Sat. Jan 25th, 2020

5 Senators lose airport case

Court rules in favor of government, dismisses airport lawsuit

By Bernadette H. Carreon

The Palau Supreme Court Trial Division yesterday ruled in favor of the government, dismissing the case filed by five members of the Senate over the non-disclosure of information about the airport expansion project.

In a seven-page judgment, Associate Justice Kathleen Salii ruled that Minister of Public Infrastructure, Industries, and Commerce (MPIIC) Charles Obichang – named the defendant in the lawsuit – did not violate the Open Government Act (OGA) when he has already made the questioned documents to the senators available.

The court stated Obichang complied with the OGA because the “defendant ultimately agreed to disclose the requested documents.”

The court did not address whether the exceptions cited by the defendant in refusing to make public the documents is in violation of a provision in the Constitution that guarantees citizens’ right to examine any government document.

The court instead said it does not need to decide whether the non-disclosure of the documents is unconstitutional.

“Instead, the Court will simply consider whether defendant’s response to plaintiffs requests fulfilled the requirements of the OGA,” the judgment stated.

The ruling cited that the court should avoid “unnecessarily addressing and deciding constitutional issues where relief can be granted on other non-constitutional issues.”

Palau entered into an agreement with the company Japan Airport Terminal to conduct the expansion the international airport.

Senators Regis Akitaya, Camsek Chin, Rukebai Inabo, J. Uduch Senior and Mason Whipps previously filed the lawsuit against Obichang for the alleged refusal of the Ministry to disclose government documents pertaining to the agreement with the Japanese.

The Ministry in their motions said it has provided copies of the documents to the Senate, which to the court is proof that the government fulfilled the requirements under OGA.

“The Court concludes that, because each of the plaintiffs is a current sitting Senator, the requested documents have been ‘made available’ to them in satisfaction of the OGA’s requirement.”

“Instead, the Court will simply consider whether defendant’s response to plaintiffs’ requests fulfilled the requirements of the OGA,” the judgment stated.