P.M. Tuilaepa backs Inquiry findings

By Lanuola Tupufia – Ah Tong 08 January 2017, 12:00AM

Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, has expressed his support about the findings and recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry tasked to investigate the work of the Land and Titles Court Judges.

Speaking to the media during his weekly programme, he also said he was not surprised by the friction between the Judges and the Committee. The Judges had refused to cooperate with the Inquiry. 

But Tuilaepa praised the work of the Commission.

“The report is good,” he said. “There are a lot of good recommendations that can be used to resolve the issues faced by the Judiciary.” 

One of the issues highlighted by the Commission was the need to restructure the Land and Titles Court. The Commission recommended the hiring of more officials to help speed up the Court’s work.

But this will come at a cost. It means the Ministry will need to front up more money to pay for extra people.

Asked about cost of improving the service, Tuilaepa said financial constraints, especially when it comes to wages, are not new.  He stressed that the problem is not confined to the Judges. It’s the same with doctors, teachers and other professions.

Tuilaepa said one of the problems is dishonesty. For instance, some workers claim time on their time sheets that they did not work for. He said that is stealing.

Tabled by the Chairman of the Inquiry, Lopao’o Natanielu Mua, the report revealed friction between the Committee and the Judges. 

In a letter dated 5 July 2016, Chief Justice Patu Tiava’asue Falefatu Sapolu not only expressed his objection, he also informed the Commission that no Judge of the Land and Titles Court would appear before the Commission. 

But that wasn’t the only problem. 

The former President of the Land and Titles Court, Tuala Tagaloa Kerselake refused to appear before the Panel, despite being asked three times through official letters from the Commission. 

In its report to Parliament, the Commission noted its disappointment and frustrations about the decision by the Chief Justice and Judges not to cooperate. 

The Commission noted that under the Legislative Assembly Powers and Privileges Ordinance 1960, they could have summoned all the Judges to appear but they chose not to out of respect. 

In the end, the Commission went ahead and opened the opportunity to members of the public to express their opinions about the performance of the Court. The Panel received 45 written submissions. More than 150 people delivered verbal submissions.  

In its report, the Commission makes 30 recommendations on ways to address concerns raised by members of the public, especially in relation to ways to speed up the process. 

The Inquiry recommends a restructure of the Land and Titles Court. As part of this, Parliament has been urged to appoint two Vice Presidents of the Land and Titles Court to help the President.  

The Commission is also calling for a legal time frame on decisions. 

For instance, a verbal ruling on all Court matters must be delivered within three days when the hearing ends. Written rulings are urged to be delivered within seven days from the end of a matter. 

The Inquiry also recommended ways to address questions of bias and abuse. This includes a recommendation to stop the practice of Judges accepting food, gifts and other material things from parties during inspection visits.   

Parliament was also asked to look into Rules and Procedures for all Judges to follow in the conduct of their duties. 

In relation to the question of adjournments, the Inquiry recommends a period of no more than 6 months if a matter must be adjourned. 

When it comes to parties in a hearing, the Inquiry recommends that there must be at least three leaders at one time so a hearing is not delayed when one of them doesn’t turn up. 

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Tuilaepa defended the call for a Commission. 

He said he had written several letters to the Court to look into the complaints without interfering in their decisions, but at the same time, consulted the Constitution if there was any provision that could be used to assist the people. 

The alternative he came up with was to establish a Parliamentary Committee to look into the matter, hence the Commission of Inquiry. 

When the report was tabled last week, Speaker of Parliament, Leaupepe Toleafoa Fa’afisi, said it has been referred to the Judiciary System for their response.  

He made it clear that the response needs to be tabled in Parliament when it reconvenes on Tuesday 24 January 2017.  

By Lanuola Tupufia – Ah Tong 08 January 2017, 12:00AM

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