Libel case dismissed

Main Stories

THE National Court has dismissed a defamation suit by former Department of Petroleum and Energy secretary Rendle Rimua against The National over its reports on a Permanent Parliamentary Committee (PAC) inquiry more than 10 years ago.
Justice Ere Kariko ruled that the matter involved public monies and The National had published the four articles on May 20, 2010, as a matter of public interest.
He said the plaintiff failed to prove that The National had acted in ill-faith.
“The plaintiff only contested that findings in the report against him were not true, and he did not suggest that the defendants inaccurately published the findings of the PAC,” Justice Kariko added in a written judgment, dismissing the suit in its entirety.
He also ordered Rimua to pay costs. The four articles were based on the findings of the inquiry into the funding and operations of the department, in particular in relation to the Konebada Petroleum Park project.
One of the article was headlined “No trace of Konebada Petroleum Park’s K8mil”.
It reported that the project received and spent K29 million, one third of it without trace and about 80 per cent to consultants.
The findings were tabled in Parliament on May 6, 2010, and The National published four articles on them two weeks later.
Rimua, who filed the suit in September 2011, claimed the articles suggested that the department was run by highly-paid consultants, that he was incompetent, corrupt and should be removed from office.
The articles said, amongst other things, the PAC:

  • ACCEPTED the findings of the Auditor-General’s Office that the Konebada Petroleum Park Authority working group trust was operated in breach of the Public Finance Management Act;
  • DESCRIBED the Department of Petroleum and Energy as a “failed department”; and,
  • FOUND that about 80 per cent of the trust account’s expenditure was spent on consultants.

The PAC began its inquiry into the administration of the department in 2008, a year after Rimua was appointed secretary.
It completed its inquiry about a year later and its report was tabled in Parliament in May 2010.
Justice Kariko said Rimua’s arguments that the newspaper’s reports were not fair were based on untrue assertions and that Parliament had yet to accept the PAC’s report as final were misconceived.
He said it was clear the report was final, as described by the PAC chairman, and “there was never another report issued regarding the inquiry”.
“I am also not satisfied that the plaintiff duly established that the defendants were motivated by ill-will in publishing the reports.
“He agree there was no animosity between him and (the writer).
“He also acknowledged that The National was under no obligation to publish his press release criticising the publication of the articles on the (PAC) report, yet the newspaper obliged.”
The National was represented by counsel Ian Molloy and William Frizzell.