The secret is out of the bag. Member of Parliament for Vaisigano No. 1, Lopao’o Natanielu Mua, is the new Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi had kept the new minister in the dark about the appointment until he took the podium to make the announcement at the Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi building, yesterday morning.
Tuilaepa told the Samoa Observer that he received the “divine whisper” when he was on the podium to address the gathering of Cabinet ministers and the Head of State, His Highness Tuimaleali’ifano Va’aletoa Sualauvi II.
“It just came to me while I was giving my speech,” Tuilaepa said. “I was prompted that that was him (Lopao’o).”
A surprised Lopao’o, who is serving his first term in Parliament, said he is humbled by the appointment.
“I’m delighted with the appointment and I will try my best to fulfill my roles.”
Lopao’o replaces former minister, La’aulialemalietoa Polata’ivao Schmidt, who resigned last week following a criminal charge filed against him, his wife and a business partner.
The new Minister was immediately sworn in before His Highness Tuimaleali’ifano.
Later, Lopao'o thanked his constituency, village, church, family and all of his supporters.
“Many members of my family told me to pray but I said it’s up to the Prime Minister,” he said. “I want to thank my mother, my wife, my children and my village.”
“I have been in Savai’i for three weeks; I came not knowing anything about being appointed to a ministerial position, not even an inkling. Nonetheless, I am thankful for the appointment and will give it my all to serve my people as I know what it’s like because I am a farmer looking in from the outside.
“Now that I am in this position, I will do my best to help our people.”
In making the announcement, Tuilaepa said the agriculture and fisheries portfolio is a critical one for Samoa. The decision on whom to pick was a difficult one, he admitted, since the H.R.P.P. is full of individuals who are well qualified.
“The Cabinet ministers are here to serve the needs of the people,” he said. “They don’t sit back and relax in their air conditioned offices, they work hard.”
Tuilaepa thanked the former minister, La’aulialemalietoa, for his work. And he also had some strong words for the new minister and members of his cabinet.
To Lopao’o, Tuilaepa said: “You will start your work as a minister and you must conduct your duties with honesty.
“What does this mean? Your entire time will be dedicated to your ministerial portfolios and this includes catering for the needs of our people.”
Tuilaepa reminded the cabinet ministers that they should refrain from running private businesses.
“You will no longer be involved in a business,” he said. “If you have a business, leave it to your family. You should not become involved with it anymore.”
The Prime Minister added that nothing is hidden under the sun.
“Dishonest work conducted in the darkness will not be hidden from God,” he said.
Lopao’o entered Parliament last year. He defeated former Member of Parliament, Tufuga Gafoaleata Faitua.
“It has been worth the wait,” he said last year. “Fifteen years I have waited.”
Lopao’o said his village approached him many years ago to run but he didn’t want to.
“I waited for the right time. I thank God for choosing me. We all prayed and I asked God for this. We also prayed for other candidates who did not win the race.”
A first time candidate, Lopao’o said his voters wanted him to run for the H.R.P.P.
“Our village has been serving Parliament under the opposition for many years,” said Lopao’o. “We felt that it was time to change so that we can have a lot more say in the developments that are happening.”
Born in the village of Asau, Lopao’o went to Asau Primary and to Fasaga Sataua Intermediate School before he finished his studies at Avele College.
He then left Samoa in 1981 for New Zealand where he lived, studied and worked.
Before returning to Samoa, Lopao’o was the Contract Manager for ACI Glass Company in New Zealand. Lopao’o, 58, is married to Siaumau Kena Mu’a and they have eight children.