The findings of a Tribunal evaluating the performance of the suspended Director and Acting Director of the National Prosecution Office (N.P.O) will play a key role in determining the future of the Office.
While Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has been reluctant to say whether the Office would eventually be “abolished,” it has been confirmed that the Tribunal is reviewing the “validity” of its existence.
The Tribunal includes Justice Grant Hammond, former Justice of the High Court of Samoa; Tuiloma Neroni Slade, former Attorney General of Samoa; and the President of the Samoa Law Society, Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale.
They are due to report back to the Prime Minister, who is also the Minister responsible for the N.P.O.
The N.P.O, established in June last year, is headed by suspended Director, Mauga Precious Chang. The Acting Director, Muriel Lui, has also been suspended.
Asked if the government would abolish the N.P.O, Tuilaepa told the government-owned Savali Newspaper that the answer is not straightforward.
“It's not as simple as abolishing or not abolishing,” the Prime Minister is quoted as saying. “Cabinet has to review the processes that have lead to the recent clashes between government agencies.”
The government agencies in question include the Office of the Attorney General, the Police and the N.P.O.
“The N.P.O has a clear responsibility to uphold the rule of law and objectivity of the criminal justice system,” Tuilaepa said.
“What we've seen has been the opposite of that. There has been a distinct lack of wisdom in decision-making, stemming from conflicts of interest that have not been handled in the proper manner.”
Two weeks ago when Cabinet suspended the Acting Director of the N.P.O, the prosecutorial duties previously performed by the N.P.O were handed over to the Office of the Attorney General immediately.
“The N.P.O is not currently under the AG,” Tuilaepa clarified.
“It just happens that the N.P.O's new Acting Director is the Attorney General (Lemalu Herman Retzlaff). The N.P.O itself is still fulfilling its statutory functions and obligations.
“This is a temporary measure while a Tribunal, which has now been appointed, assesses the work of the suspended Director and suspended Acting Director of the N.P.O.
“But considering the way the N.P.O has been operating, I think it's understandable that Cabinet is also considering a review of the validity of the N.P.O.”
In the meantime, Mauga has pleaded not guilty to charges of negligent driving causing injury, dangerous driving and failing to stop to ascertain in relation to a traffic incident.
Ms. Lui’s suspension on the other hand is “pursuant to sections 11(4), 11 (7) and 11(8) of the N.P.O Act 2015.”
In a statement from Cabinet confirming Ms. Lui’s suspension, it said: “Cabinet has noted the continued refusal of the suspended Acting Director of N.P.O and suspended Director of N.P.O to properly perform powers and duties to uphold the rule of law and objectivity of the criminal justice system.
“Cabinet acknowledges that the actions of Ms. Lui and Ms. Chang have created unnecessary conflicts between government departments while diminishing public confidence in law enforcement processes and the justice system in Samoa.
“Furthermore, the validity of the establishment of the National Prosecution Office will also be reviewed to ensure the Statutory responsibilities and powers are treated with greater transparency, accountability and respect.”
Asked about claims Cabinet is taking sides with the Office of the A.G., Tuilaepa said: “The AG's job is to give advice to government. Advice is also sought from other government agencies, including the N.P.O.
“Cabinet then takes all information in to consideration and makes a decision.
“It's a simple process, but there is nothing simple about coming to a decision that may be for one group or against one group. In this case, the actions of the N.P.O leadership was cause for concern and Cabinet made a decision to remedy that.”
At the end of June last year, the announcement was made the Criminal Prosecutions Division of the Attorney General’s Office would become the independent N.P.O.
The establishment of the N.P.O was initiated by Prime Minister Tuilaepa, “prompted by a number of factors, including the need to improve prosecution services and for prosecutions at all levels in Samoa to be conducted uniformly by one office.”
In late 2014 legal consultants from the Commonwealth Secretariat were deployed to consider the need for a N.P.O.
They sought opinions from various members of the public sector, the judiciary and the Sāmoa Law Society. All wholly approved and supported the initiative. In December 2014, upon the submission of a public proposal and policy, Cabinet endorsed the initiative.