Retired New Zealand judge Sir Peter Blanchard to head inquiry starting January 26

Post Courier PIC
A LEADERSHIP Tribunal has been appointed to inquire into allegations of misconduct in office made against Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.

It will be headed by a retired New Zealand judge Sir Peter Blanchard, who begins the inquiry on January 26 next year.

Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia yesterday announced his decision to appoint the tribunal following a request from the Public Prosecutor on November 14.

The allegations of misconduct in office are "that the Prime Minister failed to comply with administrative and financial processes, including the normal overseas borrowing process in the approval of a K3 billion loan from the Union Bank of Switzerland AG (Australia branch) to purchase shares in Oil Search Limited".

It was further alleged that the purchase of the shares was in the interest of Oil Search Limited and not the State.

Other members of the Blanchard Tribunal are retired Australian Federal Court judge John von Boussa and Justice Salatiel Lenalia.

Sir Salamo also announced an instrument formalising the tribunal appointment, its composition, the date, time and venue for the start of the inquiry, which are Monday, January 26, 2015, at 9.30am, Courtroom No 1 at the National Court building in Waigani.

Sir Salamo said the instrument also specifies that for the avoidance of doubt, pursuant to Section 142(6) of the Constitution, subject to which Section 28 of the Organic Law and Duties and Responsibilities is to be read, the question of suspension pending the inquiry will be determined by the tribunal in its discretion.

"The importance of the high office held by the PM O’Neill is the reason for the appointment of two imminent former judges of two developed common law jurisdictions and a senior Judge of the National and Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea," Sir Salamo said.

 PRIME Minister Peter O’Neill has expressed relief that a Tribunal has been appointed to clear the air on Oil Search shares issue once and for all.

He said the announcement that the Leadership Tribunal has been appointed in January to hear matters relating to the purchase of Oil Search shares is a positive move.

The Prime Minister said he is looking forward to these proceedings and the tribunal will provide the opportunity to put the issue to rest.

"It is best that this tribunal is convened sooner rather than later," he said in a statement.

"I have ultimate respect for the independence of the judiciary. The tribunal hearing will offer the opportunity to present the facts, and cross-examine any claims in relation to administrative and financial procedures.

"This will clear the air on this issue once and for all.

"There has been a great deal of politically motivated misinformation and blatant lies relating to the purchase of the oil search shares by government of Papua New Guinea.

"The purchase of these shares is an investment in the key resource infrastructure of our country.

"It is time to participate directly in the development of our resources.

"Without such investment we continue to be bystanders in our own resources sector, which has been the case in decades past.

"The referral by the Ombudsman Commission is not on a decision on a personal matter, it relates to a government decision by the Cabinet of which I am Chairman.

The Prime Minister said the nature of the referral are out of the ordinary and could set a dangerous precedent creating legal vagaries in relation to the decision making process which is clearly defined in our national constitution.

"The question that will come from this is, can the Chair of the NEC, or any member of the NEC, be singled out over a Cabinet decision," the prime minister said.

"This action brings into question a number of legal questions that are relating to democratic process in our country.

According to this action, the collective decision of the Cabinet members are irrelevant to the process."

No further comment will be entered into on this matter until the proceedings have run their course, he said.