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Confidential settlements, negligence and the poor submissive taxpayers

We get it. Settlements over legal disputes in Court are confidential between the parties involved and they are kept that way for a reason – legal and otherwise.

Should they remain confidential though in matters of public interest, especially in cases where taxpayers’ monies are involved?

Now don’t get us wrong folks, we’re not saying the Court has a responsibility to tell the public the details about such settlements because it doesn’t have to. In private matters, it’s often in the best interest of the parties concerned that these settlements are kept confidential.

But not all cases are private. There are some cases involving Government and public service and in these cases, where they are settled in Court, we believe the Government has a duty to be transparent about the details.

Which brings us to the story on the front page of the Sunday Samoan yesterday titled “Govt. silence slammed.” For the uninitiated, in 2015, a member of the public Suitupe Misa filed $1 million lawsuit against Ministry of Police in relation to an incident where he was arrested at gunpoint at the Fugalei market. It turned out that Mr. Misa had "committed no crime" and the arrest was "carried out based on insubstantial and second-hand evidence."

Prior to the proceedings, Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma investigated the complaint and criticised the behaviour of the Police as "irresponsible", "unlawful" and "cruel."  He also raised serious questions about the actions of the Police and the Commissioner.

“The Commissioner of Police failed to meet basic investigation principles and placed undue consideration on second hand evidence, leading directly to the wrongful and unlawful arrest of Suitupe,” the Ombudsman’s report said.

“The Commissioner’s decision to arm and allow the use of firearms by his officers contravened the Use of Force policy, was irresponsible, and could negatively impact the overall safety and security within Samoa.

“The Commissioner failed to take appropriate steps to identify the actions of his officers as being part of a police operation, leading to widespread distress and in one case serious health issues.”

The report said a lot more but we will stop here. The fact of the matter is that the Police were undoubtedly negligent in carrying out their duty in this particular incident.

Anyway, after the lawsuit was filed, the matter was set down for a hearing last November. On the second day of the hearing, the Attorney General’s Office informed the Court that the lawsuit had been settled. They did not give details.

Attempts by the Samoa Observer to find the details led to an email to the Attorney General, Lemalu Hermann Retzlaff and Prosecutor Sefo Ainu’u.

In response, Mr. Ainu’u wrote: "We refer to your email of 01 March 2019 (attached) to the Attorney General. This response is a joint response from the parties to the matter you refer to. The matter referred to has been settled between the parties and the terms as per terms of settlement, are confidential.”

Fair enough. Again, we don’t blame the Office of the Attorney General for their response. They are bound by their ethics and rules to say what they said.

But somebody in Government should tell members of the public how much they would have to pay for this.

In the absence of details, we can only guess that the complainant, given the overwhelming evidence he was definitely mistreated and his rights violated, that he has been compensated handsomely. Probably to the tune of thousands of tala.

Keep in mind that this is not the only case where members of the public have sued the Government and end up being compensated. There have been many other cases.

The common factor in all these cases is that it is the poor submissive taxpayers who end up shouldering these costs, whether they are for legal fees or settlements.

This is why Salega’s Member of Parliament, Olo Fiti Vaai, is right to demand transparency and accountability from Prime Minister and the Minister of Police, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, about this particular settlement.

“It is our money that will be used to pay for these things and I think we have the right to know how much is being paid in these settlements as a result of reckless actions by government employees,” Olo said.

Told that the settlement is bound by confidentiality, Olo said: “This is a load of crap, mediation is sealed which is understandable however we have the right to know how much the government is paying for these litigations.

“Look where we are now… we’re paying for the mistakes the Police made. The taxpayers will fork out this money…keep in mind the settlement will be paid by taxpayers.”

We couldn’t agree more. What do you think?

Have a wonderful week Samoa, God bless!

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