PNG court finds abolition of corruption watchdog Taskforce Sweep was legal

PNG court finds abolition of corruption watchdog Taskforce Sweep was legal

PNG court finds abolition of corruption watchdog Taskforce Sweep was legal

Updated 5 December 2016, 18:35 AEDT

Papua New Guinea's National Court finds the Government does have the right to abolish the anti-corruption body Taskforce Sweep, ending a two-year court battle.

The former head of Papua New Guinea's anti-corruption body has lost his two-year court battle to keep his job and maintain the taskforce.

Key points:

  • Court finds PNG's NEC were within rights to abolish anti-corruption body Taskforce Sweep
  • Despite orders to disband, Taskforce Sweep continue attempts to the arrest Prime Minister
  • Judge will head the interim anti-corruption authority, while a new body is established

The National Court has found PNG's National Executive Council (NEC) had the right to abolish Taskforce Sweep, which it tried to do two days after the taskforce sought to arrest Prime Minister Peter O'Neill in June 2014.

The head of the taskforce, lawyer Sam Koim, obtained a stay order against the decision and sought a judicial review, which has now found the taskforce's abolition was legal.

The court found the decision was within the NEC's authority and was not reviewable by the court.

It also found the NEC, PNG's equivalent of Cabinet, was not required to provide procedural fairness or natural justice to the members of Taskforce Sweep.

Taskforce Sweep and the National Fraud and Anti-Corruption Directorate of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary have been continuing their attempts to arrest the Prime Minister despite the order to disband.

Mr Koim had told the court the decision to abolish Taskforce Sweep was a response by the Prime Minister to its attempt to arrest him, but the court found it was open to ministers to disagree with Mr O'Neill and that the decision was a collective one.

The Government's decision to disband Taskforce Sweep in 2014 was followed by an order to replace it with an Interim Office for Anti-Corruption, headed by former Supreme Court judge Graham Ellis.

Mr Ellis welcomed the court finding, and said it would restart efforts to create an independent anti-corruption body.

"The decision now paves the way for the NEC decision to be implemented, which was to set up a replacement body which would transition to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) which was proposed," he said.

"I hope that process will now be able to get underway as quickly as possible."

In 2014 the Government ordered Taskforce Sweep to transfer all files to the new anti-corruption body.

The Government still needs to pass legislation to set up the new ICAC, but Mr Ellis said the interim body could start work if the Government wanted it to.

"It can be continued through the interim office, plus once the proposed ICAC is created it would then, I hope, be put on a sound footing in that it would be independent of the government and operating in the same manner as anti-corruption bodies in other parts of the world," Mr Ellis said.

Taskforce Sweep had been seen by some Papua New Guineans as the only hope to reduce corruption in PNG, but Mr Ellis said people should welcome its end.

"I don't think the fight against corruption was confined to Taskforce Sweep or to Sam Koim and I just think it will be helpful in the moving forward process to have independence, to have people who are not allied with any political party and to have the whole fight against corruption put on a sounder footing," he said.

Mr Koim could not be reached for comment.