Senate’s “minority” bloc sues ministry
for violation of Open Government Act
Five senators yesterday sued the Ministry of Public Infrastructure, Industries and Commerce (MPIIC) and its Minister Charles Obichang for alleged violation of the Open Government Act and the Constitution for failure to disclose government documents requested by the lawmakers involving Palau’s joint venture agreement with a Japanese firm to expand the airport.
Through their counsel, Johnson Toribiong, Senators Regis Akitaya, Camsek Chin, Rukebai Inabo, J.Uduch Senior and Mason Whipps, cited Obichang’s failure to provide the lawmakers government documents pertaining to the airport expansion project despite repeated requests.
The 11-page Civil Action No. 18-025, also asks the court to impose a penalty of $500 against Obichang for refusal to furnish senators the requested government documents.
A statement from the Office of the President said that the government was taken by surprise with the lawsuit documents involving the airport expansion agreement that have been provided to the lawmakers.
“We are surprised by the lawsuit because copies of the signed Joint Venture and Concession Agreements were delivered to the Olbiil Era Kelulau last week, well before the filing of this lawsuit,” the statement said.
The lawsuit cited that under the Open Government Act, requested documents should be provided, “within 10 days of any requests, all public records produced by a governing body shall be available to any person during regular business hours, unless the disclosure will take more time to produce due to exceptional circumstances or the volumes of the information requested.”
The senators also asked the court to compel Obichang to produce requested documents.
The law also makes it an offense for a person responsible to fail to timely disclose public records and imposes a civil penalty of $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for subsequent offenses.
Petitioners in the civil lawsuit, said that since August of 2017, they have been requesting the government to provide them copies of the joint venture agreement signed between the Government of Palau and Japan Airport Management Partners Inc.
Although in a January 18 letter of Minister Obichang to Toribiong, the minister said the senators have been provided with all the documents that they have requested except for the financing agreement, which has not been signed.
However, the lawsuit said, “neither the original nor copies of the signed Joint Venture Agreement were ever disclosed to the members of the Senate of the 10th Olbiil Era Kelulau, including petitioners in their capacity as Senators after the signing ceremony.”
Obichang also noted in that letter, that documents requested are exempt from disclosure and “shall not be available to the public,” citing Section 8, subsection a (2) of the Open Government Act that “information related to negotiations with another country or another foreign entity that has its principal place of business in another country.”
The plaintiffs also in their lawsuit cited that every citizen under the Constitution, “has the right to examine any government document and to observe the official deliberations of any agency of government.”
Plaintiffs stated that Obichang’s withholding government documents citing exemptions of the Open Government Act is in conflict of the citizens’ right to examine government documents as mandated by Article 4, Section 12 of the Constitution.
The plaintiffs seek the court declaration of Section 8 of the Open Government Act as unconstitutional. (Bernadette Carreon) [/restrict]