By JULIA DAIA BORE
TREASURY and Finance Minister Patrick Pruaitch told a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court consisting Justices Nicholas Kiriwom, Les Gavera-Nanu and Catherine Davani yesterday that he was not given the right to be heard before his referral by the Ombudsman Commission (OC) to the Public Prosecutor for a Leadership Tribunal to hear his alleged misconduct in office.
The leader made particular reference to why the Ombudsman Commission had not allowed him to be heard after it came up with new information from the National Forest Authority (NFA) managing director Kanawi Pouru based on which charges had been made.
He said he had not been given the chance to answer to the charges before his referral to the Leadership Tribunal.
Through his lawyer, Marshall Cooke, QC, of Young and Williams Lawyers, Mr Pruaitch sought interlocutory injunctions to stop the entire referral of the tribunal and for the tribunal to be stopped from convening and order the OC to issue fresh notice which Mr Pruaitch can then answer to before the referral can take place.
Mr Cooke in submitting to the court the timeline of events, said on October 2002, the OC began investigations on its own initiative.
Then on Sept 20, 2006, a letter notifying his client of the investigations was made.
In October 2006, an oral submission was made and then on Nov 30, 2006, a written and detailed response to the allegations were made to the Chief Ombusdman.
On Feb 4, 2008, Mr Pouru provided information and documents to the commission and last July 22, a letter from the OC advising Mr Pruaitch of his referral was made.
Mr Cooke said: “It should be noted that four years had lapsed between when the OC began its investigation and when the appellant was first notified.
“Approximately two and half years had elapsed from the appellant’s (Mr Pruaitch’s) written and detailed responses to his notification of his referral.
“In the meantime, additional material had been obtained from the NFA which the OC kept to itself for 18 months and gave the appellant no opportunity to comment on that additional evidence.”
Mr Cook further stated: “After a lapse of two and a half years, the appellant was entitled to have a reasonable expectation that his explanations had been accepted.”
Procedural fairness required that he be told but that was not the case.
“Further, it should be noted hat the OC is not a body corporate and has no continuing corporate identity.
“The three members who compromise the commission at any one time are the decision-makers. Their decisions are made by the majority vote.
“Minutes of their meetings are required to be kept.
“In this case, the decision-makers in 2006 were different from the decision-makers in 2009.
“Obviously, the decision-makers in 2006 made no decision.
“The rules of natural justice required the effective decision-makers last year to give the appellant an opportunity to be heard.”
Procedural fairness in this case would require the decision-makers to notify the appellant that they intended to proceed with the investigations to give him an opportunity to comment on the new material obtained from the NFA and to invite him to make submissions as to why he should not be referred to the Public Prosecutor.
The counsel representing OC did not agree to this, submitting that the relief sought by Mr Pruaitch should not be granted by the three-judge bench.
The OC submission, through Virgil Narokobi, was fully supported by the Public Prosecutor Jim Wala Tamate and the Leadership Tribunal membership of Deputy Chief Justice Gibbs Salika, senior magistrate Peter Toliken and Nerri Eliakim through their counsel Tauvasa Tanuvasa from the Solicitor-General’s Office who also represented the State and Nicholas Miviri of the Public Prosecutor’s office.
In reply Mr Narokobi said the matter of Mr Pouru was not raising new matters but were relating to the same issues for the referral.
As a result of Mr Pouru’s information provided to the OC, three out of the eight charges laid against Mr Pruaitch were dropped, Mr Narokobi told the court.
The court reserved its decision on the matter to April 30 when it will hand down a decsion.