By Bernadette H. Carreon
The Palau Chamber of Commerce (PCOC) and the Belau Tourism Association (BTA) said that their organizations “have been aggrieved” by the failure of the Ministry of Public Infrastructure, Industries and Commerce (MPIIC) to provide documents under the Open Government Act regarding the Airport Expansion Project.
PCOC and BTA in a March 9 letter has requested the Palau Supreme Court for leave to file pro se amicus brief in support of the lawsuit previously filed by five senators regarding the airport expansion project and the failure of MPIIC Minister Charles Obichang to provide requested documents on government transactions.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argued that under the Open Government Act and the Constitution, citizens have the right to access and review government documents.
“Both organizations have been aggrieved, in a similar fashion to that of the plaintiffs, by the failure of the defendant to provide documents under the Open Government Act regarding the airport expansion project,” the letter stated.
BTA President Leilani Reklai in an interview said she disagrees with the move made by both groups on the matter but respects the membership decision plan to file an amicus brief supporting the airport expansion project lawsuit.
The group said that the airport expansion would have a long-term impact on Palau’s business sector and tourism industry so it should be allowed to obtain and review the questioned government documents.
The organizations requests that it be allowed to represent themselves pro se or without a lawyer to file an amicus brief.
“We have attempted to hire a local attorney to seek this request and to prepare an amicus brief in this matter, however every attorney on island either has a conflict or interest or has expressed their unwillingness to assist us,” the letter said.
Civil Action 18-025 is the first legal case brought forward under the Open Government Act.
The lawsuit asked the court to compel Minister Charles Obichang and his ministry to release information and government documents on the agreement between the Japan Airport Terminal and the Palau International Airport Corporation.
However Obichang argued that he did not violate the Open Government Act and has provided the requested documents to the Senate.
He also said that a provision in the Open Government Act accords the government exemptions on what documents should be made public.
Citing Section 8, subsection a(2) of the Open Government Act, Obichang said there are documents involving the airport project that falls under the exemptions.
Section 8 states that “information related to negotiations with another country or another foreign entity that has its principal place of business in another country,” cannot be made public
Obichang through the Attorney General’s Office filed a motion on March 12 asking the court to dismiss the case stating that the defendant have provided the requested documents.
In his motion, Obichang said that on January 25, 2018, “the Senate receives all the final versions of the available documents.”
He added that the documents are available to be viewed and reviewed by all senators.
In an interview yesterday, Senator Mason Whipps Jr.said contrary to Obichang’s claim, the minister has not provided them the requested documents.
Obichang earlier said, following protocol, the documents were given to the Senate President.
“The Senate President did not ask for those documents, “ Whipps said.
He said under the Open Government Act, the documents should be provided to the individuals’ or individuals that requested for them.
“They are continuing to avoid the issue, that whether the minister complied with the Open Government Act, which clearly he did not,” Senior said. [/restrict]