What about the law called “Truth,” Mr Attorney General

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Gatoaitele Savea Sano Malifa

The decision by the Attorney General, Herman P. Retzlaff, to hire independent prosecutors to defend the Police Commissioner and the Director of the National Prosecutions Office, against charges being made against them in court has somehow rekindled seemingly undying, sad memories we thought would never show up again.  

In an announcement published in yesterday’s Samoa Observer, Mr Rezlaff said the officers in question, who have since been suspended from office, were indeed entitled to certain forms of assistance that are supposed to be prescribed by law.    

He wrote: “Public interest dictates that where the heads of government departments that are to undertake law enforcement in Samoa, are involved in cases particularly where charges were brought by the two departments against each other at the same time, all steps must be taken in transparency and good governance to ensure that justice is not just done, but is also seen to be done.”

Well like it or not, to gullible us that is, we are not sure what this is all about.

What’s wrong with abiding by the simple law called “Unblemished Truth” to determine who is right and who is wrong, so that right away it’s crystal clear that “justice is not just done but it is also seen to be done?” 

Well, we said just now that this little fracas has rekindled sad memories we thought would never show up again, in connection with court trials where certain public officials had sued this newspaper for defamation and even criminal libel, so shall we talk a bit about one of them?

It is 9.30 Saturday morning. We are in court. The trial has resumed and old Jacobs Q.C. has started his cross-examination. 

He goes straight to the Hansard. 

“Overnight you have had an opportunity to look at Hansard, haven’t you?” he asks. 

“Yes.’’

“You’ve had a look, haven’t you, at both the English and the Samoan translations of Hansard, that is correct?”

“Yes.”

“Have you found any allegation anywhere by any Member of Parliament against the Prime Minister to the effect that the Prime Minister lied?”

“Yes your Honour.”

“Will you draw our attention to that please?”

  Several instances were shown to Mr Jacobs and the court. One of the allegations refers to the PM as “the thieving Prime Minister.”

 “I think it speaks for itself,” Mr Jacobs says.  “It is the Prime Minister himself talking, is that right?”

“Yes your Honour.”

“Did you report the exact words in you newspaper?”

“I can’t recall using the exact words. But I remember reporting about this issue.”

“I just asked you if you reported those words.”

“I can’t remember.”

Mr Jacobs is now indicating he wants evidence to show that “the PM is lying with regards to the PC (Police Card) saga,” and yet none could be found in the copies of the Hansard I had gone through the night before.

“So I take it there is no allegation there that the Prime Minister had lied about the PC card or the previous convictions, is there?”

“There is your Honour. In Hansard 19 January 1993 on the bottom of page 219, the Leader of the Opposition is reported as saying: ‘Mr Speaker, I rise with respect, the Prime Minister is a liar; he is a deliberate liar indeed.’”

Mr Jacobs’ response is instant. 

“That is our next one,” he tells the court. “I was coming to 19 January 1993, and that was in regard to the PC saga?”

“No your Honour.”

“What was that about?”

“It was about a speech in Parliament over a protest march.”

    “So we don’t, in your case, rely on the 19 January 1993 statement, that this is an instance where the Prime Minister is accused of lying in Parliament, concerning the PC saga.”

“No,” I reply. 

“Then can we take the next publication – incidentally, did you print anything about this on 19 January 1993?”

“No your Honour.”

“So it would be correct to say that this publication of 19 January 1993 received no publicity in your newspaper?”

“No.”

Now Mr Jacobs is saying: “In regard to what happened in 1993 as impacting upon the Prime Minister’s good name and reputation, do you say that this statement affected the Prime Minister’s good name and reputation, that ‘the Prime Minister is a liar, he is a deliberate liar indeed’? Do you say that that affected his good name and his reputation?”

“Yes,” I reply. 

“But of course, what we do know is that in the 1996 election he was returned with an increased majority, wasn’t he?”

“Yes.”

“With one of the largest majorities ever given to any political party in this country?

“Yes.”

“And that was in what month of 1996?”

“I cannot recall.”

“And it was in that election in 1996 that the opposition party lost a number of seats?”

“Yes.” 

“And you still say that this allegation of 19 January 1993 impacted upon the Prime Minister’s good name and reputation?”

“Yes. For the Prime Minister to be called a liar, that is not very good.”

