17 Dec 2018

Former Tokelau public servants ordered to pay security in blow to legal dispute

2:24 pm on 17 December 2018

Two former Tokelau public servants have been ordered to pay security of nearly $US7,000 in their legal case against the territory's administrator.

The High Court orders, released on Friday, appear to be a substantial setback for Jovilisi Suveinakama and Heto Puka which threatens to end their more than year-long dispute.

Suspended public service manager Jovilisi Suveinakama

Suspended public service manager Jovilisi Suveinakama Photo: sprep

They also mark the first ever sitting of the High Court of Tokelau, which sat in the Wellington High Court, after an earlier bid by the plaintiffs for it to sit in Tokelau was rejected.

Mr Suveinakama and Mr Puka launched legal action shortly before they were dismissed from government in November last year - after being suspended in April on instructions from New Zealand - over their role in the purchase of two helicopters and a property in Apia, which together cost more than $US9 million.

It is alleged they spent the money without proper authorisation.

But the pair have claimed they were wrongfully dismissed and made scapegoats by Tokelau's leaders, a view backed by analysts

They are seeking their reinstatement, in a case which has been brought against Tokelau's government, its Ulu, or leader, Afega Gaualofa and New Zealand's Administrator to the territory, Ross Ardern.

Tokelau Administrator, Ross Ardern, in Apia, Samoa.

Tokelau Administrator, Ross Ardern, in Apia, Samoa. Photo: RNZ PACIFIC / MACKENZIE SMITH

The High Court judgement showed Mr Ardern had sought to force the plaintiffs to pay security to prevent the case from dragging on.

In the judgement, Associate Judge Kenneth Johnston said the plaintiffs faced "financial stress" and may not be able pay if they lost the case and were ordered to pay costs.

The case has been stayed until Mr Suveinakama and Mr Puka pay a total of $US6,800.

A hearing had been set for February.

Associate Judge Johnston accepted the security payments would make it harder for the plaintiffs to pursue their claim against Mr Ardern.

Mr Suveinakama and Mr Puka have previously said they had struggled to support their families after their dismissals from government.

Mr Suveinakama referred interview requests to his lawyer, John Goddard, who is representing the plaintiffs.

Mr Goddard could not immediately be reached for comment.

In the judgement, Associate Judge Johnston said the plaintiffs' claims against Mr Ardern, unlike their claims against Mr Gaualofa and the government, were weak.

Mr Suveinakama and Mr Puka have argued blame for the controversial spending was solely placed on them because the previous Administrator, David Nicholson, prevented a commission of inquiry from taking place.

David Nicholson

David Nicholson Photo: Tokelau government

Mr Nicholson has since been removed from the role at the request of Tokelau's government.

Mr Ardern became a defendant when he assumed the role of Administrator earlier this year.

"The impression I have, though, and it is a relatively firm one, is that the plaintiffs' claim against the third defendant (Mr Ardern) is not strong," Associate Judge Johnston said in the judgement.

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