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.