Office of the Ombudsman responds

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OMBUDSMAN: Maiava Iulai Toma.

OMBUDSMAN: Maiava Iulai Toma.

Re: Statement from the Ombudsman regarding the case of Mrs Silafai Tupito published in the Samoa Observer, Monday 11th July 2016.

My office is an office of last resort. If an alternative means of resolution is available to a complainant then he/she must exhaust that option first.  The Office of the Ombudsman cannot and does not immediately investigate every matter that is brought to its attention. 

Complainants are asked to take up their complaints in the first instance with the government agencies concerned because they have a responsibility to attend to complaints from members of the public. 

My Office encourages all Government agencies to set up appropriate internal mechanisms within their organisations to deal with complaints. 

Some agencies including the Police have set up these internal mechanisms such as its Professional Standards Unit (P.S.U), to investigate any complaints concerning them.

From time to time complaints expose issues, which affect a wide cross-section of Samoan society. The Office of the Ombudsman recently investigated the forceful removal of an innocent person at gunpoint from a public place in full view of bystanders. 

The investigation of that man’s complaint was expanded on my own motion because I wanted to examine the general issue of the use of guns by police in their work. The matter had become topical in media reporting around that time and the report dealt comprehensively with the use of guns issue.

That report made reference to seemingly growing police recourse to using firearms in their work. In that context, the investigation was mindful of media reporting in the surrounding weeks regarding other incidents including the matter involving Silafai Tupito. 

The report explained that these matters were not taken up by my Office as they were under investigation by the PSU. The PSU is competent to investigate such matters and has capacity and resources to do so. The story of Mrs. Tupito was first published on the 24th September 2015 and was reported in the media before she made contact with my Office or lodge a complaint with PSU.

The Observer later published the Police Commissioner’s explanation of his actions. He explained that a raid carried out of Mrs Tupito’s property discovered marijuana which was taken away by the police. According to the explanation by the Commissioner, a tip provoked their second visit which yielded nothing. Firearms were employed on both occasions by the police. 

Mrs Tupito, it would seem, was complaining about the use of guns in the second police visit but not against the first when unlawful substances were found and removed from her property. Her unhappiness reported to my Office focuses on the way police carried out their duties in what she describes as an ‘army-like invasion’ and bullying intimidation by the Police when only she and her young children were at home.

Silafai Tupito made a complaint to my office a few days after the Samoa Observer and TV networks published and reported her story. In keeping with standard practice and procedures of my Office, Mrs Tupito was advised to make a formal complaint to the PSU of Police. The case in question has been with the PSU since that time, during which my Office has made it clear to the Commissioner of Police that the appropriate course of action is for a full investigation by the PSU to establish apart from anything else whether the use of guns was lawful and justified. My office has repeatedly requested the resolution of this matter and understands it to be awaiting enabling clearance from the Commissioner for the PSU to proceed with work it is perfectly capable of carrying out.

I would like to make clear that any complaint received by my office will always be dealt with. It will either be referred to the relevant government agency for resolution or, if it is not dealt with in a satisfactory manner it will be fully investigated by myself and my staff. Additionally, we are well into the process of establishing a Special Investigations Unit (SIU) to be tasked with working alongside the PSU to ensure that complaints such as this one are dealt with in a timely manner or to investigate matters itself when circumstances justify. There are other matters which have yet to be resolved. We hope to have this Unit fully running shortly so that future cases which do not progress satisfactorily for reasons such as in the matter of Silafau Tupito’s complaint will be taken out of Police hands for full investigation and resolution by the Office of the Ombudsman.

I would like to thank you for taking the time to read this clarification of matters related to the published story of Silafai Tupito on the front page of the Observer Monday 11 July 2016.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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