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Ordained Minister Takes Methodist Church to Court

Ordained Minister Takes Methodist Church to Court
Viva Panapasa Simote outside the Employment Relations Tribunal on May 4, 2018. Photo: Ronald Kumar
May 05
13:28 2018

An ordained woman minister of the Methodist Church Dudley Circuit has taken the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma to court.

Viva Panapasa Simote, the applicant was represented by counsel Noel Tofinga while the Methodist Church, which is the respondent, was represented by counsel Simione Valenitabua.

The Assistant General Secretary of the Methodist Church Jeremiah Waqainabete was also present in court.

The matter was brought before Magistrate Andrew See in the Employment Relations Tribunal in the Suva High Court yesterday.

Simote served an Ex-Parte Notice of Motion and Affidavit whereby her submission was that there was a servant-master relationship between the Applicant and the Employer (the Church).

It was in December last year that Ms Simote was informed that she was  relieved of her appointment in the Dudley Circuit after she raised questions at an Annual Divisional Ministerial Meeting last year in regards to financial statements that were alleged to have never been audited by an external auditor.

Defence counsel Mr Valenitabua said per the order served on them the motion matter was to be called on May 14 hence he would not be able to address the preliminary issue.

He said the defence remained in its position that no such relationship such as an employer and employee existed.

“This is a calling and we are happy to go on and make submissions on this. I have advised my client to respect the order, until the relationship is determined by the judge.”

Magistrate See, in relation to the eviction notice handed to Simote last month said the order of eviction was to remain on hold until the court matter was solved.

Methodist Church of Fiji Assistant General Secretary Reverend Jeremaia Waqainabete outside the Employment Relations Tribunal on May 4, 2018. Photo: Ronald Kumar

Methodist Church of Fiji Assistant General Secretary Reverend
Jeremaia Waqainabete outside the Employment Relations Tribunal on May 4, 2018. Photo: Ronald Kumar

The court heard that the said residence was located at 33 Moala Street, Samabula and it was attached to the deaconess office, close to the church.

Mr Valenitabua said the issue was the ‘employment relationship’ and they were happy to have the eviction orders remain until the matter was determined.

In terms of being ordered to pay for the utility cost such as electricity and water, Mr Valenitabua said the church doesn’t not pay for this.

“Which is why we are saying this is not an employer and employee issue, the Methodist Church in Fiji and the Head doesn’t pay, the congregation to which the applicant served are responsible for the welfare,” he said.

“There is no involvement of the church. Only the congregation. If she chooses to stay there, and make these proceedings we are saying she should go after the congregation.”

However, Magistrate See said this had been a traditional practice where it was always paid for.

Mr Valenitabua responded that the church was not aware of this because it was an internal matter.

Magistrate See said “it seems to me as if somehow all of a sudden this was decided, this has been going on for sometime, the suspension was eight months ago, where the applicant was advised of her suspension.”

Magistrate See said he wanted to see a satisfied arrangement, and until such time a decision would be determined he did not think it was helpful to solve the issue if all of a sudden electricity was turned off.

He said the case of people wanting to deliberately cut off water or power while the court was trying to resolve the issue, did not seem to be a Christian act.

“It is not my role to get involved in issues of religion of the church but we are dealing at the present time of the applicant on whether its an employment relationship and the applicant comes in her good faith seeking some decision.”

Lawyer Noel Tofinga outside the Employment Relations Tribunal High Court in Suva on May 4, 2018. Photo: Ronald Kumar

Lawyer Noel Tofinga outside the Employment
Relations Tribunal High Court in Suva on May 4, 2018.
Photo: Ronald Kumar

Meanwhile; Mr Tofinga handed the applicant’s submissions yesterday while submissions from defence counsel Mr Valenitabua are to be filed by May 14th, within seven days.

Mr Tofinga would respond within seven days.

Magistrate See advised that when the two parties would be called he needed clarification on the submissions.

The matter was adjourned to May 21, whereby a decision would be expected.

Edited by Percy Kean

Feedback:  losirene.lacanivalu@fijisun.com.fj

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