

Ha! Now all that’s left is for the Australian taxpayer to foot the compensation bill.

No, Hinch is not alone in his contempt for the law but, to his credit, his actions at least show transparency and integrity. He’s challenging the law in full view rather than hiding behind it.

Susan Merrell is a Sydney-based freelance journalist with a PhD in political science

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Task Force Sweep’s integrity compromised.

By PNG Echo

Forced evictions at Paga Hill to make way for developer exonerated for wrongdoing by Task Force Sweep
Forced evictions at Paga Hill to make way for developer exonerated for wrongdoing by Task Force Sweep

The International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) has raised serious questions about the integrity of anti-corruption agency, Task Force Sweep (TFS) and its Chairman, Sam Koim, after, TFS exonerated expatriate businessman Gudmundur Fridriksson and his companies and associates who are the developers of the controversial Paga Hill estate.

In a press statement accompanying a 57-page report released today, Dr Kristian Laslett, who heads ISCI’s Papua New Guinea Research, claims that errors in the Task Force Sweep assessment are “seismic” and “can’t be put down to mere ignorance or inexperience.”

In October 2012, ISCI lodged a complaint with Task Force Sweep containing serious allegations about the developer. Nevertheless, Dr Laslett writes:

Sweep failed to make any substantive response for 19 months then during June and July of 2014 Mr Fridriksson personally petitioned Task-Force Sweep to ‘correct’ Public Accounts Committee and Auditor General’s Office findings.

Four months later Sweep released a ten page case-assessment exonerating Mr Fridriksson and certain associated corporate entities.

The assessment contains “startling errors of fact, law and method,” claims the ISCI who goes on further to accuse Task Force Sweep of entirely ignoring its own basic practice and procedure, notwithstanding that “Task-Force Sweep is highly literate in investigative procedure and the law.”

The ISCI report highlights a “lack of rigour” in the case-assessment of TFS which it says

  • Is tainted by irregular practices
  • Misrepresented the Public Finances (Management) Act
  • Failed to consider the question of criminal liability
  • jeopardized whistleblowers.

ISCI is calling on the government of Papua New Guinea to launch an arms-length, independent probe into Task-Force Sweep’s investigation of Mr Fridriksson and other associated entities.

ISCI suggests that any uncovering of systemic failures within Task Force Sweep should lead to a broader evaluation of Task Force Sweep’s casework, managerial processes and financial accounting practices.

The ISCI recommends that the proposed Independent Commission Against Corruption be introduced at the earliest possible opportunity.

Task Force Sweep Chairman - not yet responded
Task Force Sweep Chairman – not yet responded

Task Force Sweep Chairman, Sam Koim, has been contacted to give his response to the report but although having read the messages has, so far, failed to respond. PNG Echo will publish his response should it arrive and whenever it arrives.

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Anti-corruption? I don’t think so

By PNG Echo

Not in PNG where they're just anti-government
Not in PNG where they’re just anti-government

While corruption is a problem in PNG, the anti-corruption movements it has spawned are proving to be an even greater one.

The recent launching of a Facebook site, PNG Anti-Corruption Movement for Change (PNGACMC) gave its founders pause for thought (at least it should have) as they provided a forum for black hatred expressed in the form of threats of extreme sexual violence and torture by one contributor against another.

The threats were so horrific and disgustingly graphic that one person wrote it was

…the worse thing she had ever read on Facebook.

The founders and leaders of the group were ill-equipped to deal with this and their response was inadequate and brings into question how efficacious and controllable this movement is …and whether it should be disbanded before it causes any serious harm.

The leaders have clearly not thought through the ramifications of what they are doing. That makes them just dangerous vigilantes and zealots – one of its leaders, Lucas Kiap, has already expressed the opinion that the end justifies the means.  It doesn’t – it never has, and it never will.

The threats are now the subject of a police investigation in Australia – but, of course, as they emanate from an anonymous and cowardly source, the chances of a successful prosecution are limited.

Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.

Lucas Kiap, in his favour, did publish a disclaimer that sought to distance the movement from that sort of behaviour.  In that disclaimer he named this writer and lawyer Tiffany Twivey Nonggorr as not being the enemy.  However, I can’t recall an apology.

Yet still, the declaration started a war of words with that other ‘anti-corruption’ fighter and biographer of the infamous logger and casino habitué, Belden Namah, one Sonja Barry Ramoi.

They aren’t fighting corruption any more, but fighting each other – over Twivey Nonggorr and this writer and whether we should be recognized as public enemy numbers one and two. Continue reading Anti-corruption? I don’t think so

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The Supreme Court says “no”

By PNG Echo

The Supreme Court has ruled against parliamentary amendments to sections 142 and 145 of the constitution. The extension of the ‘grace period’, whereby there can be no votes of ‘no confidence’, will not be extended to 30 months

While I have not been able to access the judgment in its entirety, I have had the benefit of being given the Government’s view through press releases from the Prime Ministers Office and also the anti-government angle through the writing of Bryan Kramer whose strident, partisan, anti-government bent will have, no doubt, provided me with the most damning evidence emanating from this Supreme Court case.

Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia leading the contingency of judges.
Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia leading the contingency of judges.

So, keeping it simple, the Prime Minister has said that it was a move to enhance government stability and Kramer has quoted the Chief Justice, Sir Salamo Injia as saying that the government had “…the aim of entrenching itself in power at the expense of parliament and democracy.

I suggest the truth of the matter is that it was a little bit of both

Where Sir Salamo’s judgment falls down (or is severely restricted) is in having to proceed from the assumption that PNG is a democracy – it isn’t – at least not a working and workable one Continue reading The Supreme Court says “no”

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