Rule of law must be applied, says SHP leaders

PORT MORESBY, 18 JUNE 2018 (POST COURIER) — Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and leaders of the Southern Highlands Province, including election petitioners for the governor’s seat, have apologised to the people of Papua New Guinea for the distress caused by recent events in Mendi.

Petitioner Joe Kobol met with Prime Minister O’Neill and Southern Highlands leaders with Enga Governor Peter Ipatas and other stakeholders of the province to apologise to the nation and iron out all issues surrounding the recent events.

O’Neill in an interview said that normalcy is now being restored, saying that all leaders have agreed that an independent provincial administrator will be appointed to maintain balance and independence of the operation of the province.

“All the leaders of Southern Highlands have met including Joe Kobol and Pastor Bernard, who also contested the governor’s seat, and we have discussed issues that have caused the burning of state properties because of a court decision last week,” he said.

“Normalcy is being restored in the province and today we want to apologise to Papua New Guinea for the recent events that had taken place, mainly out of frustration,” he said.

“The leaders and I want to express and apologise for the distress caused. Our country has always enjoyed the peaceful resolution of the leaders. I also want to thank Enga Governor Sir Peter Ipatas, one of our senior statesmen, who is also here with us and I also want to thank Joe Kobol and Pastor Bernard, who are here to apologise and discuss the way forward,” PM O’Neill said.

He also said that all the leaders have agreed for Thomas Eluh to be SOE Controller and that an emergency committee of Parliament to convene immediately to assess the situation on the administration and the rule of law and order.

“We have stated very clearly in our meeting today that the rule of law must be applied in our province,” O’Neill said. “On the suspension of the Provincial Government, NEC (Cabinet) does not have the supervisory powers or legislation to be able to supervise the work of the provincial government.

“NEC does not have the powers to make changes to the provincial administration without allocation from the provincial administration. Issues will be addressed in Parliament as required by law,” he said.

“We have agreed that Thomas Eluh is the SOE controller.

“The emergency committee of Parliament will immediately convene and they will send a team to Southern Highlands to assess the situation on the administration and the rule of law, and we the leaders all have agreed that we will work and must support their work in Parliament,” O’Neill said.

Last Friday, a 6pm to 6am curfew was imposed to curtail further trouble in Mendi. The leaders, both political and local, who are responsible for inciting the latest violence will all be arrested and charged within a 21-day period.

O’Neill has announced this after the National Executive Council made the decision on Friday morning to declare a state of emergency in Mendi.

Additional police and Defence Force personnel have been flown into Mendi to restore law and order.

The riot in Mendi followed a National Court decision on Thursday dismissing the election petition by Joseph Kobol who was challenging the election result declaring William Powi as Governor.

As a result of this, an Air Niugini, Link PNG Dash 8 aircraft was set on fire at Mendi airport, the District and National Court building as well as Governor William Powi’s residence were set alight.

Air Niugini chief executive officer Durani Tahawar said last Friday that the captain and crew of the Link PNG Airline have safely arrived in Mount Hagen from Mendi under escort.

“Our HGU staff is with them and we are grateful that they are safe, they shall return tomorrow to Port Moresby,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Minister for Justice and Attorney General Davis Steven has provided reassurance to the public and business community that the state of emergency and suspension of the provincial government in the Southern Highlands, will now go to Parliament to deliver the positive change that is required.

Steven is providing ongoing advice and briefings to the Prime Minister Peter O’Neill on the constitutional and legislative requirements of the suspension and state of emergency.

“The suspension of a provincial government is a serious step, and is only undertaken in the most extreme circumstance,” he said.

“Clearly the events of last week demanded that this course of action be initiated by the National Executive Council.

“The damage to public and private property, and the risk to lives is too high.

“The government is restoring law and order, and Thomas Eluh is mobilising as the controller of the state of emergency.”

Steven also called for agitators to refrain from trying to make the situation worse, saying there is no room for party politics in dealing with this issue.

“It is very clear that the suspension of the provincial government is an issue that is beyond party politics as the Governor is a member of the Prime Minister’s own political party,” he said.

“I now call on leaders who have been causing trouble in Mendi, and for members of the Opposition in Port Moresby, to stop trying to further inflame the situation in the Southern Highlands.

“These issues must be dealt with in a way that is independent of and political influence or interference.” Steven said his office is ensuring compliance legal is maintained during the period of the state of emergency.

“There are a number of legal procedures that are being implemented to ensure compliance with constitutional requirements and relevant organic laws.

“This is not the first time that intervention has been required in the Southern Highlands Province.

“There are clearly deep and systemic law and order issues that must be dealt with in the Southern Highlands and our government is attending to this in a clear and decisive manner.”