Cabinet’s directive is an abuse of process

By The Editorial Board 26 September 2023, 10:00AM

A lot was said last week on both social media and mainstream media about the April 2021 death of 18-year-old National University of Samoa (N.U.S.) student Tuuau Faasavalu in a hit-and-run incident. 

But it was the announcement by the Acting Prime Minister, Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio late last Friday of the interest of the Cabinet in the homicide case that has garnered the most interest to date. 

According to Tuala, the Cabinet held a special meeting last Friday to discuss the case, which Samoa’s Police have failed to crack since the deceased student’s lifeless body was first discovered on the roadside in Vaitele-fou. He said the Cabinet was also asked to consider getting New Zealand Police to work on the case in order to avoid interference within Samoa’s Ministry of Police.

But why has this homicide case all of a sudden become the subject of interest for the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) administration’s Cabinet over two years after the youngster lost his life in what was a callous act?

Is the Cabinet privy to confidential information about the case, which if revealed could either threaten the stability of the Government, or the national security interest of the country hence the intervention by the Cabinet?

We ask these questions because the statement released by the Acting Prime Minister last Friday evening after the Cabinet’s meeting – which was reported on in the Sunday edition of the Sunday Samoan – is a new twist due to the number of political and business personalities that have already been linked publicly to the case. 

Last Tuesday Apia businesswoman Mayday Cai lodged a complaint with the Police over what she described as a defamatory claim by a so-called eyewitness, Samuelu Piki who also has an alias Sam Leau. The 40-year-old of Tanugamanono and Salelologa had alleged Mrs. Cai was inside the vehicle, which was involved in the incident that led to the death of the teenager. 

Last Friday Samoa’s Police Commissioner, Auapaau Logoitino Filipo confirmed the complaint lodged by the Apia businesswoman, while also revealing that the Police now want to question Samuelu Piki after he made this and other allegations in a live-streamed program last week on the New Zealand-based Bluwave TV.

In a story published in yesterday’s edition of the Samoa Observer, the Faleata No. 3 MP Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi confirmed to this newspaper that he has already issued instructions to a New Zealand law firm to start defamatory court proceedings against a NZ-based Samoan media outlet and broadcaster.

The other twist in this story came last Friday evening with the Acting Prime Minister also advising that the current Minister of Police, Faualo Harry Schuster declared a "conflict of interest" and will not be involved with the case.  

But first things first, why should the Police Minister be involved in the investigation of criminal matters when those functions come under the remit of the Police Commissioner and the Ministry of Police?

Or has Tuala and the Cabinet taken a particular interest in this homicide case, which led to the loss of the teenage student, because the allegations also draw in a member of the Opposition’s Human Rights Protection Party?

Late last month the mother of the deceased N.U.S. student, Rosie Maletino made a public appeal for her son’s death not to be politicised after she claimed supporters of the two major political parties in Samoa were using her son’s death to score political points.

We hope the F.A.S.T. administration doesn’t have ulterior motives and will stand for justice for the benefit of the family of the deceased student – after the Acting Prime Minister revealed that the Cabinet has directed the Police to do an assessment of the evidence plus statements and report back to it. As a country that prides itself on having an independent Judiciary and promotes strict adherence to the rule of law, we believe it is wrong for the Cabinet Ministers to take on the functions of law enforcement officers to assess potential evidence while the matter is still under Police investigation. 

Even the Cabinet’s directive to the Attorney General’s Office to take a particular interest in this case, is wrong, especially when there are multiple criminal cases that are hamstrung by various challenges. This includes the Office’s failure to address the lack of prosecutors or the absence of forensic pathologists to give evidence in court, with many families of the victims still yearning for closure as well as justice.

The F.A.S.T. administration should not lose sight of the central role of the Cabinet in Samoa’s democracy in directing government policy and making decisions on national issues through its ministers. To use its powers to order an independent institution such as the Police to report pertinent facts of a case directly to it is an abuse of the process and undemocratic.

By The Editorial Board 26 September 2023, 10:00AM
Samoa Observer

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