Supreme Court: OC has power to investigate PM

The Ombudsman Commission has the jurisdiction to investigate Prime Minister Peter O’Neill under the Organic Law on the Ombudsman Commission and make comments involving interpretation and application of constitutional laws.

A five-man Supreme Court bench delivered its ruling on Thursday over the reference that was put to the high court for interpretation of 11 questions.

The 11 questions referred for interpretation was over the alleged improper borrowing of K3 billion from the Union Bank of Switzerland by the government to buy shares in Oil Search Ltd as well as the alleged improper tender and procurement of consultants in relation to the borrowing taken out by the government in 2013.

In early 2015, the Supreme Court was referred 11 questions from a National Court proceeding that was filed by Prime Minister Peter O’Neill challenging the powers of the OC regarding an investigation conducted under the Organic Law on the Ombudsman Commission.

The high court today found that Prime Minster O’Neill is an officer of the National Government and can be the subject of comments or findings when the OC publishes the result of an investigation it conducts under the Organic Law on the Ombudsman Commission.

Being an officer of the National Government, the court found OC is not obliged to inform Prime Minister O’Neill of its intentions to make investigations against him, unless he is the actual target of the investigation.

It is a required under section 17(1) of the Organic Law on the Ombudsman Commission where notice must be given to the subject of investigations and in this case, the Ombudsman Commission did not serve notice to the Prime Minster.

The court also found that because the Prime Minster was not the subject of the investigation, there was no need for him to be notified first before the confidential preliminary report was served on him.

It found that the Prime Minister does come under the description of member, officer, employee or persons under section 219 (1)(a) of the Constitution and the OC does not lack the power or jurisdiction to investigate his conduct under that provision of the constitution.

Having interpreted the 11 questions referred, the Supreme Court issued orders for the case to now go back to the National Court with those answers for the proceeding to be determined.

Parties were also ordered to pay their own costs. The Ombudsman Commission, Former Chief Ombudsman Rigo Lua and former Acting Chief Ombudsman Phoebe Sangetari, Prime Minister Peter O'Neill, and the Attorney General are parties in the reference.



Sally Pokiton