A most sensible move

Editorial, Normal

The National, Tuesday 15th November 2011

THE decision taken at an urgent cabinet meeting yesterday to rescind cabinet’s decision of Nov 10 to suspend the chief justice is most sensible.
It is the only option available to avoid a serious conflict between the executive government and the judiciary.
In any case, the decision was already stayed and the government restraint by court edict from implementing it so, already, it was a lost cause.
Many might see this as the National Executive Council backing down, that it is a sign of weakness or of defeat, but we see it differently.
There are issues at stake here that are of far greater importance than personal triumphs and political kudos.
As we mentioned in this space yesterday, there has been a quite serious incursion into the independence of the judiciary which needed immediate correction.
That correction has now been made and that is all there is to it. We must see a triumph of the rule of law, We must see a triumph of respect for the Constitution and all those institutions that are established by the Constitution. We must see a triumph of national interest over all else.
Acting Prime Minister Belden Namah, surrounded by his full team of cabinet ministers including Sir Mekere Morauta, Don Polye, William Duma and Bart Philemon, decided to rescind the decision based on national interest and national security of the country.
National interest and its security must come before personal interest and we must commend the acting prime minister and his cabinet for taking that decision yesterday.
Yesterday morning, Namah and Attorney-General Dr Allan Marat produced themselves before acting Police Commissioner Tom Kulunga where they were charged with contempt of court, detained for a few minutes at the Boroko police cells and then released on own recognizance bail.
Today, the same men will produce themselves before the Supreme Court to impress upon that august body to set aside the decision by Justice Bernard Sakora last week, ordering Namah’s and Marat’s arrest while staying the decision of cabinet.
We cannot presume to tell the court what to do but, in all good faith, we ask that it also sets aside its order and revert all to what they were prior to the decision of cabinet. There no longer exists a decision to merit a contempt order or for that decision to be stayed.
This is not to suggest that this nation must forget what has happened or allow for it to ever be contemplated.
The slide towards more dangerous forms of government is as simple as that – one decision by one arm of government, appearing for all intent and purpose to be innocent looking with all the arguments in favour of it, is all it will take.
It is most pleasing to note that the entire legal fraternity was able to – judge and lawyers – stand together to ward off an unwelcome incursion into the independence of the judiciary by the executive government.
Such vigilance are necessary and crucial if we are to enjoy the parliamentary system that we had chosen at Independence.
While bothersome and dangerous, that it has occurred in the manner that it has, is also testament to the strength and resilience of our system of government.
We agree wholesomely with Namah’s words:  “Our actions demonstrate that leaders have respect for the laws and we humble ourselves to demonstrate to our people and the world that nobody is above the law including the prime minister, deputy prime minister and ministers.”
And, so it does.
It is also incumbent upon the judiciary not to appear high and mighty. If there are matters which might reasonably cause people to worry that there might be a conflict of interest situation, then judges must act accordingly.
As the government is seeking to set aside the orders today, it would be proper if the chief justice and Justice Sakora were to remove themselves from hearing the case.
Both will be seen to have an interest in this matter. Fair play and natural justice must prevail in all of this.