Tonight prime minister Peter O’Neill has used Papua New Guinea’s mass media to address the nation following protests and demonstrations against changes to the laws affecting the judiciary in PNG (Judicial Conduct Bill 2012)
MY FELLOW CITIZENS AND RESIDENTS of our great nation. It is indeed my pleasant duty to talk to you about our national affairs.
Nearly 8 months ago on the 2nd of August 2011, our Government was created. Our Government is the product of dissent and dissatisfaction with the nine year-old National Alliance Party-led government.
Seventy-two Members of Parliament -- who are elected representatives of their people – responded to a motion to change the government of the day and thereby voted accordingly in Parliament to deliver a new Government for Papua New Guinea.
Parliament is where all governments of Papua New Guinea were created and changed since Independence in 1975. Parliament is also where all Prime Ministers of Papua New Guinea are elected and deposed.
Governments and Prime Ministers cannot be installed in office by the Courts – especially not by the Judiciary.
Judges of our National and Supreme Courts have no jurisdiction to decide, appoint and install a government or a Prime Minister to office.
The Judiciary can make their ruling on a constitutional reference of the type filed by the East Sepik Provincial Government and several other parties that disputed Parliament’s creation of our Government and of my election as Prime Minister.
But the Judiciary can only inform and advise their ruling as a recommendation to Parliament through the Speaker.
It is then up to the Speaker of Parliament to accept or reject the judicial ruling because under the “separation of powers” of the three arms of Government – that is the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary – one cannot dictate to the other or interfere in the other’s duties, functions and responsibilities.
The exception to the status quo is where an enabling legislation gives authority for one arm of government to interact with the other in a specified manner.
That is the legal and political precedent, fact and reality which our Government has steadfastly and repeatedly voiced and explained in the face of uninformed criticism and blame-passing by our critics.
Our Government – and especially its leadership – is not afraid to take all the responsibility, credit and blame for all decisions and developments affecting our nation since August last year.
Our Government is happy to equally accept credit where we have done well and blame and criticism where we have - with the best intentions – deliberately moved to redirect and reshape national development.
We are a Government that pledged and committed ourselves as inclusive and all-accommodating, right at the beginning. The foundation of our Government are the citizens – every man, woman and child – of this nation.
Our Government is the “People’s Government” and I urge all citizens to embrace that ownership.
Our Government took office to create, assert and deliver positive and gainful economic, political and social changes in the lives of all our people. Our Government is not afraid to admit that we are in office to deliver goods and services to support the lives of all our people.
Our Government came into office to change and redirect the way our national affairs has been governed and managed over the last 37 years.
It is no secret that we have moved decisively to re-align the Legislature, the Executive and now the Judiciary to be positively and gainfully proactive in the leadership role each plays. They are constitutionally bound to exercise their powers for the overall stability and good governance of our nation.
Our Government is convinced that the three important arms of Government must step out and step up to embrace their constitutional roles and be seen to be delivering their functions and responsibilities effectively and efficiently.
Despite what our critics have said about us lately, our eight-month old government is “the government of the people, for the people and by the people” through their elected representatives – not through their appointed public officials.
At present there are 89 elected Members of Parliament making up the numerical majority of our people’s Government in Parliament.
Our Government has made use of this numerical majority to make laws that we believe are good for our nation in the long run.
Some laws we have made may seem harsh and vindictive at first impression in the eyes of critics and opponents of our Government.
Examples of laws our Government has successfully passed include an amendment to the Prime Minister and National Executive Council Act, legitimizing the deposing of a Prime Minister who is absent from the nation for a period of three months or more. Furthermore, our Government has legislated against any citizen who has reached the age of 72 years from seeking office as Prime Minister.
Our Government’s latest legislative initiative has been to enact the Judicial Conduct law pursuant to Section 157 of the national Constitution.
This new law basically defines and imposes clarity on judicial behavior that the wider community or affected parties in lawsuits may consider or perceive as biased.
That law is not draconian and does not erode the impartiality of the judges as voiced by critics, including the usual two or three publicity-seeking members of the PNG Law Society.
It must be pointed out that countries such as Australia, India, Canada and other Commonwealth nations, have similar legislations or ethical standards to scrutinize judicial conduct and behaviour. We are not alone here.
