President reinstated by Parliament.
The suspended President of the Lands and Titles Court (L.T.C.), Fepuela’i Atilla Ropati, has been reinstated to his position by Parliament.
The decision followed a vote in Parliament today.
The outcome of the vote did not meet the two-thirds majority required under the Constitution for Parliament to terminate the services of the President.
Twenty-one Members of Parliament voted against the reinstatement, while 18 voted in favour of Fepulea’i continuing as the President of L.T.C.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi put forth the motion on behalf of the government to terminate the service of the President of the L.T.C. for his bad behaviour as a result of criminal conviction.
“I urge that you consider this matter with cautious.
“The matter will result in a vote after their examination of the report thoroughly and they must consider the impact of this matter which may interject with peace and tranquility of the country.
“And also our overseas partners that are assisting us in developing our country and to uphold the law as well the leaders of our respective constituencies who voted us into office.
“This is the first time in the history of this Parliament such a matter is debated in session, the fate of the President of the L.T.C. for his misbehaviour.
“In this Parliament they can vote out any Prime Minister or the Speaker if they violate the law.
“We make the laws; we should live by those laws. You have received my ministerial speech where I point out the criminal convictions of the President. The decision by the District Court to fine him considering the charge is a result of his bad behaviour.
"There are two options outlined under the Constitution which warrants the removal of the President any judge, for his bad behaviour and or infirmity of body or mind,” said the Prime Minister.
Prior to the vote being taken in Parliament, Deputy Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa condemned the recommendation of the Parliamentary Special Inquiry Committee, which they submitted to Parliament for its consideration.
“We stand by the law, we are lawmakers, we live, abide and respect the law. I strongly support the motion by the government to terminate the service of the President of the Lands and Titles.
“I strongly reject the report submitted by the (Special Inquiry) Committee, and their report should be removed from the Hansard, as it only brings shame to this Parliament,” said Fiame.
The report the Deputy Prime Minister is referring to was signed by Deputy Speaker and the Committee Chairman, Nafoitoa Talaimanu Keti. Members of the Committee include Ali'imalemanu Alofa Tuuau, Faumuina Tiatia Liuga, Ili Setefano Ta'ateo, Fuimaono Samuaelu Te’o, Faaulusau Rosa Stowers and Tole'afoa Ken Poutoa.
In that report, “the Special Inquiry Committee resolved to recommend, that the Legislative Assembly endorse the continuation of the appointment of Fepuleai Letufuga A. M. Ropati as President of the Lands and Titles Court".
The Deputy Speaker intervened and made it clear their report is based on the ruling of the Court of Appeals.
“The terms of reference is clear which is what guided the investigation by the Committee,” he said.
However, Fiame would not take it.
“I want to direct your attention to Article 15 of the Constitution which has to do with individual rights. The report says there is no special treatment in this case however Mr Speaker, how can we say that there is no special treatment in the matter of the President of the L.T.C.; you heard the speeches before me; we must be compassion, he served at the government and the also served the Parliament.
"What does that say… is it because he used to be Legislative Clerk for Parliament, that we should give him a second chance.
“That is why Mr Speaker, this Parliament has violated the Article 15 of the Constitution, why because we are giving him special treatment. And this deviates from the standard of what members of the public encounters as convicted criminals.”
The Deputy Prime Minister then pointed to the penalty of the charge.
“He was fined but considering the charge it is grievous bodily harm and that is the response indicated by this Parliament; it is ok, that he struck another person on the head and looking at the report the responses says he deserved the strike on the head.
“The penalty for this crime is seven years, yet the message sent out by this Parliament, the President can strike the security guard on the head, he’s allowed to do that.
“Why… because he has the authority, because he’s a Chief, and because of his position, that is the message sent out if this Parliament follows the recommendation of the Committee.”
Fiame then pointed to the eligibility clause for M.P.’s whereas once they are convicted for a crime that carries a jail term of four years, they are stripped of their Parliamentary titles.
“But this law, the penalty is seven years. And what does the Parliament of Samoa says, we should show compassionate because he used to work here.
“And we have given Fepulea’i, we are conveying to Fepulea’i an advantage that is not afforded to anyone and is this even right,” said Fiame.
The Deputy P.M. also pointed to the sworn affidavit of Fepuela’i which stated that he will resign if he's convicted.
"The question to the Chairman and the Committee whether they were aware of it?
“And what is the law when it comes to such matters where they don’t follow the sworn affidavit and what is the penalty for someone that does not follow the sworn affidavit? Mr Speaker that is what you call making false statement under oath or perjury.
M.P. Sulamanaia Tauili’ili Tuivasa urged Parliament to consider the matter being handled in a village setting as Chiefs.
“His reputation has been tarnished as a result. Although we have a pool of lawyers but one must consider this person and his work and it is all part of God’s plans,” he said.
“This is where fate of a prisoner is decided, whether he dies or lives, right here in Parliament,” he said.
Sulamanaia told the leaders that the matter will set the precedent, not just in the country but around globe, and that Parliament has the authority and the final say.
M.P. La’aulialemalietoa Schmidt commended Fepulea’i on his commitment and service to the Government and Parliament.
