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Friday, November 02, 2007

PNG Judge raps minister over Moti report

PORT Moresby - Ministers may make laws but they should not try to interpret them, Justice Gibbs Salika said, instead the interpretation of laws should be left to the judiciary.

"The (Defence) minister's function is to make the laws and the Secretary for Defence is to implement the laws," Justice Salika said.

Judge Salika was responding to Defence Minister Bob Dadae's announcement Tuesday that the PNG Defence Force's Board of Inquiry into Moti affair was unlawfully set up.

"If they have not been appointed as judges of the Supreme and National Court by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission, then they should shut up and not try to interpret the law which is the role of the judiciary," he said from Lae where he is on court circuit duty.

Justice Salika had chaired the inquiry which subsequently submitted a report that implicated several people and recommended that charges be laid.

He said that since his role as chairman no longer existed, he could not make any comments on the Moti report which he added was currently before the courts.

"We (the PNGDF Board of Inquiry members) are functus officio, meaning that we have completed our job and the board is non-existent," he told The National.

On Tuesday, Mr Dadae told a press conference that the establishment of the Board of Inquiry contravened the Defence Force Act and as such, its recommendations could not be accepted. He said Defence Secretary Fred Punangi advised the minister at the time, Martin Aini, and the attorney general but the inquiry was still allowed to proceed.

When told about Justice Salika's outburst yesterday, Mr Dadae declined to comment. "I cannot comment on something that I have not read," he said.

Mr Punangi said he did not influence the minister's comments although they were issues that "I had raised with the attorney-general at the time". He said he had issues concerning the composition of the Board of Inquiry and its jurisdiction. That was why, he said, he asked the attorney general then (David Lambu) to abolish that Board of Inquiry and get a new one constituted. "I'm not arguing about the outcome of the inquiry, I have always been arguing about its legal standing and its jurisdiction," he said.

Another former member of the inquiry Daniel Liosi said the issues raised by Mr Dadae and Mr Punangi were dismissed by the National Court on 12 September so the Moti Inquiry report remained a "legally binding document."

He said the option left to the parties challenging the inquiry or the report was to file an appeal to the Supreme Court. "To date we are advised that there may have been a Supreme Court appeal filed. If that is the case, then the matter is subjudice.

"It would, therefore, be contemptuous for anybody to make comments on the matter until it is determined by the Supreme Court." He added that the Defence Minister had the power to either publish or withhold the report pursuant to the Defence Force Act.

"However, it must be made clear that he did not have the power to interpret the laws of this land. Such powers are only vested with the judiciary arm of the Government," Mr Liosi said.

"We would appreciate it if the minister and the Defence Secretary sought proper legal advice as to the current legal status of the report before misleading the public.".

Source: Solomon Star

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