Former C.E.O. sacked for sexual harassment

The Public Service Commission (P.S.C.) terminated the contract for the former C.E.O. of the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration Papali’i John Taimalelagi on charges of sexual harassment.

This is according to the  P.S.C. analysis, a confidential document that outlined their charges and the recommended penalty for Papali’i to face. Also highlighted in the analysis document is that the removal of files was not for official business rather for personal use by the Minister, Fa'aolesa Katopau Ainu'u.

According to the four page document there are six charges: the removal of court files from the Mulinu’u Court House premises in 2016 and 2017; three counts for sexual harassment; and two counts for breaching of public finance management, pertaining to the use of government vehicles. 

“Based on the evidence gathered and Mr Afele’s (C.E.O.) response, the files were removed from the Court premises to be taken to the Ministers office on request of the Minister and were released on the authority of the C.E.O.” 

The report referred to two separate incidents: the removal of the Suafa Ainu’u court files in 2016 and the Suafa Faumuina court files outside of the Court House premises without supervision. 

“The Lands and Titles Act 1981 does not provide /allow for the removal of files out of the Court premises. It is also clear from the findings that the files request and the request by the Minister did not relate to any official matter. 

“The files requested were for the Minister’s personal matter.”

On this charge, the Commission ruled to “caution and reprimand the C.E.O". 

“In determining the penalty for this charge, the Commission of the view the C.E.O. failed to discharge his duty carefully and diligently, when he allowed the release of files outside of the court premises who the Minister had a conflict with, without following its own Ministry’s procedure of access to records.” 

The P.S.C. says this could have been avoided if the C.E.O. sought the opinion of the Chief Justice, given that he was aware that the request by the Minister was not for an official matter, stated the document. 

As reported earlier, Minister of Justice and Courts Administration Fa’aolesa Katopau Ainu’u 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 in relation to matters from the Court.

Fa’aolesa noted that “under the law, the Registrar and the President of the Land and Titles have the authority over Court files. The law does not prohibit nor does it say it is allowed, this means this specific part is specifically silent on whether it is allowed or not". 

The P.S.C. document stated the C.E.O. admitted to the charges of sexual harassment; however this is contrary to the recent letter by the former C.E.O. to the P.S.C. Chairman, Aiono Mose Sua, in that he strongly denies the sexual harassment charges. 

“The Commission noted that the C.E.O. admitted to all the incidents/particulars supporting these charges but submitted that his actions were in a playful banter.” 

The document further stated: “There are three complainants over a period of three years in which the C.E.O. admitted to and clearly not disputing/denying them (except for the vulgar words which he only disputed) indicates a pattern of behavior in harassment of a sexual nature of female employees".

On the balance of probabilities the Commission found that all three charges proven, says the P.S.C. document. 

“As such the Commission has decided to recommend imposing the penalty for all three charges, terminate the employment of the C.E.O. in accordance with clause 21 (3) and (7) of the C.E.O.’s contract of employment.” 

In his letter of reconsideration to the P.S.C. Chairman, Papali'i Mose Aiono, the former C.E.O. said he "vehemently denies the sexual harassment charges." 

The last two charges pertains to his failure to comply with obligations under the public finance management of Government vehicles. 

“The C.E.O. in response admitted that he gave approval for the A.C.E.O. without following the requirements under public finance management regulations on government vehicles.” 

The Commission is of the view that the C.E.O.'s actions (i.e. using vehicles and Ministry personnel during working hours/away on official trips to run some of his personal errands) amount to misuse of his authority as a C.E.O.

“The Commission finds this charge proven by admission as such the Commission has decided to recommend impose the following penalty to caution and reprimand the C.E.O.,” for the two remaining charges, stated the P.S.C. document. 

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