Prison probe clears wife of Associate Minister

By Joyetter Feagaimaali’i-Luamanu ,

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Levaopolo Rosa.

Levaopolo Rosa.

An investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman into the Samoa Prisons and Corrections Services (S.P.C.S.) has cleared the wife of an Associate Minister whose conduct had been questioned by two former employees.

The clearance is highlighted in a letter from Ombudsman, Maiava Iulai Toma, to Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, obtained by the Samoa Observer.  

The Associate Minister in question is So’oalo Mene, who held the Prisons portfolio. His wife, Levaopolo Rosa Siaosi, was the A.C.E.O. at S.P.C.S.

Two former employees, Andrew Sam Chong and Kisa Ao had accused her of using her husband’s position to carry out alleged “wrong doing” – including their unfair dismissal and illegal hiring.

 “I have looked at the many elements of the allegations of wrong-doing against Levaopolo,” Ombudsman Maiava wrote to Prime Minister Tuilaepa in a letter dated 24 November 2017. The letter was to accompany the Ombudsman’s investigation report.

 “Only in one instance is there clear irregularity. This involved the recruitment and employment of two Correction Officers identified in the Report as LL and MM."

“The actions by Levao in the recruitment of LL and MM were irregular but in effect achieved, by reasonable assessment, the best outcome for S.P.C.S."

“No negative ulterior motive lay behind these actions; rather they reflect the proper exercise of initiative. 

“She failed however to inform her superiors of her actions or to get their clearance of them. A greater failure by far, should it be true, is to think that she did not need to have such consultations. This would be tantamount to usurping the authority of the Commissioner.”

Levaopolo was suspended during the investigation. 

She has since been reinstated while her husband, So’oalo, has been reposted to become the Associate Minister of Justice and Courts Administration. 

Efforts to get comments from Minister of S.P.C.S., Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, Acting A.C.E.O Levao and S.P.C.S. Commissioner Taitosaua Edward Winterstein were not successful.

The complaints also claimed that the Commissioner of Prisons denied them the opportunity to appeal their dismissal. Unsatisfied with the response from the Commissioner, they approached Prime Minister Tuilaepa.

In return, Tuilaepa referred the matter to the Ombudsman and ordered an investigation. 

 “Complainants Andrew and Kisa have a right to appeal the dismissal decision made by the Commissioner,” Ombudsman Maiava wrote.

“The Commissioner was wrong in saying otherwise. There is little of moment however that these two officers could bring to an appeal. Conduct unbecoming and conduct likely to lessen public confidence in the S.P.C.S. has been clearly established against them.

“A policy declaration enunciated by yourself as Prime Minister in February 2017 emphasizing the undesirability,' of certain conduct with regard to Police was extended to the Prison and Corrections Services. It is to be noted that the officers were given the option of one or the other resigning before dismissal proceedings were brought against them.”

Below is the full letter from Ombudsman Maiava to Prime Minister Tuilaepa:

24 November 2017

Prime Minister

Office of the Prime Minister 

FMFMII Building

APIA 

Dear Prime Minister,

I attach a report on matters concerning the Samoa Prisons and Lo erections Service that you had referred to me.

Matters covered in the report relate to complaints of unfair dismissal from two S.P.C.S.

Officers Andrew Sam Ah Chong and Kisa Ao. They appealed against the Commissioner’s decision of dismissal. The Commissioner responded that they had no right of appeal.

In Objecting to this denial they brought, in addition, allegations: of wrong doing by Levaopolo Rosa Siaosi. They asserted that Levaopolo was able to do the alleged acts and to conduct herself in unacceptable manner in the work place : because of the fact that her husband is the Associate Minister of SPCS.

The Report discusses the discoveries of my Office’s investigation of these matters. I set out briefly here my view of the main issues:

Complainants Andrew and Kisa have a right to appeal the dismissal decision made by the Commissioner.  The Commissioner was wrong in saying otherwise. There is little of moment however that these two officers could bring to an appeal. 

Conduct unbecoming and conduct likely to lessen public confidence in the SPCS has been clearly established against them. A policy declaration enunciated by yourself as Prime Minister in February 2017 emphasizing the undesirability,' of certain conduct with regard to Police was extended to the Prison and Corrections Services. It is to be noted that the officers were given the option of one or the other resigning before dismissal proceedings were brought against them.

