Who nurtured this mighty mess?

Let’s see. Last year, one of Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s grand dreams in as far as the legal fraternity goes was realised. It happened when the Criminal Prosecutions Division of the Attorney General’s Office was removed to create what we now have as the National Prosecution Office (N.P.O). 

At the time, we were told Prime Minister Tuilaepa wanted to improve the provision of prosecution services. 

You see; prosecutions were handled separately, in a rather confusing manner.While matters before the District Court were handled by the Police, the Attorney General’s Office was responsible for prosecutions before the Supreme Court. 

The idea therefore was for the N.P.O to take over all prosecutions to avoid the confusion. At the outset, it was great idea; long overdue too we might add.

But the setting up of the N.P.O required a lot of work. For example, in 2014 legal consultants from the Commonwealth Secretariat were deployed to formulate and structure the organisation. There were consultations held with all the relevant stakeholders costing a lot of money and time.

From all that, a Bill to establish the Office was drafted and quickly approved by Parliament, fast tracking the process so that by the beginning of 2016 the N.P.O was born.

Mauga Precious Chang, as the Director of Public Prosecutions (D.P.P), initially headed the Office. We were told her function was to carry out the prosecutorial powers which were performed by the Attorney General then. But she wasn’t alone. She was to lead a team of lawyers including all prosecutors of the Criminal Prosecutions Division of the Attorney General’s Office and Police prosecutors.  

With the Office opened, from an outsider’s perspective, all seemed to have been functioning well. If there were any internal divisions – including clashes with the Attorney General’s Office and the Police – they certainly weren’t visible publically.

But the calm didn’t last long. In August this year, it all started to unravel when Mauga was arrested and charged by the Police.  At her office at the Tofilau Eti Alesana Building at Mulinuu, Police officers in uniform and members of the Tactical Operation Squad (T.O.S.) turned up in truckloads to execute the arrest warrant for charges of negligent driving causing injury, dangerous driving and failing to stop.

On the other side of town, the Police Commissioner, Fuiavailili Egon Keil, was also charged on the same day in relation to the wrongful arrest of a member of the public at the Fugalei market last year. A day later, both Mauga and Fuiavailili were suspended by Cabinet, pending the hearing of charges against them. 

But just when you think it cannot get any worse, another intriguing development emerged two weeks ago. This time, the woman who was the Acting Director of N.P.O, Muriel Lui, was suspended. Her suspension according to Cabinet is “pursuant to sections 11(4), 11 (7) and 11(8) of the N.P.O Act 2015.”

“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,” a statement from Cabinet said.

“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.”

But here is the kicker. With the suspensions, Cabinet decided to return the prosecutorial duties previously with N.P.O. to the Office of the Attorney General immediately.

But that wasn’t all. Cabinet appointed a Tribunal to evaluate not just the performance of the suspended Director and Acting Director of N.P.O but also the validity of the establishment of the N.P.O. 

That means the findings of the Tribunal – should it be accepted and endorsed by Cabinet – could well spell the end of this short-lived dream of Prime Minister Tuilaepa.

Earlier this week, 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,” he said. “Cabinet has to review the processes that have led to the recent clashes between government agencies. The N.P.O has a clear responsibility to uphold the rule of law and objectivity of the criminal justice system.

“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.”

Okay then, fair enough Mr. Prime Minister. Have it whatever way you like.

But let’s get back to basics here. Mauga is charged with a traffic violation offense. This needs to be dealt with. We get that. Ms. Lui for all we know has been suspended for the alleged violation of the N.P.O Act. It can’t be that bad, surely! 

The facts are, years and years of work had gone into establishing the N.P.O costing taxpayers thousands of tala and here is the government already wasting more money on a Tribunal to find a reason to shut it down. Why don’t they just close it if it makes them happy?

Besides, if we are to take what’s been thrown before us at face value, including the so-called “distinct lack of wisdom in decision making” and “conflicts of interest” you’ll find that this happens in the public service all the time. 

Which brings us to the question, what has the N.P.O done so badly – that is not different from the abuse and the corruption associated with the government – that have made these two officials deserving of such a treatment as this? Or perhaps even better, who of the powerful and mighty have Mauga and Ms. Lui upset? Do they know something we don’t?

Come to think of it, in the words of Prime Minister Tuilaepa, these officials are his “children.”  Would it be wrong for us to suggest then that this government nurtured and fed this monster to the point where it has now returned to bite them where the sun don’t shine and the embarrassment this has created is simply impossible to ignore?

What do you think?  Have a great Friday Samoa, God bless!

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