Has Prime Minister Tuilaepa just created a monster?

So there you have it folks. Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has once more leapt to the defense of the Minister of Justice and Courts Administration, Faaolesa Katopau Ainu’u. He's made a habit of it. 

This time, we’re talking about the controversy where Court files were removed from the Court and taken to his Office in 2016. At that time, it remained a little secret until last year, when one man by the name of Tualima Pio decided to speak up.

During an interview with the Samoa Observer, he revealed that he and the Secretary of the former Chief Executive Officer, Papali’i John Taimalelagi, moved files in relation to the Ainu’u title of Sapapali’i and another on the “boundaries of Atua” from the vicinity of the Court to the Office of the Minister.

“I took the boxes of files to the Minister’s Office; I was escorted by the C.E.O.’s Secretary,” Mr. Pio told the Samoa Observer then. “When I reported this matter to the Chief Justice; I told him that I was instructed by the C.E.O. to take these boxes of files. I followed orders, even though I know deep down that this was wrong.”

Why was it wrong?

“The Head of State; the Prime Minister and all Cabinet Ministers come down to the Court to view the Court files; because we all know the Court files are not allowed to leave the Court. It is prohibited,” Mr. Tualima said.

It wasn’t just Mr. Tualima who held this belief. Even the then C.E.O. Papali’i was of the same view. You see, when the Minister was queried at the time, he referred all questions to Papali’i.  

We remember clearly what Papali’i said then.

“It has been a long-standing policy since the establishment of the Court, this is not allowed,” Papali’i said about the removal of Court files. “Everyone and I mean everyone has to go through the process. Even his Highness the Head of State, Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers or Members of Parliament, C.E.O.’s if they want to conduct research on any Court filings, they have to file a request form to me.”

“And keep in mind these records are not public records and so if you want to see these files, you have to prove in your request form your eligibility to view any file. These are different from court rulings, which are public. But Court filings and in this case the Land and Titles Court; they have to be a party in order to view the files.”

This was last year. A lot has happened since then, including a P.S.C. investigation into the Ministry of Justice, sparked by Mr. Tualima’s claims, which has resulted in the termination of the services of Papali’i. It would be very interesting to hear from Papali’i. He should step forward now and tell his side of the story. We cannot help but feel that he has been made the scapegoat of all this.

As far as we are aware, and everybody else in Samoa for that matter, no one has the right to remove files from the Court under whatever circumstances. This is how it has been since this country became independent in 1962.

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But not any more. Last Friday, Prime Minister Tuilaepa changed all that when he said the law gives the Minister of Justice and Courts Administration the “authority” to “direct the movement of Court files.”

He made the point in response to questions from the Samoa Observer on why the Government has not acted in relation to the Minister of Justice and Courts Administration’s role in the matter.

“In this situation, the law gives the Minister of Justice broad authority to direct the movement of files under the custody of the Registrar," Tuilaepa said, adding that this is "governed by the Judicature Ordinance 1961 Section 35 (2).”

The section in question reads: "The Registrar shall be responsible to the Minister of Justice for the administration and control of the Court offices and he shall keep or cause to be kept such records of the proceedings of the Court and matters pertaining thereto as the Minister of Justice may direct and shall perform such other duties in relation to the administration of the Court as the Chief Justice may require."

Asked why the investigation was not extended to the Minister, Tuilaepa said P.S.C's jurisdiction is not extended to Cabinet Ministers.

“That is the law that you as a reporter should have done your research, prior to wasting my valuable time to respond to your inciting kindergarten and school yard tactics,” Tuilaepa said.

As for questions on whether Cabinet should have acted on the conduct of the Minister, Tuilaepa dismissed them outright.

“Judgment day for all Cabinet Ministers and MP’s will be on Election Day where the voters will serve as jurors and judges,” he said.

He added: “Nonetheless, the upside of your inquiries is that, it is providing the opportunity to once more reaffirm the transparent processes undertaken by government and it further vindicates Government.”

Transparent? Vindication? Judgment day?

All we’re thinking is that since 1962, this is the first time in the history of Samoa where the people of this country have been told that the Minister of Justice is legally entitled to do whatever he wants with Court files.

Today, can you imagine what will happen from now on with all those families lining up outside the Minister's office wanting to get their hands on those files for whatever purposes? They know that the Minister has absolutely unquestionable powers so that all he needs to do is pick up the phone and tell his subordinates down at the Court to bring the files to his office.

Has Prime Minister Tuilaepa just created a monster? 

The idea is scary, it truly is. Goodness, what’s next?

Stay tuned!

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