The National – Friday, March 25, 2011
PRIME Minister Sir Michael Somare has been suspended from office for two weeks without pay after being found guilty of 13 charges of misconduct.
The three-man tribunal handed down the decision yesterday to a packed courtroom.
Tribunal chairman Roger Gyles and Sir Bruce Roberts ruled two to one in favour of suspension while Sir Robin Auld wanted Sir Michael to be dismissed from office.
“There was no serious culpability warranting dismissal,” Gyles said when handing down the suspension.
“The prime minister is suspended from office without pay from and including April 4 for 14 days.”
Sir Michael walked out of court one smiling and said henimbha meaning “all is well” in the Sausa language.
In a prepared statement, Sir Michael apologised to the people of PNG.
“As a leader, I take full responsibility for failing to fulfil certain administrative aspects of my duties and responsibilities of leadership by submitting several late and incomplete returns to the Ombudsman Commission.
“For this, I apologise to the people of Papua New Guinea for this administrative oversight.” As expected, the decision met with a roar from the PM’s supporters as he emerged from the court room and scathing criticisms from other members of the public. (See related stories on this page and next)
English judge Sir Robin argued that the spirit of the Organic Law and, by virtue of the office of the prime minister, the charges for which he was found guilty, though not corrupt, were serious under section 6(4) and warrant a dismissal.
The PM’s referral took five years to get to this stage and it took less than two weeks to conclude; making it the shortest tribunal in history and recording several firsts.
* A sitting PM before a leadership tribunal;
* Three judges from three common law countries presiding in a tribunal of this nature; and
* A leader escaping automatic suspension upon being referred.
The tribunal had the option of dismissing Sir Michael from office; fine him not exceeding K1,000 per charge; suspend him without pay; or reprimand him.
Gyles and Sir Bruce opted for suspension for 14 days as his penalty for submitting late and incomplete annual statements for 1994 to 1997.
“Although the relevant provisions involved objective assessment, the subjective attitude and approach of the leader is a factor to be evaluated.
“The leader has always said that he was not trying to avoid his duty under the Leadership Code but other matters were given priority.
“This frame of mind was confirmed by (his accountant and family friend) Glenn Blake and is consistent with the character revealed in the very laudatory and supportive references provided to us.”
The tribunal was furnished with character references from 10 prominent people within the government, private and international circles in support of Sir Michael earlier this week.
Dissenting judge Sir Robin described the PM’s attitude towards the charges as “a disregard bordering on disdain for his constitutional obligations” and the Ombudsman Commission.
“It would be bad enough in the case of any leader, but it is particularly reprehensible for one of his high standing and influential involvement in the initiation of the Leadership Code,” he said.