These so-called legal eagles who are quick to condemn our Government have vested political interests and have sights set on contesting the National General Elections. Their utterances purported in defense of the Judiciary must be taken with a great deal of suspicion.
Our Government has also been petitioned by students of the University of Papua New Guinea in relation to the Judicial Conduct law and we appreciate their intervention in the public interest.
However, let me say that our people’s Government does not have a fight with the nation’s Judiciary.
It is true a new law was made by Parliament to give “legislative teeth” to administer any instances of perceived or real judicial bias, where judges continue to hear cases that have serious conflicts of interest. This law was enacted for the sake of clarity and to better define and strengthen the role and conduct of our National and Supreme Court judges.
There is nothing secretive and sinister about the new Judicial Conduct law.
The people’s parliament simply made further definitions and clarifications to Section 157 of the National Constitution to ensure that the conduct of judges was above reproach and suspicion when they discharge their judicial duties and responsibilities. That law strengthens the impartiality and independence of the Judiciary.
The people’s parliament has put into written law what was -- until last Wednesday – a mere understanding and belief which we all took for granted that every judge on the National and Supreme Court is free of bias and prejudice. Judges are human beings with emotions. They have feelings, biases and prejudices. They have families, relatives, tribesmen, and school and college friends too.
Why would they not be biased and prejudiced one way or another when any of their family or friends has a court case that comes before them?
This new law gives relief to a judge faced with the potential dilemma of bias and prejudice in court cases that may compromise their impartiality. The new law also provides an avenue for adjudicating lapses of judicial conduct.
For instance, when a judge is found to be biased or prejudiced, the legislation made under Section 157 of the Constitution has established corrective measures and penalties to deal with such judicial conduct.
This law must not be seen as one that will weaken and erode the independence of the Judiciary.
It is not a law that erodes the fundamental principles of democracy nor does it compromise the separation of powers between the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. This law is not a knee-jerk legislation – as some critics have said – and it is definitely not designed to remove certain members of the judiciary from office.
Judges – like any public servants - are employees of the people and the nation.
They can be disciplined if there is reasonable evidence of ethical and professional lapse in their conduct and in the carriage of their duties and responsibilities.
When an investigation under the Judicial Conduct law finds and proves a judge to have compromised or brought the slightest hint or instance of ethical lapse upon himself or herself then this part of the Constitution, Section 157, provides for appropriate procedures for disqualifications and penalties to be imposed.
In a nutshell, our people’s Parliament has made a new law to define the judicial behavior in relation to the conduct of judges.
This law is definitely not a political tool for usurping the impartiality of judges or for eroding the letter, intent and spirit of judicial and justice administration in Papua New Guinea.
At this point, let me also give Papua New Guineans a message of hope and re-assurance.
We have a great country that has promise and resources in abundance to make us rise and shine as a modern happy, healthy and wealthy nation in the world.
As Prime Minister, I say without fear and without favor that our nation has been well and truly travelling on that new course of nation-building. That has been happening since our Government took charge over eight months ago.
We have moved away from conservative hang-ups and from the beaten-track to chart a new course for our nation’s future development.
It takes no special knowledge to realize that up until the time our Government came on the scene in August last year, the three arms of Government were quite happy to exist as bored and dysfunctional conservative outfits.
Our nation cannot progress and rise to new economic, political and social development heights when the leadership is deliberately ignorant to the winds of change in the global village.
The three arms of Government have been overdue for a drastic shake-up of their ways of conducting the serious business of governing and managing our national affairs. By the very event of changing the government in August last year, we have moved decisively to re-awaken the Legislature and Executive from their long sleep.
The people’s National Parliament has met more times and discharged more legislative business in the last eight months than at any given period in the last nine years under the former regime.
There has been record attendance of Members of Parliament and more lively debate on national issues during parliamentary sessions.
Parliament and the Executive have become proactive in their co-operation to move the nation forward to bigger and better national prospects for our people.
So naturally, the next step was to get the Judiciary moving in tandem with the Legislature and the Executive arms; and that is what we have done with the Judicial Conduct law.
The important realization that we must all have as citizens or leaders – irrespective of where we are in the hierarchy – is that we have a nation that has an abundance of natural wealth.
