The National- Tuesday, January 18, 2011
THE impounded ship, UBT Fjord, a tanker which had allegedly been illegally shipping out crude oil from Bougainville, last week slipped out of Rabaul’s Simpson Harbour and is said to be steaming towards Singapore.
There is little PNG can do except inform the Singaporean authorities of the fact that the ship has been detained by PNG Customs for alleged illegal activities.
The UBT Fjord was detained for up to seven months at Simpson Harbour while its owners fought a furious legal battle with the PNG Customs haggling over the amount it was to pay PNG.
It offered variously amounts in the vicinity of US$600,000, we gather, but Customs was certain the ship was worth US$5 million.
The haggling lasted seven months and, in the end, the ship slipped out without having paid a toea to the PNG government.
It paid, though, in every hour it was detained in the harbour. Boats and aircraft doing nothing in the water or on the ground always incur high costs.
ENB provincial police commander Sylvester Kalaut is decrying the length of time it took for the court matter to be concluded so that the state could be paid and the ship released.
He reckons that seven months is a long time for a case to be brought to conclusion.
Kalaut also described the slipping away on Jan 8 this year as “an invasion of the sovereignty of the country” and said it showed that PNG is unable to defend its borders.
He said when the ship slipped from the harbour, there was nothing state agencies, including his own police force, could do to stop it.
“The point here is it simply shows that the country has a weak security response,” Kalaut said.
Along with the runaway ship goes some K14 million worth of crude oil, the property of the people of PNG.
An important point is that there is no strategic command centre for response to security concerns.
Individual agencies handle their own emergencies and only come together with other security and border agencies on an ad hoc basis.
This must be changed. The national security council needs to set up a command centre from with police, defence, national intelligence organisation, customs and other agencies concerned with national security monitor events and issues 24/7.
After 34 years of independence, PNG deserves and should have such a centre. It deserves and should have a fully equipped military and police force to respond to emergencies.
Security concerns in the region, including multinational crime and terrorism, require that this be given top priority.
The other concern is the long delay in court cases. This will also require closer scrutiny and allocation of resources.
The onus is on the courts of the land to deal with matters efficiently and effectively so that justice is dispensed with speedily so that aggrieved parties are compensated for and those which run foul of the law can go back to business – hopefully having learnt from the experience.
Retiring court judge Justice Graham Ellis last week complained of the major court cases, including matters over leadership tribunals, which are being delayed in court for many months.
Ellis said the gag on the report of the commission of inquiry into the Finance Department, Arthur Somare and Patrick Pruaitch challenging the appointment of their respective leadership tribunals and Sir Michael Somare’s Supreme Court appeal in the Motigate Affair were all gathering dust in Waigani.
These high profile cases require the courts to move decisively.
Justice delayed is justice denied.
Today we carry another retiring justice’s regrets that he adds to the growing number some 40 cases which he will now not be able to hear.
Justice Mark Sevua, whose application to remain on the bench was refused by the judicial and legal services commission, has also said that matters are taking an unnecessarily long time to complete.
If it is additional judges that is required then an honest assessment must be made and new judges be added to the National and Supreme Court benches to cater for the increased work force.
As the country expands and more and more people are educated and become aware of and are willing to fight for their rights and can afford the legal fees the number of cases before the courts will increase.