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Fired B’ville bureaucrat says ‘I was tackling corruption’

Joseph Nobetau - "An orchestrated attack on my character and credibility because I adhered to the government’s direction to tackle corruption"


BUKA – Bougainville’s top public servant has initiated proceedings in Papua New Guinea’s national court seeking a judicial review of his sacking by the Bougainville cabinet.

The decision by chief secretary Joseph Nobetau to contest his dismissal will have enormous repercussions throughout the autonomous province as the referendum on its political future approaches in November.

Mr Nobetau alleges that many people within the political leadership have made “absurd allegations” that he was seeking to overthrow the government, that he was disrespectful of ministers and engaged in violent confrontation.

He said he remains the lawful occupant of the chief secretary’s position and it is appropriate that a court make a determination on the legal validity of the decision to fire him.

He also considers he has an obligation to do so because the way in which he was dismissed contravenes the Bougainville constitution.

“Such a change simply cannot be made by stealth or by the cabinet alone,” he said.

Mr Nobetau says he stands by his record as chief secretary.

“Whilst I have struggled at times to implement many of the reforms requested of me, particularly given that many simply had no basis in law, I have nevertheless done everything I can do advance the public service.

“Under my tenure we have delivered a strategic development plan, ensured all agencies have in place corporate plans, and cut back on wasteful spending in areas such as hire cars and allowances, claims which in the past have amounted to millions and millions of kina and in many cases were rorts and clearly unlawful.

“Despite allegations to the contrary, I have steadfastly supported the referendum. I have advocated strongly for funds, I have steered complex discussions around the referendum question and have worked with my national government counterpart to reach agreement on a range of other initiatives,” he said.

“It is true that I have at times been critical of partners, particularly the United Nations, with regards to continued wasteful spending and unilateral decision-making with regards to funds that should rightfully be used in Bougainville.

“In doing so, I have simply tried to emphasise the need for good governance and transparency, rather than backdoor negotiations and decision making and poor financial management practices.”

Mr Nobetau said there had been an orchestrated attack on his character and credibility because he had adhered to the government’s direction to tackle corruption.

“I stand accused of using the RPNGC fraud squad for political means, when all I have done is refer information before me to the police for review,” he said. “The RPNGC makes its own decisions consistent with the criminal code, not me.

He said his position as chief secretary had been made untenable and that he would vacate the position but his application for judicial review will stand.

“This is not for me, but for every senior public servant in Bougainville who is entitled to the protections afforded by the constitution, which were drafted with the specific aim of ensuring a non-politicised public service.

“I now leave it to the courts to determine the lawfulness of the decision made and state that, subject to the financial commitment made by the [cabinet] being honoured in full, that I will vacate the position of Chief Secretary of the Autonomous Bougainville Government.”


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Philip Fitzpatrick

We've got limited knowledge of the facts behind this case but on the face of it, and with Mr Nobetau's description of events, it seems to be a case of an honest public servant being hounded out of office by people who resent his interference in their corrupt little schemes.

This sort of scenario is all too common in PNG. It occurs within government and throughout the public service.

In this sense Mr Nobetau's judicial review is very important, particularly as it occurs on the eve of the referendum.

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