Gold, copper, oil, gas, fish, timber, fertile agriculture land for growing food and cash crops is all here. Yet we have not developed our nation fully on the back of this natural wealth.
The absence of assertive and constructive leadership in the past within the three pillars of democracy to drive national development has been the biggest handicap to our national progress since Independence.
Present and the immediate future’s national leadership cannot remain complacent or in hibernation. There is work to be done, a nation to lead, people’s welfare to be administered and basic life support services to be delivered to all our people.
Our national population has grown from around two and half million at the time of Independence to about seven million at present.
While population has grown, important public and life support services such as hospitals and rural health centers, schools, roads, bridges, clean water supply, sanitation system, electricity and market access have deteriorated. Their reliability and dependability have not stood the test of changing times and increasing population.
Thriving rural outstations that served as business and commerce hubs and as administrative centers for rural communities have collapsed and become discarded and decayed.
These factors and many other failures and oversights bring into sharp focus the need for responsible leaders of our nation and for our people to join hands and strive for positive and gainful change for every citizen.
Let me declare that I have the political will to lead this change of attitude and mindset of our people at this time, throughout my time in national politics and of course when my political fortunes permit me to continue as head of government after the upcoming National General Elections.
Yes, we can achieve this outcome by electing wise and assertive leaders in this year’s election to lead our people and to ensure equitable distribution of our national wealth.
It is my pleasure to assure the nation – to assure all the citizens of Papua New Guinea that the 2012 National General Elections will not be deferred for purposes of political expediency.
All the speculation on deferral of our national elections by opponents of our government here in Papua New Guinea and overseas is nonsense and therefore without truth and substance.
Our Government is not in the business of trying to turn a proud Papua New Guinean nation into a Pacific “coconut republic”. Elections this year will go ahead as scheduled with the issuing of election writs on April 27 – that’s next month – and for polling to commence in June.
Let me also assure the nation that our Government has an election management task force headed by the Chief Secretary to Government to assist the Electoral Commissioner to efficiently administer this year’s elections. Our Government is zero tolerant on any inefficiency and slackness.
Having put that speculation to rest, let me also say that our Government is about inclusiveness in dealing with our national affairs. Our Government believes that all eligible and capable citizens have equal rights to participate in the development agenda of our nation.
Our Government is realistic enough to admit that we cannot deliver everything our nation needs in short the time that we will have been in government. That is why in re-building the national will, our Government chose four impact areas to concentrate our goods and services delivery efforts. These areas are education, health, infrastructure and law and order including stamping out corruption within the government system.
This year we have begun a K750 million program of delivery of free and subsidized education. Our Government has already released K300 million of free and subsidized education fees and we will release the balance before the nation goes to the elections.
Our Government does not want the free and subsidized education rollout program to be disrupted by the elections.
Fee-free education starts from Elementary level to Grade 10 and the provision of subsidized school fees will for Grades 11 and 12 and for university and other tertiary colleges. Our Government has allowed for subsidized tuition fees and the re-introduction of fortnightly National Scholarship allowances for university and tertiary college students.
Our Government has made healthcare free at all public hospitals and health centers. For far too long our citizens have been subjected to lives of denial.
Our Government is making some changes already to weed out poverty, poor health, absence of transportation, communication access, breakdown of law and order, denial and corruption in public service delivery of basic life support services to the masses.
Our Government has identified and recognized the nation’s immediate needs as improving education and health services, repairing and maintaining rundown transportation infrastructure such as important national assets highways like the Highlands Highway, feeder roads and bridges and making sure law and order problems, including corruption and denial of government services, are addressed promptly.
Our Government deposed the former regime in order to deliver positive and gainful economic, political and social change inclusively to all our people. Yes, we are doing it.
Our Government has no secret and sinister agenda. We have no secret plans to make laws that will weaken our nation’s democratic institutions and processes. So far, we have been very transparent and accountable to our people about the management of their country.
We simply want to revamp dysfunctional institutions of State and turn them into becoming proactive in the delivery and implementation of gainful national development.
This nation belongs to all of us. Let us develop it together and make it a better place that we can all proudly call “home”.
May God Almighty bless us all. Thank you.