Former Public Curator loses defamation case against The National
In 2005 the Auditor General’s Office published a damning report on the Public Curator’s Office. It found that private estates were being serially mismanaged by the office, and as a result a range of predatory companies were stealing the inheritance of Papua New Guinea citizens.
The National published a story on the Auditor General’s findings, drawing specific attention to the incompetence of the then Public Curator Paul Wagun.
Key statements contested by Wagun in a recent defamation action include:
“Wagun should go”
“Curator incompetent, says Auditor-General’s Office”; and
“The Auditor-General’s Office (AOG) has urged the Justice Minister and Attorney-General to replace the Public Curator Paul Wagun with someone competent.”
The National Court has rejected Wagun’s claims and upheld the The National’s assessment and the report’s findings.
In his judgement, Justice Kandakasi observes:
“Since, Mr. Wagun was the Public Curator during the period of the Auditor’s investigations and its report; he was covered and included in the Report and its recommendations. If he was an exception to what the Report was critical of and that he had the necessary credentials, experience and more so the competence and a person of integrity to deliver on the powers and functions of the Public Curator’s Office, I have no doubt in my mind that the Report could have made that clear. The fact of the matter however is that, the Report made no such exception”.
Justice Kandakasi continues:
“If the Report was wrong as against Mr. Wagun, it was in Mr. Wagun’s interest to have that corrected before the Report could be made public or soon thereafter by taking the appropriate steps. Mr. Wagun adduced no evidence of having done that. It therefore remains a fact that, the Auditors Report has been accepted as accurate or correct by all concerned or affected or had an interest in the Report, in absence of any evidence seriously challenging the accuracy of the Report”.
Justice Kandakasi concludes The National were right to convey the Auditor General’s findings. He also observes The National fairly represents the Auditor General Office’s conclusions:
“The wording in paragraph 1.3 [of the audit report] was also capable of conveying the meaning or understanding or impression that the Public Curators, which included Mr. Wagun, were not appropriately qualified, experienced, competent and trustworthy enough to occupy the position. Hence, the position and or Office of the Public Curator needed a person, other those who have occupied the position up to time of the Report and one who has the necessary qualification, experience, competence and integrity, to properly carry out the powers and functions and duties and responsibilities of the Public Curator to restore confidence and integrity in the office”.
As a result, costs were awarded to The National and Wagun’s defamation claim was dismissed:
“Ultimately, I find that Mr. Wagun has failed to establish his claim in defamation against the Newspaper. Accordingly, I order a dismissal of his claim and that he pays the Defendants’ costs, which cost be taxed if not agreed within 14 days from today”.