This is a ruling on two competing motions. The Defendants seeking a dismissal of the proceedings for a failure to disclose a reasonable cause of action and lacking the necessary standing to bring this claim and a motion by the Plaintiff seeking Judgement in default of China Harbour Engineering Company Limited’s (CHECL) defence.
A contract was issued by the State to the CHECL to reconstruct a bridge in the Central Province of Papua New Guinea (PNG). The Plaintiff alleged that the various works undertaken by CHECL had caused substantial environmental damages which included land degradation, air, water and noise pollution.
The Plaintiff lodged a complaint with the Conservation Environment Protection Authority (CEPA) who then conducted an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA). The Plaintiff also engaged a private company to conduct and EIA. Both reports confirmed and supported the Plaintiff’s allegations. The reports also highlighted that CHECL did not apply or receive an environment permit in accordance with the Environment Act 2000. Efforts to resolve the matter were not successful resulting in these proceedings.
The court determined that the Plaintiff had locus standi as they had shown evidence that they were connected to the land in which the alleged conduct of CHECL took place and such conduct had directly affected them. The Court further held that anyone could institute proceedings with the National or Supreme Court in PNG as well as the courts on their own motion or acting suo moto. Section 57(1) of the Constitution lays the necessary foundation for them to do so provided they can connect that to an imminent, likely or reasonable probable breach of a right. The Court held that of all rights, the right to life is important and central to all other rights. Any human activity that is taking place or likely to take place that has an adverse impact on the environment no doubt gives rise to the risk of environmental damage which could give rise to a possible breach of the fundamental right to life which is dependent on a clean environment.
However the court found that the Plaintiffs needed to file further and better pleadings and particulars.
Leave was granted to the Plaintiff to file proper pleadings on their statement of claim and the relevant government authorities were ordered to be joined as parties to the proceedings. This is namely the State, along with its Secretary and Minister.
The application for default judgement was denied as there was no proper foundation in the pleadings for a judgement.
Further, the court ordered the Joint Parties to provide a detailed report within 6 weeks. This report should include necessary steps they took to ensure compliance of the Environment Protection Act and other relevant laws, including international conventions, that may have applied during the construction and completion of the Laloki River Bridge and other related activities.