KUNDIAWA - The Supreme Court’s decision quashing the arrest warrant for prime minister Peter O’Neill relating to an alleged fraudulent payment of K78 million to Paul Paraka Lawyers, a case that spanned three years, has not gone down well with many Papua New Guineans.
Many people are expressing dissatisfaction with the decision both on social media and in private gatherings.
What is in question is the very impartiality of the justice system.
Prior to the decision, chief justice Sir Salamo Injia had been photographed happily chatting with O’Neill in the grandstand of Sir John Guise Stadium during a November World Rugby League Cup match.
The photo went viral on social media as people talked about it and expected the court’s decision to be in O’Neill’s favour, which happened.
Irrespective of whether O’Neill and Sir Salamo discussed the pending case during the rugby match or elsewhere, it was a case of whether justice was seen to be done.
The fact that the head of the judiciary, who had sat on a one man bench for a stay order application by O’Neill, ordered the arrest warrant be reviewed by the Supreme Court raised serious question of judicial ethics and integrity.
On Facebook, many people expressed the ethical impropriety of Sir Salamo beign seen with O’Neill in such circumstances. After all, this was a fraud case involving tens of millions of kina of public funds.
The quashing of the arrest warrant was based on a number of technical errors which did not go to the substance of the alleged crime.
A court document obtained and posted in part on Facebook by Madang MP Bryan Kramer showed the fraud case to remain live and able to be resurrected by the Fraud Squad if it wants to do so.
Given the allegiance between the Police Commissioner Gary Baki and O’Neill, and an unusual vetting process engineered by Baki, the chances of the case seeing the light of day again seem very slim.
What baffles most people is that the case took three years to reach a technical dead end, costing the state millions of kina in legal fees. Surely these petty technical errors which could have been rectified a long time ago had the Police Fraud Squad been informed.
Or was there some other hidden force that influenced the court to make its decision? This is the question many people are asking.
In the eyes of Papua New Guineans, the judiciary has been corrupted and compromised like other law enforcement agencies before it.
People look up to the judiciary as their last bastion of hope in the fight against corruption and if this is infected and infested, people may take the law into their own hands.
What has been occurring in the Southern Highlands Province, where there is a continuing revolt against the state, could easily spread to other provinces.