BY ALEXANDER RHEENEY
PRESSURE IS GROWING ON Papua New Guinea’s O’Neill government to repeal the Judicial Conduct Act with the business community joining civil society and students to condemn its enactment.
The Papua New Guinea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PNGCCI) said the separation of powers was a key component of democratic institutions and the law passed by the O’Neill government last week would see parliament interfering in the conduct of judicial proceedings.
“The constitution provides for the separation of powers such that the judiciary is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the politicians and public servants obey the constitution,” PNGCCI president John Leahy said in a statement.
“Actions such as the Judicial Conduct bill attempt to undermine these sacrosanct constitutional arrangements.
“The law should be repealed and additional resources provided to the Ombudsman Commission to help them do their job using laws that are already in place,” he said.
The O’Neill government appears to be relenting to the pressure with a report yesterday quoting the chair of the Constitutional Law Reform Commission, MP Gabriel Kapris, as saying the government will not implement the act until the conclusion of a full public consultation program.
However opponents of the act are determined to force parliament to repeal it despite Mr Kapris’ assurance that the government will embark on a consultation process with all stakeholders.
Options being considered by students, civil society, trade unions and PNG social media networks are nationwide strikes and sit-in protests in main urban centers.
While parliament-elected prime minister Peter O’Neill refused to give in to demands by hundreds of student protesters for the act to be repealed, he is beginning to find himself increasingly isolated by growing public opinion against a law, which he claims in a nationwide television address would “strengthen the conduct” of PNG’s national and supreme court judges.
Assertions by his attorney general Dr Allan Marat during an interview with Radio New Zealand that last Friday’s protest march in Port Moresby was led by Engan students, who were purportedly angered by the O’Neill government’s personal crusade to remove Engan and Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia, also backfired.
University of Papua New Guinea students released a statement saying the protest march had national representation as it was coordinated and led by students from PNG’s Highlands, Momase, New Guinea Islands and Southern regions.
“What Dr Marat needs to understand is that the protest March to occupy Waigani that took place on Friday was the direct result of a resolution passed by the student Body at the general forum meeting of Thursday 22nd March 2012,” the students said in a statement.
“In this meeting representatives from all 22 provinces, after close consultation with their student provincial groups, aired their official stance to the student body.”
They asked Dr Marat to apologise and said his comments were a deliberate move to create disunity amongst the student body.
“We are of the view that such statements are deliberate attempts to dishearten and break up the common resolve of the student body to have the Judicial Conduct Act 2012 repealed.”
Mr Leahy has also warned that the passage of the controversial act, which leapfrogged the three-month process required under PNG laws for bills that are tabled in parliament, would impact negatively on PNG as an investment destination.
“Business need stable democratic institutions in which to flourish. Likewise prospective new investors need to be satisfied that their interests will be protected by an independent judiciary.
“The passage of this bill risks increasing the perceptions of political risks of doing business in PNG,” he added.