FORMER Guadalcanal Premier Stephen Panga who was found guilty after a trial for abuse of office has luckily escaped jail, Tuesday.
This was after Principal Magistrate Jim Seuika suspended the nine months jail term he imposed yesterday for 18 months.
This means that Panga will serve his sentence outside of jail and must not re-offend within the 18 months suspension.
Panga, 57, who was remanded in custody following his conviction on September 6 was therefore ordered to be released at the rising of the court.
Seuika imposed a starting point of 12 months imprisonment term but he reduced to nine months due to the delay in police investigation and the trial process in this matter.
The complaint against Panga was made in September 2013 and he was charged in 2017.
The court also heard there were some undertakings made by the complainant to withdraw the complaint against Panga.
The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions office (ODPP) however proceeds with the trial.
Panga was sentenced for the incident on 28 August 2013 when he was the Premier of the Guadalcanal Province.
He had instructed a GP Revenue Collector and obtained $10,000 by soliciting an official receipt belonging to the Guadalcanal Provincial Government from a client.
Seuika said Panga claimed that money as his house rental entitlement when he was in position of Premier of GP.
“That action you took is not procedural according to the financial instructions of the Guadalcanal Provincial Government,” Seuika told Panga.
“You haven’t deposited that money to the Provincial bank account nor seeking the right authorization from provincial treasurer or provincial secretary and that money was used for you own benefit,” he added.
The defence had sought the court to impose a fine instead of a jail term while the prosecution asked the court to impose a deterrence sentence.
Seuika added that the prosecution had asked for a sentence that will send a message to the general public that persons who are in position of leadership and trust must not use their position for their personal interest or gain.
“Looking at the Crown’s perspective, our society has been suffered too long from self-serving attitude and nothing has been done with it.
“This is high time for the court to impose a deterrence sentencing to send a strong message to our leaders who are articulated on such self-serving attitude to stop.”
Before imposing the sentence, Mr Seuika told Panga that he was the head of the GP and so his action or conduct was a grave breach of trust, taking into account the fact that he should be the one ensuring that such abuse does not occur.
He said Panga was one responsible for the discipline if the abuse occurred.
“Given your position you have solicit with one of your revenue collectors preparing an official receipt and obtain the money from your client or customer.
“The court accept that the fact that you have a claim which was approved by your executive.
“However, it is the act you took to obtain the $10,000 from one of your customers such facts call for a custodial sentencing,” Seuika further added.
Seuika also took into account the mitigating factors submitted on his behalf by his lawyer.
Panga was represented by Michael Pitakaka of Michael Pitakaka Law Chambers while Public Prosecutor Rajah Patrick Abe appeared for the Crown.
By ASSUMPTA BUCHANAN