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Members Pre-Sitting Briefing Summary, December 2016

Members Pre-Sitting Briefing Summary, December 2016

Members Pre-Sitting Briefing Summary
December 2016

Monday 19th December

Thirty three Members of Parliament, including the Hon Speaker, met at the Tuanaimato Sports Complex today at 9:00am for the Assembly’s final Members Pre-Sitting Briefing for the year.  The acting Police Commissioner and the Attorney General provided overviews of the objectives and contents of three bills to be tabled in the House tomorrow, Tuesday 20th December.  A summary of these presentations and the main issues raised by Members is provided.

 (1) Police Service Amendment Bill 2016

Presenter: Leiataua Fata Aviga Salale – Acting Police Commissioner
Responsible Ministry: Ministry of Police and Prisons

The Acting Police Commissioner stated that the overarching purpose of the bill is to permit the O Le Ao o le Malo to terminate the Commissioner or an acting Commissioner on the advice of Cabinet, without the need to call a commission of inquiry. If the Commissioner or Acting Commissioner’s actions come into disrepute during his or her service, and sufficient evidence is presented to Cabinet, advice may then be provided to O Le Ao o le Malo for appropriate action to be taken.  Presently, the Police Service Act 2009 provides for suspensions pending a commission of inquiry; however, the Attorney General stated that the process is not only time consuming but it is also financially exhausting.  A change in the existing process will therefore remedy these issues.

Several Members raised concerns over the use of the terms ‘Deputy’, ‘Prime Minister’, ‘Acting’ and ‘Assistant’ throughout the bill, noting that there should be consistency throughout.  The Attorney General noted that the different terms are used according to their usage in the interrelated Acts, and also the use of ‘Prime Minister’ in fact denotes the authority of ‘Cabinet’ generally.  Another issue which was discussed at length was the entitlement of a suspended Commissioner or Acting Commissioner to his or her salary and allowances during the suspension period.  Several Members asserted that once suspended, these benefits should be discontinued.

 

(2) Constitution Amendment (No.1) Bill 2016

Presenter: Lemalu Hermann P. Retzlaff – Attorney General
Responsible Ministry: Office of the Attorney General

Lemalu stated that the purpose of the bill is to repeal article 41A, to return the powers and duties currently vested in the Director of Public Prosecutions, to the Attorney General.  The Attorney General further stated that this amendment will be beneficial in that it would decrease costs of operating a separate prosecution office, in addition to lessening instances of ‘conflicts of interest’, with the Attorney General subsequently overseeing all prosecution cases.

Members queried the rationale behind repealing the Act, which was only recently enacted.  Members also sought clarification as to existing positions (such as the ACEO and other officers) if the National Prosecution Office (NPO) merges again with the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).  The Attorney General stated that as a result of recent events within the NPO, Cabinet decided that the previous structure, wherein prosecutions were handled by the OAG, is preferable and also more cost effective. One Member commented that the principal act was not defective, but rather the implementation and monitoring processes were at fault for recent events within the NPO, and that in the future, the recruitment process for lawyers should be closely monitored.

Overall, many Members were concerned over the issue of potential conflicts of interest in regards to prosecution cases, in addition to recruiting overseas based counsel owing to the costs.  The Attorney General assured Members that the issue of potential conflicts of interest amongst counsel will no longer occur, given that it is the Attorney General’s duty is to uphold the rule of law which includes ensuring that allocated counsel declare any potential conflicts at the outset.

 

(3) Constitution Amendment Bill (No.2) Bill 2016

Presenter: Lemalu Hermann P. Retzlaff – Attorney General
Responsible Ministry: Office of the Attorney General

The second proposed amendment to the Constitution seeks to insert a new Article 1, which defines Samoa as a Christian state.  The Attorney General stated that the proposed amendment will not affect the human rights protected under Article 11, which permits all citizens to practice their own particular religious beliefs.  Currently, reference to Christianity is in the Preamble; however, the amendment will enshrine Christianity firmly within the body of the Constitution which effectively provides a legal definition of the State’s religion.

Members raised issues as to the effects of the amendments on individual human rights, as protected under Article 11; the Attorney General stated that there is no effect on Article 11.  He further elaborated that the government is not attempting to control religion amongst its people, but merely attempting to define the State religion.  He also noted that Samoa has many international obligations under various human rights instruments which we must continue to uphold, including freedom of religion.  Overall, many of the Members were in support of the bill and stated that they would seek further clarification during parliamentary debates.

 

 

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