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Senior matai of Apia stripped off his title

A senior matai of the village of Apia, Leapai Siaosi Taualai, has been stripped off his paramount chiefly title, Tuiletufuga, after the Court found he failed to properly perform his duties as a matai. 

The decision handed down by the Land and Titles Court, follows a petition from some members of Tuiletufuga family, alleging the matai misused funds from a primary school that brought disrepute to the family and village. 

The petition further alleged mismanagement of family funds from land lease compensation. 

The Court ruled that Leapai Siaosi failed to properly perform his duties as a matai and that he acted in a manner that brought disrepute to his family and the village of Apia. 

The petition was filed by Galumalemana Afereti Hunkin, Lefau Anna Tuiletufuga, Leapai Ropeti Tuiletufuga, Lefau Fereti Tuiletufuga, Atelina Mamae Tuiletufuga and Henry Jr. Tuiletufuga. 

President of the Land and Titles Court, Fepulea'i Letufuga Attila Ropati, Judge Tiatia Faleupolu Tevita and Judge Leu Alani Ulia presided over the matter in February. 

The petition from the applicants alleged that Leapai Siaosi misused funds involving some $144,000 from the Apia Primary School account. 

Leapai Siaosi was the President of the School committee. 

According to the evidence considered in Court, the Principal of Apia Primary School, Lino Tagiilima, had written to some matai of Apia in November 2011 raising concerns over the school funds. 

In his letter, Mr. Tagiilima said the school’s account had $144,963 deposited in it but the account had since had an overdraft of $50,000 remaining in the account. 

The Principal urged the matai of Apia to deal with the matter as he had been keeping the situation quiet from parents of the school and the Ministry. 

He added there is no reason why Tuiletufuga Leapai Siaosi should continue to be a signatory to the account, considering the financial situation of the school. 

In the decision of the L.T.C. Court of Appeal, it also cited a letter from the Samoa Commercial Bank and its meeting with the school committee pertaining to the issue. 

The letter from the bank stated it received instructions from the President of the school that allegedly instructed the transfer of $1,500 to his personal account on a monthly basis as payment of his salary. 

Leapai Siaosi, in his defense, told the Court that $90,000 was owed to him by the school as his salary. 

He added this was agreed to by the School committee. 

However, the Court found that in a letter to the Prime Minister, Faaolesa Katopau Ainuu and other matai of Apia said there was no such agreement to transfer $1,500 monthly to Leapai Siaosi as salary payment. 

The second matter brought by the applicants to support their petition to remove the title Tuiletufuga from Leapai Siaosi was in relation to alleged $270,000 compensation from the E.P.C. for a family land lease. 

The applicants alleged that Leapai Siaosi misused a portion of the benefit funds for the family which was not properly dispersed amongst members of the extended family. 

Leapai Siaosi told the Court of Appeal the funds were used to pay for legal fees and to survey the land. 

He added the remaining funds were used to maintain the family home (laoa) and distributed for other family members and the village.   

Leapai Siaosi in a letter dated 3 February 2020 said it is inappropriate to question his capacity as the high chief (Sa'o) on matters pertaining to his family lands and surroundings. 

In the decision, the Court of Appeal stated that in the past – regardless whether the high chief is right or not – the whole family has to obey the high chief. 

However, the Court added that time has changed and high chiefs should consider transparency and accountability for good governance. 

The Court emphasised that it is the duty of Leapai Siaosi, as the holder of Tuiletufuga title, to be the caretaker of his family lands and ensure the proper allocation of family funds. 

After considering the evidence, the L.T.C. Court of Appeal ruled that Leapai Siaosi has acted in a manner that brings disrepute to his family and the village of Apia on the matter concerning funds for the Apia Primary School. 

The Court concluded that to allow the matai to hold on to his power as a high chief means that he has not accepted his responsibilities as a high chief in accordance to the law. 

Therefore, the Court ruled that the matai title of Tuiletufuga of Apia is to be removed from Leapai Siaosi Taualai. 

The Court Registrar has also been ordered to remove the title from the matai registry. 

Furthermore, the Court ordered the Tuiletufuga family to appoint a new high chief within 12 months. 

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