*Former PS gets 4 years verdict
*Ineligible to contest NGE
By ASSUMPTA BUCHANAN
THE former permanent secretary for the Ministry of Infrastructure Development (MID), who corruptly received more than $700,000 from the government has been sentenced to four years imprisonment, Friday.
This means that Henry Murray, 52, who is also a candidate contesting the East Makira seat is now ineligible to run in the upcoming election.
Chief Magistrate Emma Garo in her sentencing remarks yesterday said corruption is everyone’s business to address.
“….and this must also include the Courts through the sentences imposed,” Ms Garo said.
Ms Garo added that corruption such as the defendant’s conduct in this case, is a blot on the credibility of the government and the country as a whole.
“….and it undermines every aspect of society.
“Such conduct is blatantly wrong and must be dealt with by this Court accordingly.
“In almost all the cases involving official corruption that have come before the Courts, an immediate custodial sentence is almost always imposed,” Ms Garo further added.
She said the only issue that the sentencing court gets to determine is how long the term of imprisonment should be and how such term of imprisonment is to be served.
Murray has been found guilty and convicted after a trial of 11 counts of official corruption last year, involving a total of $707,550.
These monies were paid into Krash Transport and Marketing, a company owned by Murray and his wife for vehicle hire between 2014 and 2015.
The offences relates to the accused endorsing the Vehicle Hire Agreement between Krash Transport and Marketing for the hire of a vehicle by SIG through MID.
Murray at that time certified the vehicle’s road worthiness and endorsed the vehicle hire agreement.
When he was the PS of MID, he signed and approved vehicle hire between Krash Transport and Marketing and the SIG and authorised payments to be made to Krash Transport and Marketing.
The court found that Murray’s conduct to be akin to signing with his right hand (performing the public duty of his office), in order to receive with his left hand (directly benefiting from the performance of the duties of his office).
Murray committed the offence when was the Director of Mechanical and later became the Permanent Secretary of MID.
Ms Garo said these are two positions of power and influence which carried with it amongst other things, the corresponding responsibility to properly manage and control government expenditures in accordance with the requirements of Public Finance Management Act and the Financial Instructions.
“When viewed against the elements of the offence in section 91 of the Penal Code 26, it is clear that the offence of official corruption as defined is there to protect public servants against themselves and the public.
“It is a two edged sword provision.
“When public servants responsibility exercises power, the offence of official corruption protects them.
“When public servants do not exercise power responsibly, the offence of official corruption can be used by the State as a tool to circumvent such abuse of power,” Ms Garo said.
She said the defendant’s case clearly falls within the paradigm that, “you cannot serve two masters”.
“That is his wife and himself through their co-ownership of Krash Transport and Marketing and the Solomon Islands Government as the Permanent Secretary of the MID.
“The offending in these circumstances clearly amounts to a breach of trust,” Ms Garo said.
She also added that it was clear from the evidence adduced during trial that the casualness and laxity with which the payments were processed and made to Krash Transport and Marketing, shows that Public Officers must be more vigilant in administering public funds.
“From the evidence, at no time did anyone question the lawfulness of payments being made.
“Such laxness in the execution of public duties is a symptom of two possible scenarios.
“Either the system is corrupt or the officers responsible are incompetent or do not know what they are doing.
“Which of these two scenarios applies at the time the defendant was the Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Infrastructure Development, I do not know.
“However, one thing is certain, at the end of the day; it is the tax payers and members of the public who will suffer from the effects of offences like these being committed by Public Officers.
Ms Garo said this in turn calls for a deterrent sentence to be imposed.
She then imposed various sentences between seven months to two years imprisonment for each of the charges, which totalled up to nine years imprisonment.
Three years was deducted to reflect the mitigating factors on behalf of the accused.
Another two years deducted after Ms Garo took into account the issue of totality of sentence.
This leaves Murray with only four years to serve in prison.
Lazarus Kwaiga of L & L Lawyers, last year, had lodged an application to stay the sentence proceedings following Murray’s conviction.
This was to wait for the outcome of the appeal against his conviction that was filed to the High Court.
Another application his lawyer also lodged was for Murray to be given bail or that sentencing can be suspended pending the determination of the appeal against conviction by the High Court.
Ms Garo heard the application for stay of sentencing but before handing her ruling, she was served with a copy of the order from the High Court.
The order was that the sentencing of Murray is suspended or stayed pending the determination of his appeal to the High Court.
Deputy Chief Justice Francis Mwanesalua also ordered Murray to be released on bail pending the determination of his appeal.
Justice Leonard Maina before hearing the appeal in the High Court raised questions of whether the appeal could be heard given that Murray was not sentenced after his conviction.
After submissions were made on this issue, Justice Maina in his ruling ordered that this matter be remitted back to the Magistrates’ Court for sentence.
When the matter came before the Magistrates’ Court, the defence said they have filed a notice of appeal against Justice Maina’s ruling.
Mr Kwaiga then asked to have the matter temporarily stayed to await the determination of the appeal in the High Court.
But Ms Garo however viewed this second application of stay of proceedings as an abuse of process.
She then adjourned the matter for sentencing.
Just before the sentence yesterday, Mr Kwaiga submitted another application to stay the sentence in the Court of Appeal on Thursday.
The Court of Appeal however rejected that application.
Public Prosecutor Sirepu Ramosaea is appearing for the Crown.
Meanwhile in a joint JANUS taskforce statement last night, the Court decision is a great example of the effectiveness of Joint Task Force Janus and the RSIPF and Ministry of Finance & Treasury Investigators working cooperatively to bring very complex corruption matters to a close.
The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is also to be commended for their efforts in the Matter.