Tough task ahead for Dr Kalinoe

Editorial, Normal

DR Lawrence Kalinoe has got his job cut out for him.
As the chief legal adviser to the Government the new Secretary for Justice and Attorney-General must first take advice himself.
He needs much guidance on how to return this very important department to a level of functionality conversant with its critical role in advising Government on legal matters.
The department has been allowed to deteriorate to a state where it is embarrassingly ineffective.
Time and again judges have lashed out at the absence of Government lawyers to attend to matters which at the very least could be defended successfully by a law student but which case is often lost by the State by the mere non-attendance of its lawyers in court.
Over time experienced State lawyers have left the employ of the department to seek greener pastures and more lucrative contracts in the private sector.
They appear to have taken their business with them so that today the department’s brief outs to private law firms cost the State amounts in the tens of millions of kina.
Brief outs, of themselves are not wrong, particularly on matters where a private firm might have far better expertise and experience but we are talking here about mundane matters which need not be briefed out at all.
Then there has been the embarrassing revelation of millions of kina being siphoned off the system in out-of-court settlements with the full knowledge and concurrence of the Justice Department chiefs.
Amounts paid out totalled K300 million at one stage.
It ran almost like a syndicate within the Government and the eventual revelations resulted ultimately in the Commission of Inquiry into the Department of Finance.
Why the terms of reference did not include the Department of Justice and Attorney-General as well and drew only individuals from it, we do not know but Finance was only the facilitator of payments.
The rot, if it can be called that, started in the Department of Justice with the signing of official documents legitimising the scandalous payments. 
We shall know soon enough what part the Department of Justice and Attorney-General and its officers had in the whole merry-go-round as the Commission has concluded its report and has tendered it to the Government.
And then there has been the sordid personal tussle between various officers and eventually the acting department head and the Minister over senior posts including that of the Secretary.
As can be expected, staff morale has been low.
Equally low has been the productivity of the department’s efforts as the Government’s principle legal adviser – to the extent that today most ministers, including the Prime Minister, keep private law firms on retainers to do their legal work including drafting of laws and commercial agreements.
This, most assuredly, is supposed to be the work of this department.
While this has been happening some important divisions of the department have been operating on shoe string budgets and often running their operations outside the law.
This newspaper has, in weeks past, been running a series of reports on the Auditor-General’s and the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee reports into the operations of the Public Curator.
This office is a branch of the Justice Department and Attorney-General.
The PAC has said the litany of errors, omissions, law breaking and instances of corruption in this office made it a “national disgrace”.
In his own defence and that of the office he held for the past nine years, the immediate past public curator, Paul Wagun said last week that he has had to make the decisions he did because the Department of Justice and the Government had completely neglected his office.
Pleas to upgrade the operations of the office and to increase the budget every year for nine years fell on deaf ears, he said.
The deaf ears, we would expect, to be the ears of the predecessors of Dr Kalinoe.
We are happy that Dr Kalinoe has said he will handle disciplinary matters himself.
That is a good start but we do not envy his job.
It is going to be one messy clean up campaign and if Dr Kalinoe can do this one, he can go on and become Chief Secretary for all we care.