The irony of the Prime Minister’s letter and public conduct

By Alexander Rheeney 05 November 2019, 12:00AM

The principle of the separation of powers lies at the heart of a government whose constitution is based on a democratic Westminster system, where the independence of the three branches of government (legislature, executive and judiciary) is critical in ensuring each branch is not absolute and their powers do not go unchecked. 

Therefore, the letter dated October 23, 2019 by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi – addressed the Acting Chief Justice, His Honour Vui Clarence Nelson and President of the Land and titles Court, Fepulea’i Atilla Ropati – breaks away from the norms and conventions of the Westminster system that Samoa based its constitution on when it became an independent state in 1962.

Full details of the letter – which was written in Samoa – were published in the Sunday Samoan, November 3, 2019 edition of the newspaper. A translation of the letter into English was also provided by this newspaper.

The letter basically contained the Prime Minister’s concerns about the conduct of the Judges when it came to drinking alcohol.

“There have been numerous reports about your consumption of alcohol in public, which is inappropriate for Judges,” Tuilaepa writes.

 “There were embarrassing incidents which you have not addressed that I am well aware of because the complaints from the country are directed at me, rightly or wrongly.”

The Prime Minister also used the opportunity to remind the Judges of the important positions they hold in the country. 

“I am writing because you know what is happening and yet you are generalising (such behaviour) under the guise of ‘socialising’.

 “Your appointment is sacred, and you should serve it with dignity.”

“It is in the spirit of cooperation amongst the different arms of the Government that I am writing this to you. But I have no business in behaviour that have become habitual.”

There is no background provided in the Prime Minister’s letter, but we can only assume that the matter has become a great concern for the head of the Executive Branch of Government, to compel him to write to the heads of the Judiciary.

We note the Prime Minister’s reference to “the spirit of cooperation amongst the different arms of the Government”, obviously a subtle reference to the principles of separation of powers, but his decision to write to the Judges nonetheless reeks of interference by the Executive Branch Government in the affairs of the Judiciary.

The irony of his October 23, 2019 letter and its subject of Judges’ alcohol consumption in public’ would not be lost on our readers, who would immediately pick out the President of the Land and titles Court, whose own consumption of alcohol landed him in Court for assault. The charges were dismissed by the District Court, only to be overturned in April this year by the Court of Appeal, which subsequently convicted and fined him $7,000. 

The Appeal Court, when delivering its judgment on the conduct of Fepulea’i Atilla Ropati, did not leave any stone unturned when it came to the conduct of a Judge.

“The fundamental of Courts - that the judiciary should not be seen to be protecting one of their own,” said Justice Robert Lloyd Fisher on behalf of his four fellow Judges.

“Judges are expected to make results to high standards and they must be held to account like all other members of the community.”

There is no doubt the Prime Minister’s letter has added a new dimension to the debate on Judges and their conduct. And while he could have legitimate concerns about the Judges bringing their positions into disrepute, the public will also point out that it was the Prime Minister who said Parliament should ultimately decide the future of Fepulea’i Atilla Ropati as the Land and Titles Court President.

In September this year, when the future of the Land and Titles President was put to the vote in Parliament, it failed to meet the two-thirds majority required under the Samoa Constitution for Parliament to terminate his services and he was reinstated. 

Therefore, it would be futile for the Prime Minister to be seen to be applying standards in the conduct of public office holders, when Parliament that his Human Rights Protection Party dominates did not muster the numbers to terminate the services of a Judge whose own conduct is the subject of his letter. 

Have a wonderful Tuesday Samoa and God bless.

By Alexander Rheeney 05 November 2019, 12:00AM

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