New standard on Police records should apply across the board, not just to aspiring Parliamentarians
The attention and scrutiny placed on having a clean Police record, as a requirement for aspiring politicians, to be able to contest the General Election, is the talk of town.
But understandably so given the sensitive nature of the subject matter for a lot of people involved, especially candidates whose hopes and dreams, barring a successful legal challenge, have been denied and crushed.
There is also the question of why this has suddenly become an issue after all these years since Samoa became politically independent where we have seen some colourful characters, including people with previous convictions, sit and make laws in the Parliament chambers.
This is a small country where everybody knows somebody so we’re not going to delve into the details in this piece. Suffice to say, we have had people convicted of theft, and at one point an M.P. convicted of first-degree murder in there. It is why the idea that the Office of the Electoral Commission (O.E.C.) has rejected a nomination for someone crashing a car into a family’s hedge is quite hard to fathom.
“Who knew that a minor traffic offence would have cost me my candidacy?” said a disgruntled 49-year-old disqualified candidate, I’a Sau Kaisara. “I was told that my lawyer [at the time] should have applied for a discharge without conviction but it wasn’t something that was brought up at the time.
“I’m saddened that this doesn’t look good for me and my clients because people now think that I’m some kind of criminal that committed a serious offence.”
Of course everyone will have an opinion. We say this because the case of I’a - and others - who have been disqualified will open a can of worms we doubt the Government had actually thought about, or intended to.
This is indeed a bottomless pit that will also raise the question of whether the authorities’ insistence on police records should stop with politicians and Parliamentarians.
On the front page of Wednesday’s Samoa Observer for instance, a story titled “Justices must have clean criminal records: Lefau” was published. In light of what has unfolded with regards to election candidates, former District Court Judge Lefau Harry Schuster has called for a bill mandating that Judges do not have criminal convictions to place them on an equal footing with Members of Parliament.
“[A] criminal conviction bars you from running [as a Member of Parliament] but this does not apply to the judges,” Lefau said. A former Member of Parliament, who is also an election candidate, Lefau did not say who he was referring to. But he said it is “inconceivable that a person with a conviction could get to the bench.”
We agree. If this is the new benchmark for holding public office, consistency is needed to ensure the standard of having a clean criminal record should be equal across all branches of Government.
It means it should apply to all senior public servants including Chief Executive Officers, Assistant Chief Executive Officers, Principal Officers, Senior Officers all the way down to the tea person and cleaner. It should be applied to Government Advisory Board members, Police officers, Government lawyers and all public officials.
But this is a slippery slope.
When we venture down this path, the Government, through Parliament, has already shot itself on the foot. We say this because it is impossible to look past the President of the Land and Titles Court, Fepulea’i Atilla Ropati, who was convicted and fined for smashing a bottle on someone’s skull. This man continues to occupy one of the most esteemed offices on the land, especially when it comes to the implementation of justice.
Try then justifying this one to an election candidate who has been stopped from contesting the Election because he crashed a car? It is simply inconceivable, mind-boggling stuff.
Now don’t take us the wrong way, we agree that it is important to have leaders in Parliament who have Police records that are unblemished. We also accept that we are mere mortals and as such we make mistakes from time to time.
That said; the application of the law must be fair and consistent across the board. And if this is the new standard for Parliament - which we welcome and applaud by the way - it should not stop there.