FORMER special secretary to Prime Minister Danny Philip and Gordon Darcy Lilo says Attorney-General opinions are just that: opinions and advices.
Andrew Donua Muaki, who was the most senior top political appointee in the first year of the current NCRA Government, says he was perplexed to see senior government officials and politicians equating opinions rendered by the AG Chambers “more or less like court orders to justify their actions or omission or failures”.
“Advices rendered by the Attorney-General are just that: they are opinions. They must not be taken as though they carry the same weight as a court order so that they have to be followed,” Mr Muaki said.
According to Mr Muaki, a fine example is the political infighting in the Renbel Province.
“It appears to me that Lence Tango is under the perception that having an opinion from the AG Chambers which favours him means he is still the premier,” Mr Muaki said.
“The reality is that he is not and the opinion he showed us via the media yesterday counts for nothing on the ground, unless he goes to court and argues his case and the court agrees with him.”
A keen political observer with a deep understanding of local politics and the law, MrMuaki said that Mr Tango is fighting a losing battle.
“At the end of the day, Mr Tango all-out battle with the current Renbel Executive is all but a futile exercise.
“If he goes to court now and obtains orders in his favour, he may have to advise the Clerk to convene the Renbel Assembly.
“The current Executive will then turn around and move a motion of no-confidence against him. He will be kicked out again as premier,” MrMuaki said.
He some premiers made the mistake of putting their faith on legal opinions tendered to them by lawyers.
“I had this experience with Guadalcanal Province this year and Renbel is doing exactly what GP had gone through but for different reason.
“When I was asked by some MPA from GP, I told them that their issue was a numbers game and the proper forum to solve these sorts of issues was the floor of the Provincial Assembly.
“In the end that was what happened to Guadalcanal Province after many months of political in-fighting and a High Court challenge,” Mr Muaki said.
He said advices and opinions from the AG Chambers are purely from a legal point of view.
“They are supposed not to solve an issue facing politicians or public servants who want some legal clarification.
“Other matters and issues must be taken into account before a decision is taken.
“Although I am not privy to the legal opinion offered to Mr Tango, it appears that the opinion from the AG Chambers was purely from a legal standpoint and does not take into account practices and conventions in such situations.
“That is expected from the AG Chamber but Mr Tango and those who hold similar positions are quick to forget that politics and law often do not complement each other,” Mr Muaki continued.
He said even if such issues end up in court, the court may decline to make orders to restore Mr Tango as Premier of Renbel.
“The court may say to Mr Tango: ‘I got your point but I refuse to order your reinstatement as premier but I will order the clerk to convene the Assembly to meet and determine the numbers on the floor of Parliament,” Mr. Muaki said.
Another issue Mr Muaki has with the AG opinion is the tendency for such opinion to be abused for personal gain.
“Quite too often you will hear politicians or senior public servants say: ‘I had clearance from the office of the AG’ but when you take a good look at the opinion and the reason for sourcing that opinion, you will be pleasantly surprised to see that the opinion will be used to justify a very unpopular, controversial or corrupt action,” Mr Muaki said.
He said a good example is the beach de mer issue.
The bech de mer issue dominated Parliament at its current sitting.
Responding to a question from the Opposition in Parliament last week, the learned Attorney-General clarified that the missing beach de mer – the ones removed from the Ministry of Fisheries storage- was not State (Government) property because it was not yet compounded by the government in accordance with current fisheries regulations.
“In other words, the missing products, worth around $10 million to the government, was private property belonging to the people of Lord Howe islands until compound by the government.
“That response from AG begs the question why the government sent in the police and fisheries official to confiscate the beach de mer from Lord Howe in the first place, let alone store them in the Ministry of Fisheries storage facility.
“One would think that’s the first thing to do if those who enforce the law want the law to be enforced,” Mr Muaki stated.
“Is it because some politicians and Ministers stand to profit from this beach de mer by using the opinion of the AG Chamber as a ground for their action?” Mr Muaki asked.
He added opinions tendered by the AG Chambers are sometimes used to justify actions that are clearly questionable especially when those who ask for the opinion tend to be politicians or high ranking public servants.
Mr Muaki said he is not against AG Chambers opinion, but perception and use of those opinions by the recipients of those opinions which is a serious concern to him and like-minded Solomon Islanders.