The National Monday, December 13, 2010
By JULIA DAIA BORE
THE Supreme Court ruled last Friday that the appointment of Governor-General Sir Paulias Matane is unconstitutional and invalid and that a new vice-regal must be appointed early next year.
It is seen as a setback for the National Alliance-led government of Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare, which had backed Sir Paulias to be appointed for a second consecutive term of six years on June 25.
Sir Michael himself heads back to court today to try to prevent the public prosecutor from referring him to a tribunal for alleged breaches of the Leadership Code (story, page 2).
In an unanimous decision last Friday, the full bench of the Supreme Court ruled that Sir Paulias’ appointment was unconstitutional.
This, according to the ruling read by Justice Bernard Sakora, was because Sir Paulias was not selected by a secret ballot in parliament as required by the constitution.
The court also found that Speaker Jeffery Nape acted unlawfully by presiding over parliament at the time when he was, in fact, the acting governor-general.
The court declared Sir Paulias would cease to be the head of state from today and ordered that parliament be recalled within 40 days to select a replacement.
Parliament had adjourned last month to May, meaning it would now be recalled to sit earlier.
In the meantime, Nape, who is on holiday in Australia, would assume the role of acting governor-general.
Last Friday’s ruling by justices Sakora, Elenas Batari, David Canning, George Manuhu and Sao Gabi did not make it clear whether documents signed by Sir Paulias, since June 25, were deemed null and void. However, the Supreme Court ruled: “It follows that all decisions made in reliance on that unconstitutional and invalid nomination are, likewise, unconstitutional and invalid.”
The court was also critical of MPs’ actions on the floor of parliament on June 25, saying: “When leaders fail to discharge their obligations, they set a poor example for everyone else and the rule of law is at risk.”
The validity of the election of Sir Paulias had been challenged by way of a Supreme Court reference by Morobe Governor Luther Wenge and the Morobe provincial government.
The court granted the following declarative orders for the fresh processes to be conducted towards the election of new vice-regal:
*The appointment of Sir Paulias on June 25 was unconstitutional and invalid;
*Sir Paulias shall cease to hold office as governor-general at noon today;
*Speaker Jeffery Nape will be acting governor-general accordingly, subject to section 95 of the constitution;
*Deputy Speaker Francis Marus to, as soon as practicable, call a meeting of parliament within 40 days to nominate the next governor-general; and
*All proposals, votes, decisions and other processes made or conducted in May and June this year, in connection with Sir Paulias’ appointment, were a nullity and shall not be relied on.