FORMER PREMIER IN POLICE CUSTODY
By ASSUMPTA BUCHANAN
FORMER Guadalcanal premier Stephen Panga is in police custody after he was found guilty of abuse of office, last Friday.
He has been remanded awaiting sentencing tomorrow.
Principal Magistrate Jim Seuika in his judgment said Panga appeared to have fulfilled his intention to obtain $10,000 from a client.
He said this was after Panga realised he would not succeed in getting the money he claimed as his entitlement if it was through official channels.
“If the claim was genuine, other executive members should benefit from such undertaking as well,” Seuika said.
The prosecution’s case was that Panga abused his office as the Premier of Guadalcanal Provincial Government when he instructed an assistant revenue officer to prepare a receipt and obtain money from GP clients or customer.
The money, the court has found, was used by Panga for his own personal gain.
Panga in his defence however, said the payment of $10,000 was in respect of his entitlement for housing allowances.
The defence case was that housing allowances was approved by Guadalcanal Province (GP) Executive in 2012.
Panga denied committing arbitrary act in abuse or that he had abused his office.
His lawyer submitted in closing submission that in 2012, GP Executive approved housing allowance of $1,000 per month for executive members, including Panga, who resided in their own houses.
He also submitted that Panga was premier of GP from March 2012 to October 2014 and that during that period the GP did not pay any housing allowances to him.
The defence further submitted that on 28 August 2013, Panga requested the assistant revenue officer to arrange the payment of his housing allowance for 10 months in the sum of $10,000.
The $10,000 was for property rates in respect of two plots of land owned by an Asian.
The defence also submitted that in August 2018, Panga advised the Provincial Secretary about the payment of $10,000 to him.
That was copied to the Deputy PS, Minister of Finance and the Provincial Treasurer, his lawyer argued.
But Seuika said Panga conceded that he obtained the money and never deposited to the GP revenue account.
He said Panga however, contested that even if prosecution proved the charges against him, he relies on the Criminal Defence of Mistake of Facts or honest claim of right pursuant to section 8 and 10 of the Penal Code.
Prosecution in their closing submission however, said the provincial government is governed by a standard of policies and financial restrictions process when making payments.
They stated that any payment or claim that did not follow the process will not be allowed or authorised.
Seuika in his judgment said having assessed all evidences before the court including the Crowns case and the Defence case, he found Panga is a public servant at the time of the offence.
He said Panga directed that arbitrary action by instructing the instrument of obtaining the sum of $10,000 in an unprocedural manner in which prejudicing the Guadalcanal Provincial Government.
“That action therefore in my view amounted to Abuse of Office pursuant to section 96 (1) of the Penal Code,” Seuika said.
In relation to the issue of the claim of right, Seuika said as the premier of GP, it must be reasonable to assume to know the usual proper procedures of the provincial government.
“If the defendant has found or accept that he genuinely was owed $10,000 as housing allowance why did he not simply ask for a confirmation from the Provincial Treasurer or whoever would be proper person to give the money,”
He said Panga instead made directives to an unauthorised officer.
“The evidence before the court does not satisfy me that the defendant was genuinely owed that money then it is hard to see how he could ever believe he had a claim of right to act as he did.
“Perhaps the way to consider it would be to ask myself, why he did need to use a method he knows was not proper according to the practice of the province of which he had been the head,” Seuika said.
He added that the most likely answer would be that he knows that it would not be allowed in the way he did it under the proper procedure.
Seuika further ruled that in his view, Panga has not acted on a reasonable and an honest claim of right.
Michael Pitakaka, of Michael Pitakaka Law Chambers, represents Panga while Public Prosecutor Rajah Patrick Abe appeared for the state.