Ombudsman faces more flak

Editorial, Normal

The National, Wednesday July 29th, 2015

 THE Ombudsman Commission continues to receive flak from the public and especially so by leaders under its spotlight. 

Political leaders, including colleagues in this current government, have been critical of the Ombudsman Commission. More such disparaging statements came from Imbonggu MP and Minister for Works and Implementation Francis Aw­esa, who questioned the integrity of the commission following a leadership tribunal decision clearing him of any misconduct on Monday.

Awesa said his leadership tribunal case was a ‘trivial’ matter which should not have been brought up by the Ombudsman Commission and which had resulted in wastage of public money.

The tribunal has cleared him of allegations that he had ‘illegally erected a fence at his property in Port Moresby, thus restricting access and causing disharmony and difficulty to the public from July 2007 to March 2013.’ 

Acting on complaints by Awesa’s neighbours in the Toaguba Hill residential area, which the commission viewed as misconduct in office and then referred the matter to the Public Prosecutor’s office for hearing by the leadership tribunal.

The leadership tribunal, having deliberated the matter on the premises of all evidence before it, cleared Awesa of any misconduct.

As stated in our news article on the case yesterday, the ‘offensive fence’ was erected by Awesa in 2005, way before he was first elected into Parliament in the 2007 election.

The leadership tribunal found that the fence was erected legally, meaning that Awesa had obtained all necessary clearances from the NCD Physical Planning office barring a small clerical error with wrong allotment numbers. The primary complaint was that the fence had blocked off ‘public access.’ Contrary to this the leadership tribunal chairman Justice Goodwin Poole ruled that the “fence was not blocking a public access”. 

This is not the first time a leader has been cleared by a leadership tribunal but what makes this case especially interesting is the apparent trivial nature of the matter which obviously had impacted Awesa and his family. Awesa said he had gone through unnecessary strife in the past four months, with his name and reputation dragged down to the bottom of the barrel.

“At the outset, my case was a trivial matter because I built this fence in 2005, got the necessary approvals from the NCDC Physical Planning, Lands Department and the whole due process. It was temporary fence that was done to protect neighbours in the area as a lot of criminal activities were taking place.

“They approached me and I applied for the temporary fence to be erected. It’s not a leadership issue as I was not a leader at that time.”

We believe the leader did make similar statements earlier when he was first referred by the OC. 

That the leadership tribunal merely reaffirmed his earlier objections to his referral gives rise to questions whether the matter should have been better arbitrated by a court instead.

He said after the tribunal ruling on Monday, “We are dealing with some unscrupulous foreigners who come here, fly-by-night, who want to destroy the credibility of good people and citizens of this country. This has to stop.”

Awesa may have made a mere allegation but the any suggestion that the OC is being used and dictated to by people acting on personal or business interests rather than the public good and the quest for transparent leadership is disturbing. 

After Monday’s ruling this is Awesa’s rating of the OC: “Their integrity has been destroyed over the last few years because they’re going over trivial cases like my case. My case has cost the State K2 million through the Public Prosecutor’s Office – money that could be well spent on education, health, roads and all other essential services. “It’s a wasteful exercise, and while I know the importance of that organisation, I want them to account,” he said. 

The OC of today is not the same organisation that was established at independence.  Its roles and functions have changed over the years and today it finds itself with greater challenges than ever before.

In its role of the watchdog of the Leadership Code, the OC is ever vigilant against abuse of power and privilege or misconduct by elected and public officials. It is at the same time expected to guard its integrity at all times.