“He’s a devoted and committed employee which led him to his Presidential position with the Judiciary. We don’t have to outline his credentials and who he is, he’s highly intelligent, his qualifications are unquestionable and he’s a respectful chief.
However, I am careful on this matter.
Laauli was vocal about protecting the integrity of the Parliament.
“The Court has already ruled on this matter. There are three arms of governance in any country, the executive, judiciary and legislative – we don’t meddle with the other side and it begs the question where do we draw the line.
“After the District Court ruled on this matter, discharge without a conviction and within 24- hours an appeal was filed.
"The question is who filed the appeal and I want to emphasise there is a line that we cannot cross. And I am ashamed of the message that will be sent around the world, it appears we cannot differentiate between what is right and wrong.
“We know Fepulea’i is convicted as a result of the appeal. And it appears that we want to paint a picture as if we can dominate any decision, that we have the authority.”
Laauli cautioned the M.P.’s they are compassionate with Fepulea’i neglecting to protect the integrity of the Parliament.
“I consulted with Fepulea’i, whereas the allegations against me led to my resignation as Cabinet Minister as it is the right thing to do,” said Laauli.
Faumuina Leatinu’u Wayne Fong was also against the reinstatement of Fepulea’i.
“The laws in place were established here in this Parliament for the judges to interpret and uphold. And now the Court has already ruled in this matter.
“The District Court ruled to discharge without conviction on this case while it was hard to believe but I accepted it.
“However, when the Attorney General’s office filed an appeal, I wasn’t happy about it as this meant, we will spent more resources on this matter.”
Faumuina pointed to those who committed crimes in the past to always end up in Court.
“Anyone that commits a crime is charged and appears before the Court — this is the same with Church Ministers, Chief Executive Officers, and Members of Parliament who have been charged before the Court. In the past a Prime Minister was charged and taken to Court and that was the end of his tenure in Office.”
He also commented on Fepuleai’s commitment as public servant however he committed a crime. And if we had utilised this time to debate other proposed bills for the betterment of our country,” said Faumuina.
The Speaker of the House intervened and reminded the Constitution trumps any law and that is why this matter is before the Parliament.
Gatoloaifaana Amataga Alesana-Gidlow spoke on the governance of Chiefs in the village setting.
The M.P. said the no one should be reprimanded twice.
“The Court handed down its conviction and looking from a chief's perspective, no one should be punished twice.
“We should also consider the love of God, even the hardcore crimes such as murder, all of that has been forgiven by the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on the cross.”
The third point Gatoloa’i put across is the importance of having strong faith, lean on God and love and that love should be the foundation of everything.
Saluasa Dr John Ah Ching pointed out the law is the law, and while the Court has ruled on the matter, it found its way to go before Parliament.
“And in my view we should address this to the village setting where chiefs will decide on the fate of Fepuela’i.”
Leailepule Rimoni Aifai said his decision is based on the records they have, considering all the witness testimonies that’s outlined in the report prepared by the Committee.
“The Court has ruled on Fepulea’i case, he has paid his fine and he’s the same as us, he’s free from the legal process.
“And that’s why I am happy; democracy is alive and well in Samoa and that is the rule of law. It is also under the Constitution, the only questions before Parliament, whether to continue his services as president or terminate his services.
"He has gone through the process. And looking at the report the decision by the district court, if he’s convicted and sentenced, it is the same as someone sentenced to death, referring to the termination of his services. And also the court of appeal, the conviction has no to his position as president of the L.T.C.”
He supported the move to reinstate Fepulea’i.
Falealili Sisifo Aumua Isaia Lameko also supported to address the matter like Chiefs in a village setting and emphasised the importance of giving someone a second chance and forgiving.
“That is the aspect that chiefs in village addresses matters before them during village meetings. We should give him a second chance, the Court has already ruled in this matter,” said Aumua.
Faasootauloa Pati Taulapapa said is it difficult to differentiate the difference between what is right and what is wrong.
“It is not my decision to vote on this matter, the vote belongs to my constituency and they have spoken on what they want.
Alaiasa Sepulona Moananu noted that under the Constitution a judge can be removed for his misbehaviour.
“And the only concern is that Fepulea’i did misbehave as indicated under the Constitution.”
Alaiasa is referring to Article 68(5) of the Constitution- "A judge of the Supreme Court shall not be removed from Office, except by the Head of State on an address of the Legislative Assembly carried by not less than two-thirds of the total number of Members of Parliament (including vacancies), praying for his or her removal from office on the ground of stated misbehaviour or of infirmity of body or mind".
He says Parliament is compassionate and feels for this High Chief given his devout service, however the vote should reflect truth and honesty.
The President of the L.T.C. was placed on special leave in March 2018, and was suspended on 10 May 2019.
Fepulea’i was convicted and fined $7,000 by the Appellate Court two months ago. This is in connection with causing actual bodily harm with intent on Saili Leota, a security guard of the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration (M.J.C.A.).
Those who voted to reinstate the President are Deputy Speaker Nafoitoa Talaimanu Keti, Members of Parliament Ali'imalemanu Alofa Tuuau, Faumuina Tiatia Liuga, Ili Setefano Ta'ateo, Fuimaono Samuaelu Te’o, Faaulusau Rosa Stowers and Tole'afoa Ken Poutoa.