PNG plunged into constitutional crisis with high court ordering arrest of politicians

11/11/2011 15:59

PNG Deputy Prime Minister Belden Namah who has a bench

warrant out for his arrest.

Papua New Guinea has been plunged into a constitutional crisis with the Supreme Court issuing a bench warrant for the arrest of Acting Prime Minister Belden Namah and Attorney General Dr Allan Marat.

This follows yesterday’s unprecedented suspension of PNG chief justice Sir Salamo Injia over allegations of breaching court orders, double dipping, mismanagement and conflict of interest.

PNG judge Bernard Sakora sat as a one-man Supreme Court bench and issued the warrant for the arrest of the two politicians. It was delivered to the acting police commissioner Tom Kulunga with instructions to “execute forthwith”. Mr Kulunga has confirmed receiving the orders and said they will act on it.

Cabinet was also restrained from going ahead with the suspension of Sir Injia pending the outcome of the contempt of court charges laid against Mr Namah and Dr Marat.

Ironically, Justice Sakora was promoted to acting deputy chief justice by cabinet yesterday in-light of deputy chief Gibbs Salika’s elevation to acting chief judge, following Sir Injia’s suspension.

PNG PM Peter O’Neill flew to Hawaii to attend the APEC summit when his deputy Mr Namah announced Sir Injia’s suspension yesterday.

A copy of the high court’s orders obtained by Papua New Guinea Issues in Perspective shows the court making reference to Sir Injia presiding over the Supreme Court reference into the legality of the O’Neill government. The high court will hand down its ruling on 9 December.

The court said cabinet’s decision to suspend the chief justice amounted to contempt of court. It added that the suspended chief justice was also not advised of the allegations raised against him nor served a notice of his suspension. Consequently the court ordered that:

  • Pending formal charges of contempt being laid by the registrar of the supreme court against the Hon Belden Namah and the Hon Dr Allan Marat, that they both be arrested and detained by the police forthwith and produced to this court on Monday 12th December 2011 at 9:30 am;
  • The registrar of the supreme court shall file and serve the charges on the two alleged contemnors the Hon Belden Namah and the Hon Dr Allan Marat within seven days, such charges to be made returnable on Monday 12th December 20 I 1 at 9:30 am;
  • The said decisions of the national executive council (cabinet) are hereby stayed, and that the national executive council by its servants and agents whomsoever including the Hon Belden Namah and the Hon Dr Allan Marat, are restrained from implementing the said decisions; and
  • The registrar shall file an affidavit of service and execution of these orders forthwith.

The looming arrest of the two politicians is reminiscent of the 1979 Rooney Affair when former PNG politician Nahau Rooney, who was justice minister at that time, criticised the National Court for overturning the deportation of a University of PNG academic and was subsequently sentenced to eight months imprisonment for contempt.