Members of the CCAC, University of PNG, PNG Trade Union Congress and PNG social media
networks in a joint press conference. Picture courtesy of ID PNG/The Truth As It Is - PNG
Papua New Guinean student protestors and civil society are looking at their options after Prime Minister Peter O’Neill refused to get parliament to repeal the controversial Judicial Conduct Act.
Among the options being considered is a nationwide stopwork by workers in both the government and private sectors and sit-in protests by students at PNG's main universities in Port Moresby, Lae, Goroka, Madang and Rabaul.
Hundreds of protesters, mainly made up of students from the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG), marched to the office of the PM in Port Moresby last Friday and demanded the O’Neill government repeal the law.
The government chief secretary Manasupe Zurenuoc reportedly received the petition and assured the protestors that Mr O’Neill would respond to their concerns in a televised nationwide address on Sunday March 25.
However the parliament-elected PM yesterday refused to back down, putting himself on a collision course with the students and civil society lead by the powerful Community Coalition Against Corruption (CCAC).
“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 behavior. We are not alone here,” he said in his address.
The act gives powers to cabinet and parliament to regulate the conduct of National and Supreme Court judges, consequently removing the independence of the judiciary and making it vulnerable to the executive and the legislature.
The CCAC and PNG’s various social media networks have come out expressing public support for the students and condemning the act.
“We share the community outrage at the manner in which the bill was enacted. There are parliamentary procedures for passing of any legislation; in this case these were not respected. These procedures should involve intelligent debate and wide consultation and not a 45-minute stampede! The fact that the legislation passed is retrospective raises huge concerns. It is simply unacceptable to change the rules after the event. Furthermore the legislation has implications on court decisions made since the 1st November 2011, now and into the future,” the CCAC said in a statement.
The O'Neill/Namah government have refused to repeal the Judicial Conduct Act.
It is understood the CCAC, UPNG student leaders, PNG social media representatives and trade unions are now looking at their options and have not ruled out embarking on a nationwide stop-work and sit-in protests in main urban centers including Port Moresby.
Cybele Druma and Lillianne Wafimbi, who represented PNG social media networks at a CCAC press conference yesterday, said there was a general consensus among their 5000-plus membership that the act should be repealed.
“Basically, the majority consensus that is coming out from our groups, from our members, is that they want this act or this bill to be repealed and so in no uncertain terms – we are speaking on their behalf – we are now calling upon government to ensure that at its next sitting they must consider repealing this bill,” said Ms Druma.
Parliament resumes on Tuesday April 3 in what will be the last session for this term of parliament before the writs are issued on April 27 for the 2012 general election.
PNG’s founding PM Sir Michael Somare, whose reinstatement as PM by the Supreme Court last December plunged the country into a constitutional crisis when parliament opted to elect Mr O’Neill, has criticized the Ombudsman Commission and Chief Ombudsman Chronox Manek for failing to take action.
“As the watchdog organization, the Ombudsman Commission should be ahead of the game that is being played by members of parliament using their numerical strength. The democratic rule of the majority is being blatantly abused and yet the Commission has been absolutely quiet. The only statement last week by Mr Manek was the publicity on its internal politics, a matter that can be sorted in house with his administration,” said Sir Michael in a statement.
It is understood the Ombudsman Commission is currently studying the act and will soon make a decision on whether to file a Supreme Court reference.