Supreme Court defers decision on legitimacy of the O'Neill government

09/12/2011 14:46

Security was tight outside the court precincts at Waigani in Port Moresby. Picture courtesy of Louise Lane


The Papua New Guinea Supreme Court has deferred its decision on the legitimacy of the O’Neill government to Monday 12 December.

An urgent application by Prime Minister Peter O’Neill for Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia, the chair of the Supreme Court proceeding, to disqualify himself appears to be the reason behind the decision to adjourn to Monday.

The court is expected to rule on the urgent application before going to the substantive matter on the legitimacy of the election of Mr O’Neill and his government on August 2 this year.

Lawyers representing Mr O’Neill filed the urgent application yesterday and were joined by the speaker of the PNG parliament, Jeffrey Nape. It appears the battle between the three arms of government is far from over with the contempt charges against Deputy PM Belden Namah and Attorney General Dr Allan Marat also returnable on the same date and time.

Security was tight in Port Moresby today with a crowd gathering outside the court precincts, though there were no reports of unrest in the PNG capital. An Australian Foreign Affairs Department-issued alert  to Australian travellers to “exercise a high degree of caution” in Port Moresby and other areas remains unchanged since it was published early in the week.

Part of the crowd who waited outside the court precincts for the decision. Picture courtesy of Louise Lane

Mr O’Neill’s attempts to disqualify Sir Salamo comes a month after cabinet invoked rarely used provisions in the PNG constitution to suspend him over allegations of misuse and maladministration. The Supreme Court responded by issuing bench warrants for Mr Namah and Dr Marat’s arrest. Cabinet later overturned its decision but the contempt charges remain and will be heard on Monday.

The decision by the high court to adjourn to Monday caps a tumultuous week for PNG with the O’Neill government finally tabling its K10.5 billion (A$4.6 billion) budget after a three week delay. Debate on the budget was reportedly suspended and deferred to next Tuesday.

The application to disqualify Sir Salamo appears to be the last throw of the dice for Mr O’Neill, whose actions in the last few weeks have been described by lawyers as an “attack on the judiciary”.

Prominent PNG lawyer Dr John Nonggorr slammed Sir Salamo’s suspension in a full-page newspaper editorial last month, saying it was trying to intimidate the bench as it deliberates on the legality of the O’Neill government.