The complainants pointed out that other Officers had engaged liaisons similar to what they had been charged with and yet nothing was done about it; as if to say: “So why us'?”. I quote below a section of the Report that is relevant:

Sexual relationships or affairs can be considered conduct unbecoming of officers or conduct likely to lessen the confidence of members of the public in the SPCS.

The policy enunciated in February 2017 following written communication from the Prime Minister on these matters prohibit and emphasizes the undesirability of unbecoming conduct, Kisa’s citing of alleged relationships between other staff members as reason for excusing her own conduct has no weight. ‘Two wrongs do not make a right’ on the other hand, is a weighty maxim. If conduct between the two officers in breach of the policy as alleged by Kisa is confirmed, it will have to be dealt with appropriately.

 

Finding 7: The Investigation is not convinced that there had not been a serious relationship. The male Correction officer may have committed perjury.

Finding 8: SPCS needs to clarify whether or not tlie relationship persists still.

In my view there is nothing that can be done now that can reasonably result in either re-instatement or re-employment of the complainants Andrew Sam Ah Chong and Kisa A0

LEVAOPOLO ROSA SLAOSI

I have looked at the many elements of the allegations of wrong-doing against Levaopolo. Only in one instance is there clear irregularity. This involved the recruitment and employment of two Correction Officers identified in the Report as LL and MM. I quote below the concluding part of the report on this particular element of the allegations: “The processing and selection of LL and MM for recruitment were handled totally by Levao on her own outside of the main SPCS recruitment drive. Moreover, she acted in the manner of a person with the fullest authority, to wit, the Commissioner of SPCS without reference to that person. Observing such conduct it is understandable for SPCS staff to conclude that Levao was ‘de facto’ the Commissioner of the SPCS.”

Finding 8: LL and MM through no fault of their own were not processed the regular way for recruitment in the 2017 batch of SPCS recruits.

Finding 9 The actions by Levao in the recruitment of LL and MM were irregular but in effect achieved, by reasonable assessment, the best outcome for SPCS. No negative ulterior motive lay behind these actions; rather they reflect the proper exercise of initiative. She failed however to inform her superiors of her actions or to get their clearance of them. A greater failure by far, should it be true, is to think that she did not need to have such consultations. This would be tantamount to usurping the authority of the Commissioner.

Other specific allegations of wrong doing by Levao are petty and not found substantiated by my officers in the investigation. There does seem to be a real problem however with the way Levao interacts or is perceived to interact with other officers both junior and senior to herself.

I have the impression that she is a competent energetic person who tackles tasks with the best of intentions. She is short with incompetence or slackness in people and does not hesitate to find ways around obstacles. In this instance I think she has overstepped propriety that she should have taken special care to observe. She should have kept sight at all times of her political connections and refrain from any behavior that might generate criticism, misperceptions etc, not only with regard to herself but for the protection of the Minister from unwanted criticism.

In this context I consider her practice of regularly copying the Minister in internal communications unwise in her particular circumstances. I draw your attention to a couple of issues raised in complaints and covered in the Report, namely a recent amendment to the SPCS Act and the placing of prisoners outside of prison premises. I do so because they are issues that can readily and has drawn criticism as illustrated by these complaints.

The amendment was brought in to enable a civilian division to work with prisoners in the face of unwillingness of sworn personnel to facilitate such interaction in accordance with regulations requirements. This was simply a management issue that should have been easily resolved by proper command. To resort to legislative amendment in the absence of such command brings criticism if not ridicule upon us all.

The prisoner issue arises from the fact that a convicted manslaughter after a few weeks in jail was assigned to serve his sentence under the supervision of the Associate Minister. Such an assignment though quite within lawful established practice is easy target for criticism. I understand Levao’s name appears on the warrant for the posting of the prisoner in question.

I don't have any specific recommendations to make, except to observe that in the prevailing circumstances, Levao, through no fault of her own will, continue to be problematical and disruptive. It is a great pity because given normal circumstances; she would be a very valuable officer of SPCS.

Maiava Iulai Toma

OMBUDSMAN 

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