Catholic group calls on Marape to repeal ‘martial law’ Pandemic Act

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Papua New Guinea's Catholic Professional Society ... challenging "the constitutional validity of the [pandemic] law ... to defend and uphold constitutional supremacy". Image: PNG Post-Courier

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

The Catholic professionals group has filed an application in Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court to intervene in last month’s challenge on the constitutional validity of the National Pandemic Act 2020, reports the PNG Post-Courier.

It has also called on Prime Minister James Marape’s government to repeal the law.

The Catholic Professionals Society (CPS) was opposed to the National Pandemic Act 2020 before its passing on June 12, 2020, to deal with the covid-19 coronavirus crisis calling for wider consultation given the constitutional and human rights implications of the law.

READ MORE: Al Jazeera coronavirus live updates – US caseload tops 6 million

According to president Paul Harricknen, CPS representatives also met with Health Minister Jelta Wong and Pandemic Controller David Manning on June 19, 2020, to express concerns about the law.

Opposition leader Belden Namah filed an application to challenge the constitutionality of the Act in the Supreme Court on August 5, 2020.

“We commend the opposition leader for seeking the Supreme Court interpretation of the law and its implications on “CPS filed its application on August 14, 2020, to intervene in the proceedings and to be heard along with Mr Namah’s application”, Harricknen said on Friday.

Alois Jerewai of Jerewai Lawyers had been engaged to represent CPS in the proceedings.

PM commended for action
“We commend the Prime Minister and his government too for the efforts taken to contain and work to prevent the spread of the covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

However, the NPA in its current form raised serious questions about its constitutional validity.

Harricknen said the law was brought into force and effect on June 17, 2020, under National Gazette No. G358.

“CPS analysis of the law with its lawyers finds it to be unconstitutional in its entirety when among other implications the NPA usurps the powers and functions of the National Parliament and it abrogates and divests the Parliament’s powers and functions to the executive government.

“In doing so, the NPA denies and deprives the Parliament of its powers on Emergencies under Part X of the Constitution (ss. 226-243), has implications on the oversight powers of the Parliamentary Accounts Committee (s. 239), excludes the application of Public Finances (Management) Act 1995, National Procurement Act 2018 and the Audit Act 1989 and impacts on the Constitutional rights and freedoms of people,” Harricknen said.

He said the law had the appearance of “martial law” law and a “police state”.

According to Harricknen, the Act under Section 3(2) extricated itself from the application of the Constitution, which was tantamount to altering the Constitution, contrary to Section 14 of the Constitution.

Defend constitutional supremacy
“The CPS challenge of the constitutional validity of the law is to defend and uphold constitutional supremacy.

“CPS has already written to Minister Wong on August 12, 2020, inviting the government to consider repealing the law,” he said.

He said the letter was copied to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Justice and Attorney General Davis Steven and the Controller David Manning.

“If the government decides not to repeal the law then the Supreme Court will be asked to proceed to hear and decide on the constitutional validity of the law,” he said.

The Post-Courier did not report any government reaction.

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