New A.G.'s mission "not impossible"
Veteran lawyer and Samoa’s newly appointed Attorney-General, Savalenoa Mareva Betham Annandale, is a woman on a mission.
“While it’s challenging the mission is not impossible,” she told the Samoa Observer on Friday.
“My top priority goal is for the Office of the Attorney General to deliver legal services to the best of their ability and within the resources were given; but more importantly to ensure the public have confidence in the administration of Justice.”
She said the Attorney-General (A.G.) plays a vital role in ensuring that breaches of the law are prosecuted, including white collar crimes, to ensure that everyone in society operates within the confines of the same law.
The new A.G. believes her experience with the private and public service in the legal fraternity has paved the way for her to lead the Office of the Attorney General.
“I feel my experiences across the various parts of the justice sector; equip me to lead and also to construct reforms, which I feel is required for the office of the Office of the Attorney General,” she said.
But she makes it clear that these remarks are not criticisms of the way her predecessor, Lemalu Hermann Retzlaff, had run the office. Lemalu stepped down in a surprise resignation in February.
“However my observation included the need for further development for the lawyers in the A.G.’s office in terms of development includes their capacity building.” she said.
“I believe if you can’t address small processes or comply with basic requirements then how are you able to address bigger issues?
“[Those issues include] their attendances, handling of matters; court etiquette, which is the basic of what a lawyer must know the protocol, the dress code, dealing with the media at the same time adhering confidential and sensitive information, behavior in public.
“I don’t mean they don’t have the capacity, but it could be improved and they could handle matters in a more efficient way”.
Another issue the Attorney General is looking at overhauling is making greater use of alternative dispute resolutions systems as mediation and judicial settling conferences.
“If there are opportunities the lawyers for this office should look to ensure these matters are settled through to court, criminal matters, but before you take matters to the court and have people charged [ an] investigation must be carried out thoroughly,” she said.
“The reputation of the person you’re dealing with must be a consideration in our line of work, you can’t just level an allegation and think it’s alright… they will find some proof; no, there are certain standards that we work to and this office needs to improve on complying with those standards.”|
Savalenoa is also considering making use of the “well paid” in-house lawyers in other Government Ministries, outside of the A.G.’s office.
“We do have a number of matters that are referred directly to us by in-house counsels to handle and if I am to utilise them efficiently; I want them to report directly to me on these matters, work on it and perhaps [...] even handle these matter when it goes further than advice,” Savalenoa said.
Savalenoa said many of the in-house counsels are “well paid” at the Assistant Chief Executive Officer (A.C.E.O.) level, compared to prosecutors who start at the lower end of the salary spectrum with a few at the top.
“So it is good to utilise the $80,000 [salary] to do their work before it comes into my office and I speak from my experience,” she said.
The A.G. said while A.C.E.O. of the Ministry of Justice and Court Administration when matters are referred to the A.G.’s office her role was to prepare all the documentation, the advice and in some cases she was second chair.
“I intend to adopt the same process to use the lawyers that are out there to assist this office, so [the A.G.’s office] does not have to do everything on their own, due to the numerous [pending] cases and not enough lawyers [at the A.G.’s office],” Savalenoa said.
The motto for Savalenoa’s management style is working “smarter not harder”.
She says she hears of some prosecutors working from 9am to the early hours of the night but does not believe that is the best way to achieve results.
“You’re supposed to work efficiently from 9am-5am, that is why you work smarter and not harder,” she said.
As a public service the machinery of government continues but the people may not continue if they overwork themselves.”
Savalenoa holds a Bachelor of Law and brings over 20 years of experience in both the private and public sectors of the legal profession.
She previously worked with the Office of the Attorney General for over a decade before being appointed as Assistant Chief Executive Office for Legal, Policy and Censorship with the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration. In that capacity, she played a leading role in the Law and Justice Sector reforms which include Policy and Development for the Digitisation Project and M.J.C.A..’s Media Services.
A partner in the Annandale and Betham Law Firm, she is also a former President of the Samoa Law Society.