What will Prime Minister Tuilaepa do about this?
Let’s see. Some time in 2016, an employee of the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration, Tualima Pio removed files from the Court and took it to the Office of the Minister, Fa’aolesa Katopau Ainu’u.
“I took the boxes of files to the Minister’s Office;” Mr. Pio told the Samoa Observer. He was accompanied by the Secretary of the Ministry’s Chief Executive Officer, Papali’i John Taimalelagi.
Back then; as far as we were aware, this was illegal. Period. Which is precisely what Mr. Pio thought too when he decided to spill the beans.
“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.”
Now the removal of the files from the vicinity of the Court to be taken to the Minister’s office is a fact, an undisputed fact. And based on this undisputed fact, the Public Service Commission last year launched an investigation – which they decided to broaden the scope to include other matters within the Ministry - although the principal concern was the Court files.
Fast forward to today, the investigation has led to the suspension of C.E.O. Papali’i, A.C.E.O. Veataulia Fa’atasi Puleiata and the termination of the services of another A.C.E.O, Galuo Serah Skelton. It must be acknowledged that the involvement of the A.C.E.Os are for other matters not necessarily in relation to the Court files.
But Papali’i’s suspension, we also know, is directly related to the removal of Court files. Although he faces other allegations, the primary allegation against him here relates to the Court files.
Which brings us to the question everyone has been asking; if Papali’i had been investigated and suspended, what about the Cabinet Minister whom the files were taken to? Why has Parliament – or the Government for that matter – not investigated his conduct?
While Papali’i has never publically addressed the issue, it is fair to say he wouldn’t have just given the order to Mr. Pio to take files without a reason. Someone would have given him the order. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out whom the order came from.
Which means, the Minister’s role in this matter should also be investigated for the sake of accountability, transparency and good governance.
Last week during an interview with this newspaper, the Minister clearly reconfirmed the fact we’ve highlighted above that files were indeed delivered to his office. He said it is part of his job to review Court files in order to respond to questions and concerns raised by members of the public. The Minister added that he deals with a lot of complaints where he needs to see what people are complaining about.
Listen to him carefully: “There are many families that have written to me complaining about their court cases, and they copy the Prime Minister. Sometimes the letters are directed to the Prime Minister.
“And I get a directive from the Prime Minister to respond to letters from the public and the complaints are about the administration of the Court, where the judges are accused and registrars. Only then I would request for files, for review and response. I don’t meddle with the work of the Court.”
Now, let’s take the Minister’s word at face value for just a moment.
What complaint was he trying to address in this instance in 2016? He should tell us.
Here is something else interesting. The Minister said the P.S.C. has already sought a legal opinion from the Office of the Attorney General on the matter. He then went into a long legal explanation to try and justify what happened. and in the end, the Minister said there is a need for more clarity in terms of the law governing the issue.
Said Fa’aolesa: “The issue now is to amend the law and to identify which files the Minister can review and which files he shouldn’t review. The law is vague and should be amended.”
Vague? Amendment? Hogwash. Absolutely hogwash.
As far as we know – and everyone else in Samoa - the law since the beginning is that everyone including the Head of State and the Prime Minister must be physically present at the Courthouse to view any file. We also know that Court files are not to be removed from the Court at any time.
So what is “vague” about that? Why does the law need to be amended all of a sudden? Has the Minister not heard of the phrase don’t fix it if it’s not broken?
Besides, this is 2019. We have had several Ministers of Justice since this country became politically independent in 1962. We cannot recall anyone of them making such a point. Why now?
Lastly, the Minister explained that his office is an extension of the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration building.
“The M.J.C.A. pays for the operation of this office, technically this is an extension. If my office was located inside the M.J.C.A. compound in Mulinu’u no one would question it.”
Well that’s not the point is it?
Even if his office was next to the Land and Titles Court, the law as far as everyone knows now without being technical about it is that those files delivered by Mr. Pio should never have been removed from the Court. Period.
Unless there is a different law for the Minister of Justice from all other Samoans – including the Head of State, Members of the Council of Deputies, Prime Minister and all those elderly men and women who travel all the way from Falealupo and Aleipata to see these Court files.
Getting back to that fact we established at the beginning of this piece, what is Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his administration going to do about this? Stay tuned!
Have a peaceful Sunday Samoa, God bless!