Call for new L.T.C. fees' suspension
Member of the public Leota Aunei Lologa is calling on the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration to suspend new Land and Titles Court (L.T.C.) fees, until they are approved by the National Revenue Board.
The new fee schedules were signed off by the President of the L.T.C., Fepulea’i Atilla Ropati in a later dated February 7 this year.
Under the new fee structure for special hearings, postponements will cost $500 on top of a $200 fee charged to both involved parties; a statement of claim will cost $300 or $500 if it is served on the day of the hearing.
The justification for the fees were to promote more efficient use of the court's time and to discourage time-consuming last-minute applications.
But Leota, who was recently surprised to be hit with the new fees during a matter before the court, says they have not gone through the proper channels.
“It is only fair the Ministry waits for the decision of the board and Cabinet whether the proposed fee will be accepted or not," Leota said.
“My family paid this fee and after the article came out that it was not approved; we are seeking a reimbursement."
Leota told the Samoa Observer there should be stringent policies levelled on Ministries requiring fees be approved, prior to their implementation.
“It does not paint a good picture when a certain Ministry levels new fees for the authoritative body to decline these new fees; hence its critical for the Ministries to be reminded of protocols when they intend on imposing new fees," he said.
"In any good Government, there are consultations to explain why the fees are necessary; keeping in mind the fees are levelled on the taxpayers, people that are already paying taxes."
Last week, the Chairman of the National Revenue Board, Leasiosiofaasisina Oscar Malielegaoi, confirmed that the organisation had not endorsed the new fee structure in contradiction of established procedure.
Leasiosio told the Samoa Observer that irrespective of the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration’s status as one arm of Government, they needed to have proposals signed off on by the Revenue board before seeking to impose new fees.
“That’s the only window to Cabinet [that gives the final approval],” he said.
“For these specific fees the [M.J.C.A.] did not come through the Revenue Board.
“They only submitted to us after it was published in the newspaper and [as] they issued a notice to the public. We’re now doing a review and once we finalise [it], we will call a meeting and invite [the Ministry] and discuss the paper [...] normally after that we [would] submit [it] to cabinet.”
Emails were sent to the M.J.C.A. Chief Executive Officer, Moliei Simi Vaai, asking whether suspending the fees until they are officially approved was the appropriate course of action; however, there has been no response as of press time.