By ELIZABETH VUVU
PAPUA New Guinea recently lost another one of its national court judges when the late Justice Salatiel Lenalia passed away.
By the time of his death, Justice Lenalia, 63, from Lelet village in Namatanai LLG in New Ireland, has had a career that spanned over 41 years as a judicial officer.
He served for 22 years as a magistrate and 19 years as a judge.
Chief Justice Salamo Injia, in his tribute at Lenalia’s funeral service at the Vunapope Diocesan Hall in Kokopo on Friday August 25, said Lenalia was the longest serving judicial officer in the country.
“He died at a time when he would have retired at age 60, and in that way he lived a complete life delivered on his commission and passed on having satisfied himself that he had accomplished his mission,” Sir Salamo said.
Lenalia was the resident judge in East New Britain and was into his second term when he died at Pacific International Hospital, in Port Moresby, in the early hours of August 15.
He rose from a very humble and simple village setting at Lelet and was educated to grade 10 in 1969.
In the judicial service, he started as a local court magistrate in 1975 and went on to become senior magistrate grade five.
He was among one of the first in PNG to be called to Vanuatu to serve as a senior magistrate and there he was appointed judge of the committal court then chief justice in Vanuatu.
He returned to PNG in 1996 and was appointed acting judge of the national court.
After his judicial commission ended in 1997, he returned to the magisterial services but was recalled to the high courts and the National and Supreme Court and was made a permanent judge in 2001.
“As head of Judiciary in PNG and knowing judiciary around the globe I can tell you that it is not easy to be called to become a judge. It is hard,” Chief Justice Sir Salamo said.
And with PNG only having 39 judges serving more than eight million people, those that were selected were few.
“We should take pride in his service and knowing him, I don’t think he would have wanted that expression of feeling of pride and arrogance so it is only fitting I give a fairly modest background of his service,” he said.
Justice Sir Salamo said Lenalia was a leader in many areas and his services to the judiciary scored a number of firsts, historical hits.
“His life was a life of service in humility, completely humbled, patient, disciplined, and faithful to his task, man of very little words but when he spoke, he spoke wisdom and substance.”
The New Guinea Islands have produced many judges over the years, including Justice William Kaputin who served in the 1980s.
“But history was made in 2001 when for the first time, the NGI region scored three appointments on the same day when the late Lenalia, Justice Ellenas Batari from WNB and Justice Panuel Mogish from Namatanai, New Ireland, were appointed on the same day,” Justice Sir Salamo said.
“At the national level, the late Lenalia was a judge that I handpicked to manage a new court track that the judges had established in 2010 called Leadership Tribunal track to hear allegations of misconduct against leaders including judges.
“I placed him in charge of that track and he chaired many leadership tribunal cases.”
When Lenalia was posted to East New Britain he worked hard. He was passionate and outspoken on matters about Kokopo.
He had a long shopping list. First, he wanted two more judges for Kokopo with one to be very experienced in civil cases, and he got Justice Terrence Higgins. He also pushed for a new court complex.
There were other tributes.
ENB Governor Nakikus Konga said Lenalia’s death has left a huge hole in the justice sector.
Provincial administrator Wilson Matava said Lenalia, who was a leader with the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, played a major role in the expansion of the judicial system right down to the districts and LLG levels.
Chief magistrate Nerrie Eliakim was in awe of the man: “I am still coming to terms with his sudden departure and he still had a lot to offer to the judiciary and the country.
“He was extremely humble, very hardworking and very respectful and had no time for negativity and made sure everyone around his table shared his affection for friendliness and merriment and I have become a better person because of this.”
Lenalia’s son, Trevor, now finds himself with big shoes to fill: “It is through his example that I learnt to be a hard working servant and fighter.
“Anyone who knew him saw that he was deeply devoted to God and his family and as one of his sons, I am privileged and honoured to be a beneficiary to both.”
By ELIZABETH VUVU