Parliament dignity, integrity at stake

Editorial, Normal

The National, Monday July 27th, 2015

 SPEAKER of Parliament Theodore Zurenuoc’s decision to allow convicted Gulf Governor Havila Kavo to attend the current session raises grave questions about the dignity and integrity of the people’s House.

By law, Kavo is still a Member of Parliament and can perform his parliamentary duties, including attending sittings, pending the outcome of his Supreme Court appeal. 

The PNG Constitution, Section 103 – “Qualifications for and disqualifications from membership” – Subsections (4) to (7) states that:

(4) Where a person is under sentence of death or imprisonment for a period   exceeding nine months, the operation of Subsection (3)(d) is suspended until:

(a) the end of any statutory period allowed for appeals against the conviction or sentence; or 

(b) if an appeal is lodged within the period referred to in paragraph (a), the appeal is determined. 

(5) The references in Subsection (4), to appeals and to the statutory period allowed for appeals shall, where there is provision for a series of appeals, be read as references to each appeal and to the statutory period allowed for each appeal. 

(6) If a free pardon is granted, a conviction is quashed or a sentence is changed to a sentence of imprisonment for nine months or less, or some other form of penalty (other than death) is substituted, the disqualification ceases, and if at the time of the pardon, quashing, change of sentence or substitution of penalty the writ for the by-election has not been issued the member is restored to his seat. 

(7) In this section – “appeal” includes any form of judicial appeal or judicial review; “statutory period allowed for appeals” means a definite period allowed by law for appeals, whether or not it is capable of extension, but does not include an extension of such a definite period granted or that may be granted unless it is granted within that definite period. 

MPs who are convicted and sentenced to prison for more than nine months automatically lose their seats in Parliament.

Kavo, the Gulf Regional MP, was found guilty by the National Court late last year for misapplication of public funds and sentenced to 18 months jail. He immediately appealed to the Supreme Court and has been out on bail since.

While awaiting his appeal, Kavo was arrested and charged in June for misappropriating more than K780,000 belonging to the Gulf government. 

The second offence was allegedly committed between Jan 15 and Jan 27 this year.

Kavo was granted bail of K5000 by the Waigani Committal Court and the case was adjourned pending police investigation.

While it is the court’s prerogative to grant or not to grant bail, the conditions for bail should have included clear instructions for Kavo not to continue holding office as governor and MP while awaiting his Supreme Court appeal and the fresh charge of misappropriation.

Deputy Prime Minister Leo Dion, who is the minister responsible for provincial and local level government matters, issued a media statement in January that made it quite clear that Kavo must step aside immediately “to protect the credibility and integrity of the governor’s office”.

We agree that since Kavo was convicted and imprisoned for offences committed while occupying the governor’s office, it is ethically and morally proper that he clear his name through the courts before resuming duties. 

Despite these clear instructions from Dion, we are reliably informed that Kavo continues to hold office as governor. 

Moreover, his defiance and disrespect for the Deputy Prime Minister’s advice has now landed him in more trouble as he faces the new charge of misappropriating a significant amount of public funds.

Kavo’s conviction, the first for a sitting governor in Papua New Guinea, has brought much disrepute to Gulf province.

Seemingly, the Speaker has further complicated this issue by allowing Kavo to attend sittings of Parliament.

As head of the Legislature, Zurenuoc views his decision as legally correct but will it help his much-publicised campaign to improve Parliament’s image. 

We think not insofar as Kavo’s presence in the House is concerned.

We recall the Speaker’s maiden speech in 2012 when he made no bones about inheriting a parliament that had lost its “dignity, integrity, respect and reverence”.