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Papua New Guinea taxpayers will fork out K200 million (US$61.5 million) to gas field landowners in a summary judgment granted by the National Court because State lawyers failed to turn up to defend the case.
Minister for Justice and Attorney-General Davis Steven said there was “negligence” by the Solicitor General, State Solicitor and several senior lawyers who opted to fly to Sydney, Australia, to attend the three-day Mining and Petroleum Conference which started on Monday.
“As we speak we have huge claims that are outstanding, there are a lot of judgment debts that are outstanding and time periods for filing of appeals are running.
“Only last night I was dealing with a matter in which the State is exposed to under a summary judgment of almost K200 million which was allowed to occur because the Solicitor General’s lawyers did not turn up in court.”
Steven said another international litigation against PNG Sustainable Development Programme may face similar fate if State lawyers continue to neglect their duties.
He said on Wednesday night the department received a letter from solicitors in Singapore where the State has one international litigation there.
“It’s a letter that states that we are few days away from our time limits in filing a case in Victoria, Australia, because our lawyer in Singapore recognise the need for us to file in Australia.
“Now the issues are raised and relevant officers are in Sydney. How do I protect the state interest when the people concerned are not here?”
On the K200 million summary judgment, Steven said it was a claim by Mineral Resource Development Company (MRDC) and Petroleum Resources Gobe against the State.
He said MRDC, which manages the benefits of the landowners, claimed that the State was not paying outstanding money owed to the landowners and they had gone to the National Court.
“The Solicitor General’s lawyers failed to defend the case so there is no court and summary judgment granting the total amount that they were seeking K200 million,” he said. “Only now we have evidence coming from Finance Department saying we have been paying but everyone slept over this. The lawyers slept over it, relevant agencies like Finance slept over this until a judgment order was granted.
“That’s the first error, they failed to defend the State. The State’s interest is exposed, K200 million is a lot of money, it’s almost what we pay district services improvement programme every year.
“And then, after judgment has been given we did not appeal, the 40 day appeal period was allowed to lapse by the Solicitor General.
“I’m here and no one briefed me about it and then after our appeal period had lapsed they bring an application for Supreme Court review under section 155.
“I realised that we have simply been negligent, so I asked where the Solicitor General was and am told that they are attending the Mining and Petroleum Conference.
“Meanwhile if this leave application is refused, taxpayers will pay while the Solicitor General and her staff with one or two lawyers are down there (Sydney).
“It’s disappointing that they are on Facebook showing that they are attending the conference and I am wondering how many are going to court to defend the court cases which we are losing miserably and in big numbers…this whole thing is disappointing,” he said.
SOURCE: POST COURIER/PACNEWS
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