When the controversy about those Court files just refuses to go away
The controversy at the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration involving the removal of Court files from the premises of the Court refuses to go away.
It continues to rear its ugly head despite the Government’s best efforts to downplay it and make it go away.
It was only last month that Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi added his voice to the debate, saying the law gives the Minister of Justice and Courts Administration the “authority” to direct the movement of Court files.
Said Tuilaepa: “In this situation, the law gives the Minister of Justice broad authority to direct the movement of files under the custody of the Registrar."
Responding to questions from the Samoa Observer, he added this is "governed by the Judicature Ordinance 1961 Section 35 (2)".
It’s fair to say that Prime Minister Tuilaepa would have perhaps been hoping quietly that that is the last time the matter is raised.
Well he would have been disappointed.
A thorn on the government’s flesh, Salega M.P., Olo Fiti Vaai, wouldn’t let it go.
Last week, he appealed to the Attorney General, Lemalu Hermann Retzlaff, to address what he described as a "legal loophole" that could enable the continued removal of Court files.
“We have to protect the integrity of the Court files. These are Samoa’s treasures, where our lands and chiefly titles are debated and it’s scary to know that it can be removed from vicinity of the Court,” Olo said.
“However what is scarier is the Prime Minister not taking action on this important matter and it is setting a bad precedence.”
Olo said Prime Minister Tuilaepa should do what is right and conduct an Inquiry into the removal of Court files, including the role of the Minister of Justice, Fa’aolesa Katopau Ainu’u in the matter.
“It is the right things to do. The law is vague on this matter and while it refers to the Supreme Court Judicature orders, it still doesn’t say the Court files can be removed,” Olo said.
“The government has to inquire which files have been removed and why.”
Olo went on to remind the Prime Minister that members of the public are "not stupid" and they can read what is happening from a mile away.
“This is very concerning and I’m sorry to sound like a broken record calling out the Prime Minister. But I know they are making a mistake and it is my responsibility (as a Member of Parliament to raise these matters for the sake of) the public,” he said.
"Whether the Minister says that it is for official business only, we don’t know that.”
Olo has got a legitimate point. This “legal loophole” is potentially an extremely dangerous monster that could come back to haunt not just the Government, but the people of Samoa in a the future.
This is why this needs to be addressed.
Now for the uninitiated, all this started in 2016 when Land and Titles Court files were removed from the Court and taken to Minister Fa’aolesa’s office.
Until now, it was generally understood by everybody – including the Head of State of Samoa – that these files cannot be removed. That is why people of all ages queue up outside the Land and Titles Court from Monday to Friday to see these files - if they are entitled to them.
In 2016, a number of files were delivered by the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration employee, Tualima Pio and the Secretary of former Chief Executive Officer, Papali’i John Taimalelagi, to the Minister’s office.
Why the files were delivered and whether the Minister was entitled to view them has never been explained.
Which is Mr. Pio decided to break his silence. First he reported the matter to the former Chief Justice Patu Tiava'asu'e Sapolu and then he told the Samoa Observer and the world all about it.
Later, an investigation by the Public Service Commission (P.S.C.) into the removal of the files – and other matters at the Ministry – was launched. The investigation had led to the termination of the contract of the former Chief Executive Officer Papali’i.
But Papali’i has not disappeared into the night quietly.
The former Chief Executive Officer has disputed his sacking, asking Prime Minister Tuilaepa to reconsider the decision to terminate his contract.
The request was made in a letter addressed to the Chairman of the Public Service Commission (P.S.C.), Aiono Mose Su’a, where the former C.E.O. asked for the decision to be overturned “so I can defend my name and my honour".
“I write to respectfully request that Government reconsiders its decision regarding (the) termination of my employment,” the letter reads.
“This is clearly a breach of natural justice. In addition, I have not been provided with any reason for my termination. My name and reputation has been adversely affected by the charges.”
Papali'i has a point. We encourage you to read Papali'i's letter in full, published on the Sunday Samoan in full.
Repeated attempts to get comments from Minister Fa’aolesa and the Associate Minister So’oalo Mene were unsuccessful.
Asked for a comment, P.S.C. Chairman Aiono confirmed the letter from Papali’i.
He said: “A letter in reply has been delivered to Afioga Papali'í JohnTaimalelagi. The letter is confidential.”
Is that so?
Well now that Papali'i's letter has been made public, don't you think the P.S.C. ought to provide their letter too so that they can tell their side of the story?
In any case, stay tuned!