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Why I took the ABG to court


PORT MORESBY - In his judgement on Monday, Justice Nicholas Miviri of the national court held that my termination as chief secretary of the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) failed to adhere to the process prescribed in the Bougainville Constitution.

In doing so, His Honour provided a damning assessment of the actions of the defendant, in this case the Bougainville Executive Council, in failing to abide by the very laws they were elected to uphold.

Of course, none of this takes into account the personal impact that the actions and behaviour of the defendant had on me personally.

My name was dragged through the mud. I was accused by the former president, John Momis, of actions akin to subversion.

My reputation was harmed. My family suffered. And for more than 12 months I was deprived of my rightful income as the matter played out through the court.

All of this could have been avoided.

As Justice Miviri noted in his judgement, the matter was “unnecessarily dragged into [the] court”. And that is true.

The ABG by its own admission, in seeking to pay out the value of my contract, conceded that what it did was wrong.

I could have taken the money and walked away.

But this was never about financial compensation for me. Yes, that is important, as I have a family to support and bills to pay.

But for me, the issue at play had far higher stakes: defence of the Constitution and the prescribed laws of Bougainville.

Had I taken the money and simply walked away I would have been no better than the defendants themselves.

Such an action would have been an admission that the Constitution does not count.

I could not allow that to happen.

Justice Miviri in his judgement clearly outlined the provisions under the Constitution that should have been followed. These are not in doubt.

Yet, the Bougainville Executive Council, chaired by the former president, the very man charged with upholding the relevant provisions of the Constitution, made a conscious decision to ignore the law. 

As His Honour noted in his ruling, this is a “very significant fact”.

The office I held was a constitutional office. I was not, as his Honour so eloquently put it “a casual employed on a weekly oral contract”.

I was the holder of an office established under the Constitution, and for which very clear procedures applied with respect to both my appointment, and removal.

It is for these provisions that I fought. Not for me, but for those that will follow.

For how can Bougainville aspire to statehood when its duly elected leaders give just scant attention to the very foundation of law that will guide its future?

All of us have an obligation to defend our Constitution and our laws. It is my hope that the actions I have taken will serve as a valuable lesson to our young and the generations to come.

In my own David and Goliath battle I have shown the power of the law.

I am thankful for our democratic and judicial institutions.  And I take comfort in the fact that my own case has demonstrated that the authority of our Constitution can never be diminished.

May that long continue to be the case.

Joseph Nobetau was chief secretary of the Autonomous Bougainville Government from October 2016 to 23 August 2019 when he was unlawfully removed by the Bougainville Government


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