Deafening silence raising alarm bells

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

The silence from the officials involved in a Parliament-ordered Commission of Inquiry investigating the work of Judges of the Land and Titles Court (L.T.C) is deafening. 

It is certainly raising eyebrows among the people of this country with the idea that something is not right somewhere.  

Whereas the Chairman of the Inquiry, Lopao’o Natanielu Mua, has declined to deny or confirm reports the Judges have refused to cooperate with the Inquiry, the normally talkative Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has also gone quiet.

Two days ago when he was asked if it’s true the Judges have abstained from testifying before the Commission, Tuilaepa said: “Ask them (judges) why?”

 He added: “I don’t have any comments but go ask them why. 

“All I can say is that it wont affect the work (of the Commission of Inquiry).”

Truth be told, we’ve tried to ask them. Several times in fact.

You see questions for the President of L.T.C, Fepuleai Ropati Atilla, sent through the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration, Papali’i John Taimalelagi, have remained unanswered.

The last time your newspaper spoke with Papali’i, he too said he didn’t know anything.

“I’m not aware of it,” Papali’i said about the reported rift. “It might be between them (Commission and Judges) in a written form but I do not know.” 

Well whichever form, this is a small country and there are many little birds flying around. Sometimes it’s not hard to find out what is happening.

What we do know is that in Parliament last week, Chairman Lopao’o moved a motion asking for an extension of deadline for their report. He said the Commission needed more time to finalise it.

 “When the Commission was closed, there were about 30 more people that came (late) and wanted to make submissions,” he said. “We then gave them the opportunity. Overall there were a lot of people who made submissions.”

Still, there is a snag. 

According to a reliable source, the L.T.C Judges refused to cooperate when they were asked to make submissions before the Commission. 

“The Judges did not agree with how Parliament is going about in this and have not cooperated with the call from the Prime Minister. They declined to make submissions,” the Samoa Observer was told.

Well that’s pretty serious, isn’t it?

If the Judges have refused to cooperate, how can the Commission complete its work – even if they are following a term of reference provided by Parliament?

What kind of report will they end up with if it doesn’t have a response from the very people being investigated? 

This is why this silence from all parties involved is deafening. 

The natural thing to ask then is what is so secretive and sensitive that all these officials have suddenly gone quiet? 

In ordering the Commission of Inquiry, did the Prime Minister Tuilaepa strike a sore nerve? Has he finally gone too far this time round? And what will happen if the Judges continue to abstain? Will he just move a motion in Parliament to remove them all?

These are interesting times.

This is an Inquiry widely followed in this country today. 

After all, it was sparked by a public outrage on matters that affect every single soul in Samoa. The fact is we are talking about matters of lands and titles. There is not a single Samoan who is not affected by this. 

Lands and titles after all are our God-given inheritance, treasures that belong to all of us. As such, they are a sensitive matter. It is a given that from time to time, there will be disputes about lands and titles. And that’s where the Land and Titles Court comes in to play.

Now in June this year, Prime Minister Tuilaepa ordered a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the performance of the L.T.C. Judges, saying their decisions have been responsible for much of the grievances against the judiciary.

We can understand the frustration. Many of us will have our own experiences with the Land and Titles Court. From what we’ve been told, there are cases dating back more than ten years – some even as far as 20 years – that have not been resolved. 

This is not justice and it is why the Prime Minister’s decision to call for an Inquiry is valid.

But there are always two sides to a story.  Sides we unfortunately cannot get an insight into as long as these officials remain tightlipped about what is happening.

Perhaps someone in a position of responsibility might like to tell Samoa what is going on? 

What do you think?

Have a great Thursday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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