Minister of Justice denies removing Court files claims

By Joyetter Feagaimaali’i-Luamanu ,

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COURT FILES CONTROVERSY: Minister of Justice and Courts Administration, Faaolesa Katopau Ainu'u, (Inset) M.J.C.A. Employee, Tulima Pio and M.J.C.A. C.E.O., Papali’i John Taimalelagi.

COURT FILES CONTROVERSY: Minister of Justice and Courts Administration, Faaolesa Katopau Ainu'u, (Inset) M.J.C.A. Employee, Tulima Pio and M.J.C.A. C.E.O., Papali’i John Taimalelagi. (Photo: Samoa Observer)

The Minister of Justice and Courts Administration (M.J.C.A.), Fa’aolesa Katopau Ainu’u, has denied claims that Land and Titles Court files were removed from the vicinity of the Court and taken to his Office.

The files are in relation to the Ainu’u title of Sapapali’i and one other about the “boundaries of Atua.”

The files were allegedly delivered by the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration employee, Tulima Pio, to the Minister’s Office. He was accompanied by the Secretary of Chief Executive Officer, Papali’i John Taimalelagi.

“I took the boxes of files to the Minister’s Office; I was escorted by the C.E.O.’s Secretary,” Mr. Pio told the Samoa Observer.  

“When I reported this matter to the Chief Justice; I told him that I was instructed by the C.E.O. to take these boxes of files. 

 “I followed orders even though I know deep down that this was wrong. I don’t care what the outcome of this is, but at least I came clean and reported the matter to the Chief Justice.”

He also gave the Samoa Observer a document that lists the names of 10 Land and Titles Court files that were allegedly removed from the Court and taken to the Minister’s Office in October 2016.

 Asked for a comment, Minister Fa’aolesa said: “That is not true. I cannot respond to the questions if you will not tell me who said these things to you.”

But Mr. Io said he was the one who delivered the files in 2016, upon instructions from his superior.

At the time, he was the driver for the Chief Executive Officer of M.J.C.A., Papali’i John Taimalelagi.

 “I took the boxes of files to the Minister’s Office; I was escorted by the C.E.O.’s Secretary,” he said. “I have already reported this to the Chief Justice earlier this month.”

It was not possible to get a comment from Chief Justice, His Honour Patu Tiava’asu’e Falefatu Sapolu, at press time.

Mr. Io came to the Samoa Observer Office last month with the claims. Asked why he has waited for so long, Mr. Pio said: “I can no longer carry this burden. 

“I followed orders even though I know deep down that this was wrong. I don’t care what the outcome of this is, but at least I came clean and reported the matter to the Chief Justice.”

Mr. Io said he has worked at the M.J.C.A. for six years and he’s never seen anything like this being done before.

“The Head of State; the Prime Minister and all Cabinet Ministers come down to the Court to view the Court files; because we all know the Court files are not allowed to leave the Court,” he said. “It is prohibited.”

He also raised concerns about some of the activities at the Ministry of Justice.

 “I have picked up family members (of senior officials) and driven them around for grocery shopping; run errands yet this was not my job in the first place. 

“I am not being paid by the Government to run errands for the A.C.E.O’s and their family members.”

When the Minister was queried, he referred all questions to C.E.O. Papali’i, who strongly denied the allegations.

“This type of allegation questions the integrity of the Ministry and that is why I want to make it clear that these are not true,” Papali’i said. 

“There was never a time that Court documents have left the Court house.” 

According to Papali’i, there is a long-standing policy, which prohibits the removal of any Court records from the Courthouse.

“There is no law or a regulation specifically on the removal of Court records. But it has been a long-standing policy since the establishment of the Court, this is not allowed. 

“Everyone and I mean everyone has to go through the process,” he said.

“Even his Highness the Head of State, Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers or Members of Parliament, C.E.O.’s if they want to conduct research on any Court filings, they have to file a request form to me. 

“And keep in mind these records are not public records and so if you want to see these files, you have to prove in your request form your eligibility to view any file. 

“These are different from court rulings, which are public. But Court filings and in this case the Land and Titles Court; they have to be a party in order to view the files. 

“The request form is vetted thoroughly and we do not grant any request without going through the proper procedures.”

Papali’i added that they have been working with the Samoa Law Reform Commission to revisit the Land and Titles Act 1981, to insert a clause making it illegal for court documents to leave the court premises. 

“As it stands now, it is only a policy which has been in place long before I came on board.”

© Samoa Observer 2016

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