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New LTC President Calls for Remedies to Uncertainties on Judges Appointments

By Lagi Keresoma

APIA, SAMOA – 01 NOVEMBER 2022: The newly appointed President for the Lands and Titles Court (LTC), Lesatele Rapi Vaai has called on the Minister for Justice & Courts Administration (MJCA), Matamua Vasati Pulufana for a remedy to the current uncertainties on the appointments of the LTC Judges.

Speaking to Talamua after he was sworn in this morning, Lesatele Rapi Vaai emphasized the need for the Government to provide remedies to the uncertainties in the appointment of the Land and Titles Court Judges under the LTA 2020.

In his address in Samoan after he was sworn in this morning by the Head of State, Lesatele highlighted the current situation of the LTC Judges since the commencement of the Lands & Titles Act 2020.

O le popolega, ona ne’i inu e le sa tusia le tulafono 2020 le fagu pia, ae onana ai Fa’amasino ole Fa’amasinoga o Fanua ma Suafa. Ole popolega fo’i la ia te a’u, o lo’o tifatifa nei Fa’amasino o le Fa’amasinoga o Fanua ma Suafa ua le mautonu, ma o lo’u popolega atili, ne’i o’u alu atu o’u tifatifa atu ai ma a’u.”

(Our interpretation) “My concern is that, the drafters of the LTA 2020 may have drank the bottle of beer and the LTC judges are getting drunk out of it,” said the new President.

“My other concern is that the Judges of the Lands and Titles Court are walking drunk-like out of uncertainty; and my additional concern is that I may go in and end up walking drunk-like with them,” he said.

Lesatele Rapi address
Lesatele Rapi address

The new President Lesatele Rapi Vaai’s address after he was sworn in.

He informed the Minister and gathering at today’s ceremony that there is a lot that needs to done to improve the service provided by the Lands & Titles Court.

“The Lands & Titles Court Commission will provide recommendations through the Court Registrar to assist with the improvement and upgrading of the Court’s service,” said Lesatele.

The President said that according to public opinion, the Lands and Titles Court is very important to the people of Samoa as it is the last resort people turn to when it comes to their traditional matters.

He also referred to the late Prime Minister, Tamasese Lealofi’s opinion that the “decision of LTC will affect those living and the unborn generations.”

‘If LTC is important then priority should be given to it,” he said.

He also noted the Judges have been criticized and accused of being biased over their decisions.

“Even the leaders of Government and those public respected, made damaging and rude comments publicly about the Court Judges. But the Judges worked quietly in carrying out their work as the Judiciary,” said Lesatele Rapi Vaai.

“The challenges faced by Judges today will equip them for the challenges of tomorrow,” he said.

An “ill-conceived and badly drafted” Act
Lesatale did not mix words when he referred to the LTA 2020 as an “ill-conceived and badly drafted Act.”

Thirty nine years since the LTA 1981 was endorsed, controversial changes were hurriedly made to the Act that drew major public debate and submissions from the Samoa Law Society that warned about its negative impact for the country. The LTA 2020 and Constitutional Amendments Act were eventually passed in January 2021.

Lesatele said these two Acts never gave prominence to the importance of the work of the Lands and Titles Court. Rather they were major legislations that caused division and never helped to improve the delivery of services the LTC was to provide to the general public.

“They were ill conceived and badly drafted,” Lesatele stated.

LTC Pres, Minister, Vui & CEO
LTC Pres, Minister, Vui & CEO

The LTC President Lesatele Rapi Vaai, Minister of Justice, Matamua Vasati Pulufaga, Senior Judge Vui Clarnec Nelson and the Acting CEO of the Ministry of Justice.

He also confirmed that this was the only Act that all Judges of the Court signed against its impact on the law and the independence of the Court.

He acknowledged the Government’s effort in trying to amend the Act to suit its purpose and the trust bestowed upon him to lead the LTC.

He also acknowledged the service rendered by the former LTC President Fepuleai Atila Ropati, especially in the skill development for all Judges of the LTC.

He said Fepuleai did not shy away from seeking assistance from those who have served in the LTC before him, and that he will continue to further the development for LTC.

Lesatele was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1996 to assist the late Chief Justice Patu Tiavaasu’e Falefatu Sapolu with the LTC Court of Appeals.

Although he is no stranger to the LTC arena, Lesatele said it is not a calling to be taken lightly and he relies on God’s spirit for guidance.

He then acknowledged the Head of State, Member of the Council of Deputies, Government, the Judiciary and family for their support.

LTC family
LTC family

Lesatele Rapi Vaai with some members of his immediate family after the swearing in ceremony.