Jacobs asks: “Can we now go to the last item where you say the Prime Minister was accused of lying in Parliament? Was that the June 1995 publication page 122, do you say?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have a copy of that for us?  We would be grateful if we could use that.”

He is given copies.

“May I give one to his Honour?” Mr Jacobs says. “This has really got nothing whatever to do with the PC saga, has it?

“No,” I say. 

“So what is it about?”

“I was under the understating that I was to look for instances where the PM had been accused in Parliament of being a thief and a liar.” 

“I understand what you were looking for,” Mr Jacobs says. “Where do you read in this statement that the Prime Minister was accused of lying?”

“On 5 March 1997, the PM accused another MP of his of having been jailed for stealing,” I said. “Then the accused MP stood up and refuted this saying: ‘The reason I was jailed was that I had given the wrong information to the court, and you must be thankful to me since I have been made to pay the penalty for all your lying and your stealing.’”

Mr Jacobs says: “What then happened, I just want to refresh your memory, was that there was a letter written and tabled in Parliament on 2 July 1997. I would like you to have a look at it. It is in Hansard on page 17.”

Now addressing the defendant, Mr Jacobs is saying: “On the assumption that his Honour will accept the evidence of Semi Lesa, you don’t allege that was a cover up, where the Police were asked immediately the issue was raised to investigate the report, or do you think that was a cover up?

“No your Honour.”

  “Have you got any reason to doubt the integrity of Superintendent Semi Lesa?”

“No.”

“Would it be correct to say so far as you are concerned, he is an honorable police officer, as far as you are concerned?

“Yes.” 

“I take it that so far, on the facts that I have given you, you don’t take any allegation that those facts constitute a cover up, do you?”

“No. But later when the file turned up I started to ask questions.”

“And it must have been clear to you that what the Prime Minister was thinking was that the allegation concerned if any …...”

At this point Dr Harrison interjects saying: “He can’t possibly say what the Prime Minister was thinking.”

His Honour intervenes: “Yes.”

Mr Jacobs: “I will leave that. The next time this was raised in Parliament was after July 1997, in January of 1998, is that right?”

“I do not remember dates.” 

“Have a look at page 38 of volume 3. When a government member put forward a motion that the Commissioner of Police and Prisons and the Secretary of Justice submit, as matter of urgency, all written documents and other matters providing allegations made against the leader of the government by the leader of the Opposition that he had committed these offences, namely theft, do you see that?” 

“Yes your Honour.”

“My question to you is: You agree that that was the next time this matter was raised in Parliament subsequent to July of 1997?” 

“I guess so.”

“And the matter was raised by the government itself asking for documents to be produced to parliament, is that right?”

“Yes.”

“I take it you don’t for one moment suggest that Parliament asking for proof of the allegations against the Prime Minister is part of a cover up?” 

“No.”

“And I take it from your knowledge of Hansard that the Prime Minister voted in favour of the resolution that the Police be instructed to bring forward any documents that, if produced, could blacken his name?

“Yes.”

“Do you think that when the prime Minister voted in favor of that motion, that was part of a cover up?”

“No.”

“In fact, I am sure it must have occurred to you that it was the very opposite, that the Prime Minister was voting in favour of a full Police investigation into this matter. Isn’t that so?”

“Yes.”

“You have told us yesterday that it occurred to you that was a cover up?”

 “Later, when the file disappeared and then reappeared, that was when I thought that.”

 “Well, you thought only after the file had been produced that this was a cover up, is that what you say?”

“Yes.”

 “And without having any evidence to support it, it was your view that the Prime Minister was party to a cover up, is that right?”

This is infuriating. 

Now addressing the court, I say: “Your Honour, I did not accuse him of being involved in a cover-up. Here is an important document that went missing and then after a while it reappeared. And since the prime minister of this country was involved, this was very much a matter of public interest so that any responsible journalist would naturally want to know what had happened to it. That was my opinion.”

Jacobs:  “And you felt you were justified, without any facts to support it, to publish the article at page 32 of volume 7 which we went through yesterday.” 

I reply: “Your Honour, the facts were there. The Prime Minister had a police file recording his convictions. Parliament requested the surrender of the file. 

“The Prime Minister told parliament he had been advised by a Senior Police officer the file was missing. After a while the file reappeared. These were the facts. I had them in my mind when I wrote that editorial.”

Jacobs: “Would it be correct to say that in your mind, those facts justified your writing the article in volume 7 page 32?”

“Yes sir,” I reply. “Absolutely.”

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