EHP needs to resolve impasse

Editorial, Normal

The National, Monday January 25th, 2016

 THE appointment of a permanent provincial administrator for Eastern Highlands has been a contentious issue for the province’s leaders and people for the past two years.

They have waited for most of 2014 for the National Executive Council to choose the right person for the job of administering the province’s public service machinery.

Cabinet’s silence on the appointment had been deafening and added to the suspense that engulfed the province throughout that year.

Our Letters-to-the-Editor pages have been strewn with complaints about the prolonged delay in appointing the new administrator.

Finally, the NEC made its long-awaited decision on Nov 26, 2014 and elevated a former Eastern Highlands deputy administrator, Solomon Tato, to the top job.

However, the appointment did not go down well with Governor Julie Soso, who accused Cabinet of making the decision without consultation with her provincial executive council (PEC).

The irate governor said the PEC had rejected Tato’s appointment and asked for a re-advertisement of the position.

Soso revealed the new provincial administrator was being investigated for some allegations made against him while serving in his previous position. She did not reveal the nature of the allegations.

The governor’s disappointment was understandable given the PEC’s clearly defined role in making recommendations for such appointments.

Seemingly, the NEC decided not to accept the PEC’s recommendation and to make matters worse for Soso, it decided to appoint an officer who was being investigated for certain allegations.

Something must have gone wrong somewhere between Goroka and Waigani because the PEC and NEC did not see eye-to-eye on this issue.

To this day Waigani has not explained the decision to appoint a permanent provincial administrator who was being investigated for certain allegations made against him in his previous position.

Whatever the reasons for choosing Tato as the new permanent provincial administrator, the O’Neill Government has faced a backlash from Eastern Highlanders around the country.

Governor Soso is held in high esteem by her people and her move to the Opposition in 2014 was welcomed by many. As a newcomer to the political arena, Soso has quickly learnt to manoeuver her way around the corridors of power in Waigani.

However, her move to the Opposition bench was quite surprising at the time and distanced her from the ruling coalition, especially Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, which is evident in the current impasse over the appointment of a permanent provincial administrator.

The impasse has now taken a new twist with Tato seeking a contempt of court order against Soso and the PEC, Public Services Minister Sir Puka Temu, Personnel Management Department Secretary John Kali and acting provincial administrator Samson Akunai for failing to comply with an earlier National Court restraining order.

Tato has sought the initial restraining order to stop the above parties from making any permanent appointment or revoking him as substantive position holder or harassing and intimidating public servants including him from performing duties as provincial administrator.

It is understood the Soso and the PEC had also sought a counter order to retrain Tato from resuming duties. The two conflicting orders are pending in the Goroka National Court.

While the legal and political tussle continues, public servants in the province are quite confused over who to take orders from after Tato began operating as the substantive position holder from Provincial Works division office in north Goroka. 

He has issued several notices and circulars to all public servants while Akunai is still in the Yanepa Haus office operating as duly appointed acting provincial administrator.

Last week, Soso reignited debate when she said the PEC was still not prepared to work with Tato. 

“As Governor, Tato will not serve the province under me as he firstly refused to work with us, I will seek a judicial review in the appointment process the National Executive Council followed to appoint him since he was not a choice for the post as PEC did not name him as one of the nominees.”

Soso said the PEC was negotiating with the relevant authorities, including NEC, to get a final remedy to end the impasse and move the province forward this year.

The sooner an amicable resolution is reached, the better for the province and its people.