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By Malia Sio

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, May 24) –24 May 2005

Samoa Supreme Court Justice Lesatele Rapi Vaai yesterday strongly criticised seven Vailoa-Palauli matai [chiefs] that he last month found guilty of contempt of court, for ignoring an injunction against trespassing on private property.

The rule of law will never give way to cultural interference, Justice Lesatele said in the Supreme Court as the matai appeared for sentencing. Whether young or old, contempt of court is a serious offence punishable by imprisonment, he warned.

He told the matai the administration of justice should never be interfered with.

"A ruling given by the court will be obeyed," he said. "You have shown blatant and arrogant disregard for the law."

The matai - Mai Meki, 46, Salu Siaaga, 75, Lemoa Esekia, 73, Savea Au, 70, Mata'afa Tauileave, 82, Latu Aso, 58, and village pulenu'u (mayor) Toluono Pene - were convicted. They were fined 1,500 tala (US$552) each.

In addition they were also ordered to each pay prosecution costs of 300 tala.

Both sums have to be paid before Friday next week or else they will face six-weeks imprisonment.

A bench warrant was issued for the arrest of another matai, Leleisiuao Otineru, 73, who did not appear. This was despite the lawyer for the matai, Ruby Drake, making an application on his behalf.

Tuala Karanita Enari was lawyer for Nelson Properties Ltd, which owns the land in Vailoa-Palauli where these matai trespassed.

The matai had disobeyed a Supreme Court interim injunction issued on September 27, 2004.

Justice Lesatele said it was unusual for the plaintiffs to ask for a non-custodial sentence.

He said that before Tuala made this submission, the court was considering sending all the matai to prison for their defiance.

Justice Lesatele said that prior to the issuing of the court order, the matai had a small hut built on the entrance of the Nelson Properties land. They stopped tourists wanting to enter, charging them money.

The court, however, said that the real reason for erecting this hut was to stop village outsiders, including the plaintiffs, from entering the land.

"Consequently the plaintiff sought a court order and you failed to comply with it," he said.

Justice Lesatele said the pulenu'u, Toluono, said the reason they defied the order was because they wanted Nelson Properties to send a close relation to manage the plantation.

The court heard that Nelson Properties sought assistance from the Police for the sake of harmony.

"There was no need for the plaintiff to seek assistance of the Police, they had a court order," he said.

But he said when Nelson Properties intended for the village to come and meet the new plantation manager, the son of a former manager, they refused.

Justice Lesatele said this meant that while the village thought it appropriate for this man's father to manage, they did not think it was appropriate for his son.

Justice Lesatele ruled that the real problem here was "Pulemelei"

He said that this is believed to be an old burial ground, and for many is significant to the origins of Polynesians, holding worldwide interest for anthropologists.

"It is also a potential tourist attraction," he said.

He said when Toluono was asked during the hearing if Pulemelei was the real cause of all of this, he had said yes.

This site, Justice Lesatele said, was on some 1,000 acres of land. The excuse of who would manage the plantation being the problem was a feeble excuse to hide the real motive of the offence, he said.

Justice Lesatele questioned the probationary report that all the matai were remorseful. He suspected they only said this because they were worrying about what penalties would be imposed.

Justice Lesatele also noted that their action had gone against what was said in their probationary reports, that they were Christians.

"Let me tell you what you did is against any Christian principal and if you read your bible you will find that out," he said.

He said this being a continuing matter with the hearing yet to be called in court, no other offences should be committed.

If they were one penalty would be imposed, Justice Lesatele said, imprisonment.

June 1, 2005

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