The hearing of a lawsuit brought by Reverend Kerita Reupena against members of the Elders Committee of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (C.C.C.S) began in the Supreme Court yesterday.
The Committee includes C.C.C.S Chairman, Rev. Elder Tavita Roma, C.C.C.S Deputy Chairman, Rev. Elder Tautiaga Senara and Rev. Elder Kerisiano Soti and Rev. Elder Peleti Toailoa.
They are being sued over their decision to strip Rev. Reupena of two senior positions in the church including that of being the Director of the Queensland District in Australia.
The Court room was filled with church Ministers and local church members as well as church members who traveled from Australia for the hearing.
New Zealand-based lawyer, Leulua’iali’i Olinda Woodroffe, is Rev. Reupena’s lawyer.
Queen’s Counsel, Francis Cooke, lawyer Leota Tima Leavai and Semi Leung Wai are representing the Elders Committee.
Presiding is Chief Justice, His Honour Patu Tiava’asue Falefatu Sapolu.
Yesterday, Rev. Reupena submitted two written affidavits made in March and April 2015.
Mr. Cooke, however, disputed part of the affidavits, saying it was hearsay.
Leulua’iali’i disagreed. She argued that she had represented her client in the meeting and she had relayed what was discussed to Rev. Reupena as it was “his right to know.”
But His Honour Patu ruled against this. He reminded Leulua’iali’i she is not a witness but a Counsel. He ordered that parts of the affidavit being disputed be removed.
During cross-examination, Mr. Cooke questioned Rev. Reupena about his decision to “disestablish the Southern district” in Queensland.
Mr. Cooke questioned the Minister if he was aware of the “anxiety” from the parishes over the amount they were asked to give of AUD$1000 to AUD$2000, to contribute to the purchase of a piece of land.
In response, Rev. Reupena insisted the allocated amount was approved during a Church Ministers sub-committee meeting of Queensland. He said the minimum amount was AUD$500 and maximum of $2000.
“Many parishes said they could not afford that,” Mr. Cooke put it to him.
In response, Rev Kerita said: “That was the concern raised by an elder from Southern district but we had already signed the papers for the land. The amount was approved in a meeting…it was an emergency meeting called and only some members attended.”
Rev. Reupena also recalled that a meeting of the Elders Committee in Samoa discussed the issue of the division of the Queensland district.
“I had asked to withdraw the matter to be discussed at a later day,” he said.
On his return to Brisbane, the Minister said he had met with the Queensland district again.
“I had told them there would be no division of the district,” he said.
Mr. Cooke then questioned Rev. Reupena’s decision to disestablish the Southern District.
In response, he said the decision was made according to what was decided during an emergency meeting and it was also based on the church’s Constitution.
Again, Mr. Cooke asked the Minister if his decision means that all the positions of deacons, elders and ministers of the 14 churches involved would be removed.
“Yes that is the decision I made based on my position as an elder and based on Constitution of the church,” said Rev. Reupena.
The lawyer asked the Minister why he had not informed the Elders Committee in Samoa of his decision to disestablish the southern district.
“The decision to disestablish a district is a major decision but it needs to follow proper procedures,” said the lawyer.
“Why didn’t you tell the elders committee that you proposed to do that (disestablish the district)?”
“There are guidelines to do this (disestablish district) and I understand them well,” the Minister responded.
“I don’t need to bring the issue to the committee before its done…I am to bring it to the committee after and they decide whether to approve or decline.”
At this point, Mr. Cooke said to Rev. Reupena if he had the authority to disestablish a district.
He asked him to identify where in the Church’s Constitution allows him the power to disestablish the district.
“You are neither the Elders Committee nor the Ministerial sub-committee,” said Mr. Cooke.
“You don’t have the power to make such decisions. In fact the elders committee knew nothing about what you were going to do.”
But Rev. Reupena said he was a member of the Committees.
“Any matters concerning the district is referred back to the General Assembly so I cannot tell the Committee what I have decided when I haven’t met with the district.
“I am in the Ministerial sub-committee, that is my role and duty.”
Mr. Cooke insisted that Rev. Reupena had no right to disestablish the district.
“What you did was for those that disagreed with you.”
The Minister replied it was not true.
Furthermore, Mr. Cooke asked the Minister if it his claim that the Elders Committee did not have the authority to remove him from his position.
In response, Rev. Reupena said yes. He said he still does not know what he had done wrong.
Moving on to the then Chairman of the Elders Committee, Rev. Elder Peleti Toailoa, Mr. Cooke asked Rev. Reupena why he had rejected a meeting the Chairman had called to discuss the issue.
“Wasn’t it a sensible thing for the Chairman to come and settle things?” asked Mr. Cooke.
Rev. Reupena disagreed.
Mr. Cooke asked if it was the Minister’s evidence that an Elder Minister cannot discuss a significant issue prior to a formal meeting of the Committee.
“Doesn’t it make sense that the Chair of the Elders committee want to come to Brisbane to discuss this?” Rev. Reupena was asked.
In response, he said no.
Rev. Reupena also pointed out there was another meeting by the Elders Committee where they agreed for the district to reconcile but if it does not succeed it would mean a division.
He said while there was a meeting called for the district to meet but the Southern district had turned up with a “farewell letter” turning in all the keys to the houses and other things.
“They had resigned and did not want to be part of the district.”
Chief Justice Patu told Rev. Reupena that the decision from the Elders Committee was to split if they cannot reconcile.
“But when you arrived in Brisbane they had resigned which means you did not implement the decision from the Elders to reconcile, you had let them go,” said Chief Justice Patu.
Rev. Reupena agreed saying there was reconciliation prior to that before the Elders Committee but there were still some issues.
Mr. Cooke asked Rev. Reupena if he did not see that such decision was not favourable by the church and its position.
The Minister insisted it was the decision of the district to accept the resignation of the Southern side.
“How about the people of the congregation that worship God?” asked Mr. Cooke.
Rev. Reupena said it was their own freedom and choice to walk out, not his.
The hearing continues today.