Appointment of Lands & Titles Court Deputy President Put On Hold by Minister

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The appointment of Samoa’s former Electoral Commissioner Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio as Deputy President of the Lands and Titles Court (LTC) has been put on hold, awaiting the advice of the Attorney General.

The intervention was made by the Minister of Justice and Courts Administration (MJCA) Matamua Vasati Seumanu Sili. In response to questions from Samoa Global News, Matamua said she has directed an investigation into the proper process to be taken for the appointment of a Deputy President – a newly established position to deputise the LTC President’s expanded role set out in the three controversial Bills passed in December 2020.

What the Acts Say

“Deputy President” means Deputy President of the Court appointed by the Head of State on the advice of Komisi.”  (S2 Interpretations under Lands & Titles Act 2020.)

The “Komisi o le Faamasinoga o Fanua ma Suafa” or the equivalent of a Judicial Service Commission (JSC) for the Lands & Titles Court is a committee under the 2020 Constitution Amendment 104E that states, “There shall be a Komisi comprising the LTC President as Chairperson, a Supreme Court Judge nominated by the CJ, and the Chairperson of the Public Service Commission (PSC). The Registrar of the Courts is also a non-voting member to serve as the Komisi’s secretary.

The Constitutional Amendment Act also lists the powers of the Komisi o le Faamasinoga o Fanua ma Suafa that includes the appointment, removal or suspension of the Deputy President of LTC and other judges of the Lands and Titles Court.

Blindsided

The Minister of Justice says she was completely blindsided by the decision to appoint Faimalomatumua as Deputy President, despite the Chief Executive Officer of MJCA, Moliei Vaai, participating as Secretary of the Commission.

“They moved ahead without even the courtesy of informing me, and the MJCA CEO never thought to brief the Minister that the Komisi was moving forward with the process,” said the Minister.

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Matamua says she formally wrote to the CEO to put the process on hold, and to request the Attorney General’s advice as to the process, as well as the relevant qualifications for who may be appointed to the position.

The Minister put the breaks on the process last Thursday, when the Komisi’s recommendation was about to be given to the Head of State for a warrant of appointment.

Last week the Komisi Secretary and CEO of MJCA, Moliei Vaai, told the media the position is equivalent to that of a District Court judge, which is on an invitational basis, and not by advertised recruitment processes.

Moliei Vaai said the Vice President, who may preside over the Lands & Titles High Court, and can hear applications for leave to appeal will help with the backlog and long delays in Court proceedings. The MJCA Chief Executive said the backlog of appeal cases has been due to the fact that they can only be heard by the President or Deputy President of LTC.

Referring to Faimalomatumua, Ms Vaai said, “The Deputy President with similar qualifications as the President as a qualified lawyer, can now share the responsibility and workload of the President”.

However, speaking on his weekly EFKS TV programme as well as on his social media pages, FAST party chairman Laaulialemalietoa Leuatea Polataivao Schmidt has openly expressed his disagreement with the process and the appointment of Faimalomatumua.

The FAST party Chair says that was unacceptable that the process ignored the Minister of Justice.

Laaulialemalietoa has openly expressed his disagreement with Faimalomatumua’s appointment and says his sudden resignation after the recent by-elections was bad timing.

He questioned the outgoing Electoral Commissioner’s work in conducting the recent by-elections. Laauli alleges Faimalomatumua leaves the role after making fundamental mistakes such as the timing of the appointment of special seats for women. “The law is clear, these appointments are to be made after the final results of any by-elections..” said Laaulialemalietoa.

The leader of FAST also alleges the omission of the Falealupo seat from the Warrant of Election issued after the by-elections was an oversight. “They only issued it after our party secretary called to follow up. And then we were told that an announcement was already made.. but there was still no warrant..”

The Minister responsible for the Office of the Electoral Commissioner (OEC) Lefau Faualo Harry Schuster confirms the Electoral Commissioner did hand in his resignation requesting immediate effect, last Wednesday 01st December.

Faimalomatumua has been contacted for a comment, however, he has not made a media statement since his resignation last week.