Civil servant loses fight to have investigation halted until defamation case completed

    The Supreme Court has dismissed an application by a senior civil servant to have an investigation of his behaviour by the Commissioner for Public Relations halted until a defamation case against Kele’a newspaper has been completed.

    In   June   2015   Member of Parliament Hon. Mateni   Tapueluelu  made   a number of allegations against  the Chief Executive Officer of the Tonga Communications Corporation, Rizvi Jurangpathy, which were reported in Kele’a newspaper.

    The newspaper alleged that  Mr. Jurangpathy had  committed indecent acts upon, and was having affairs with, staff  members, was misusing TCC funds and dismissing employees for improper reasons.

    Mr. Jurangpathy denied the allegations.

    On  July 13 last year Prime  Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva, wrote to express his serious  concerns about Mr. Jurangpathy’s conduct  as  CEO  of  TCC and recommended that he resign.

    Mr. Jurangpathy refused and launched a suit for defamation against Kele’a in the Magistrates’ Court. That case is still going on.

    The defamation suit includes Hon. Tapueluelu, the publisher of the  Kele’a,  Mrs. Laucala Tapueluelu and the editor of the Kele’a, Mr. Ofa Vatikani.

    The Prime Minister is Mrs Tapueluelu’s father.

    Hon.  Tapueluelu referred the allegations to the Commissioner, who decided in August 2015 to begin his own investigation. Following a request from Mr. Jurangpathy’s lawyers, the Commissioner to put his enquiry on hold until the defamation action was completed.

    In his report on the case, Lord Chief Justice Paulsen wrote:

    “There the matter might have rested but that on 15 July 2016 the Prime Minister wrote to the Commissioner advising that he had received a complaint against the plaintiff from more than 60 employees of the TCC and asking the Commissioner to consider the matter.

    “The complaint from the TCC employees listed seven specific issues of concern including disrespectful and inappropriate conduct towards female staff, inappropriate touching, kissing and texting of female staff, buying a car for a staff member the plaintiff was dating and buying an air ticket at the request of a female staff member he was dating. “

    The Commissioner wrote to Hon. Pohiva on July 29 his consenting to an investigation. He suspended Mr. Jurangpathy, who was questioned on September 1.

    So far more than 70 people have been interviewed.

    Lord Chief Justice Paulsen said Mr. Jurangpathy’s lawyer, Clive Edwards had argued  that  it  was “all  a  little  too  convenient” that when Mr. Tapueluelu and his wife were served with the defamation proceedings  the  Prime  Minister  should receive the same complaints from TCC employees and  require  the Commissioner to investigate the  plaintiff.

    “The plaintiff considers that  the  making  of the  complaints  and  the referral of them to the Commissioner has been driven by Mr. Tapueluelu and others close to the Prime Minister who have their own agendas and interests to protect. It is unfair, he says, that he should have to fight the allegations on two fronts,” the judge wrote.

    “The plaintiff also argues that because of the procedures adopted by the Commissioner, where there is no hearing and he has no right to call witnesses or cross-examine, it is highly likely that the Magistrate and the Commissioner will reach different conclusions on common issues of fact which will undermine the function  of the judiciary.”

    Mr. Jurangpathy asked the court to order the Commission to halt its investigation until the defamation case was completed.

    However, Lord Chief Paulsen said the Supreme Court did not have the jurisdiction to order  a  stay of the  Commissioner’s  investigation.

    He said the Commissioner  was  not  exercising’ a judicial  function and in any case, for the Supreme Court to exercise such power would be contrary to the law which said that proceedings before the  Commissioner  could not be challenged in any  court except  on the ground  of a  lack of jurisdiction. Mr. Jurangpathy had not argued for a stay on these grounds.

    Finally, he said that if Mr. Jurangpathy had wanted to apply for a stay on these grounds, he would have had to first seek the permission of the court to begin such proceedings.

    Lord Chief Justice Paulsen said he did not accept Mr. Jurangpathy’s argument that the   defamation case and the Commissioner’s investigation were between the same  parties and  concerned the  same issues.

    “None of   the defendants  in  the  Magistrates’  Court  action  are  involved  in the  investigation  before  the  Commissioner,” he said.

    “I do not accept the submission Mr.  Edwards  made  that  I should  regard  the Prime  Minister  (or the TCC  employees)  as  doing  the  bidding of  Mr.  Tapueluelu.   There  is  nothing  at  all  to  suggest  to  my mind that  the  Prime  Minister  is  motivated  by  anything  other than the  best  interests of the TCC.

    “The proceedings before the Magistrates’ Court and the investigation before the Commissioner  are of a very different nature, involving different enquiries, utilising fundamentally  different processes and ultimately will  result  in    very different outcomes.”

    Mr. Jurangpathy’s application was dismissed.

    The main points

    • The Supreme Court has dismissed an application by a senior civil servant to have an investigation of his behaviour by the Commissioner for Public Relations halted until a defamation case against Kele’a newspaper has been completed.
    • In June   2015   Member of Parliament Hon. Mateni   Tapueluelu  made   a number of allegations against  the Chief Executive Officer of the Tonga Communications Corporation, Mr. Rizvi Jurangpathy, which were reported in Kele’a.
    • Jurangpathy denied the allegations and launched a defamation suit against the newspaper and Hon. Tapueluelu.
    • An investigation by the Commissioner was launched following separate complaints.

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