By GIDEON KINDIWA
MAPRIK MP John Simon, pictured, has been suspended on full pay following allegations of misconduct in office involving more than K1.6 million in public funds.
Simon, recently appointed the Minister of Agriculture and Livestock, is currently defending himself before a Leadership Tribunal appointed by Chief Justice Sir Gibbs Salika. It began proceedings yesterday at the National Court in Waigani.
Public Prosecutor Pondros Kaluwin submitted nine allegations against Simon before tribunal chairman Justice Nicholas Miviri. The other members of the tribunal are senior magistrates Michael Apie’e and Nancy Lipai.
Simon is alleged to have used his office to benefit his own hire car company, benefit his own construction company, benefit a company belonging to him and another person.
He also allegedly misapplied the District Services Improvement Programme (DSIP) funds.
The Ombudsman Commission carried out the investigation and made a reference to the Public Prosecutor on Aug 24, 2016, indicating that it was a prima facie case.
The allegations were made under Section 27 (5) (b) of the Constitution and Sections 13 (a) and 5 (1) of the Organic Law of Duties and Responsibilities of Leadership.
It is alleged that Simon:
- From Aug 2012 to Jan 2014, paid his own hire car company, Extreme Hire Cars, K226,030 from the Maprik DSIP trust account, the Maprik District Treasury Operating Account;
- from Aug 2012 to Jan 2014, allowed the payment to take place without approval by the Maprik Joint District Planning and Budget Priorities Committee;
- from Sept 2012 to Nov 2013, allowed his construction company, Extreme Construction to be paid K1,310,746, from the Maprik District Treasury Operating Account without proper tender processes;
- from Sept 2012 to Nov 2014, allowed the payment to take place without proper tender processes;
- from July 2012 to Nov 2012, paid K48,500 from the Maprik DSIP designated for the District Agriculture Programme to his political supporters;
- from Sept 2012 to Nov 2012, intentionally applied the money to his supporters;
- from Oct 2013 to Dec 2013, allowed a payment of K25,032.20 from the Maprik District Treasury Operating Account to Deborah’s Office and School Supplies Ltd, a company he owned with another person;
- from Oct 2013 to Dec 2013, allowed his associate from Deborah’s Office and School Supplies Ltd to benefit from K20,800 from the Maprik District Treasury Operating Account; and,
- From Oct 2013 to Dec 2013, acted on behalf of his associate and Deborah’s Office and School Supplies Ltd and allowed the payment of K45,832.20.
Simon is being represented by Greg Sheppard and Philip Tabuchi from Young and William’s Lawyers.
Sheppard argued that the reference by the Ombudsmen Commission was supposed to be signed by three Ombudsman.
It was signed by only two.
He also argued that the Ombudsman and the Public Prosecutor were late in pursuing the matter as the reasonable amount of time to file a reference and start a tribunal was four months. “The reference was filed in 2016. We’re in 2019 – a delay of three years,” Sheppard said.
“This is a matter that needs constitutional interpretation.”
Kaluwin said the Ombudsman Commission has had only two members during the filing of the reference.
Kaluwin argued that there was no unnecessary delay in pursuing the case as investigations took time and that facts must be established first.
He said the allegations arose during Simon’s first term as MP and since he was re-elected for a second term, he was again subjected to investigation on his previous term.
Justice Miviri adjourned the tribunal to Thursday for ruling on the preliminary issues raised.