The National, Mondy 14th November 2011
THERE was really no need to delay a decision on the Supreme Court reference by the East Sepik provincial government.
In a sense, the delay by the Supreme Court encouraged the executive government to be creative. All the issues were known. Whether or not parliament contravened the Constitution on Aug 2 when it elected Peter O’Neill as prime minister requires no elaborate research. All the arguments for or against in this case have been presented to the court. To our mind, and without incurring the wrath of the court, the matter needed urgent expediting.
Of course, it warranted careful deliberation but it also demanded urgent treatment. When the court decided to defer judgment to Dec 9, it gave the government too much time to be creative. That said, the creativity of government is, to our mind, extreme.
Some may say the government has descended into chaos. Others may say the government has lost the plot and become totally irresponsible.
Still, some may say a constitutional crisis has been triggered.
We will let history be the judge of that. What we can say is that the executive government, by its decision last Thursday, has incurred contempt of the court on this very important matter currently pending before the courts.
We like to think that the government decision was deliberate and, whatever the merits of its arguments, the fact that it has come at this particular time can be seen as an attempt to pervert the cause of justice. However reasonable the case might be against the chief justice, we see the charges as being of an administrative nature and one that did not warrant the attention of the National Executive Council.
That it decided to take carriage of the matter is its own ill-advised decision and might well turn out to be its undoing in the fullness of time.
Unfortunately, in one fell swoop, all the gains of the O’Neill-Namah government has been laid to waste. And that, really, is tragic. Nobody, including the chief justice, is above the law. The charges brought against him must see light of day soon. But it is a matter that the National Judicial Services Committee, and even the National and Supreme Court, can attend to. It was quite irresponsible and insensitive of cabinet to take carriage of the matter.
When it did that it violated, it would seem, a fundamental principle of democracy that is the independence of the three arms of government – judiciary, parliament and cabinet. It is particularly sensitive where the judiciary is concerned because the courts are also the custodians of the supreme law – the Constitution. When you touch the courts, inadvertently, you touch the Constitution. That is something every government must be loathe to do.
We call on the prime minister to suspend or rescind the decision of the NEC. It is the most sensible thing to do at the moment.
At the same time, we commend the responsible manner in which the disciplined services have approached this episode.
The police have been rational even if a little hesitant. They may well arrest the deputy prime minister and the attorney-general but, if the decision can be rescinded, Justice Bernard Sakora’s orders might well be altered.
The military have taken a keen interest but have kept well within their barracks. We commend rank and
file for that.
The Correctional Services has maintained stability in jails around the country.
In the end, however, the international community may deride PNG. While they might say a constitutional crisis has been triggered, the manner in which this country greeted the government action, and the calm and rationale approach the courts have taken on this, is one more evidence that our democracy is robust; that our government is truly democratic and that our people are mature.
In the end, we are extremely confident that the government and the courts will resolve this misunderstanding in an expedient manner and restore normalcy and confidence.
This nation shall long endure and may God bless Papua New Guinea.