Tackle the real issue

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

The furore about the matai system being likened to the military is really unnecessary. Whether we agree with the comparison or not, that’s not the point. 

Perhaps it was a slip of the tongue on the part of Police Commissioner Fuiava Egon Keil when he made the comparison during his media interview. 

Or it could be that he really was misinformed about the matai system. 

Either way, people make mistakes. 

We all do and that’s part of life.

Besides, in this world we live in (or in this country for that matter) people are entitled to their opinions. And if the Police Commissioner believes – from his observations of Samoa that the matai system emulates the military system – so be it. 

That is what he believes. It doesn’t mean it’s right. 

Now most of us – including the Minister of Women, Community and Social Development, Tolofuaivalelei Falemoe Lei’ataua, and other cultural experts who have expressed opinions on the matter - obviously disagree and that is fine.

That’s the beauty of democracy; it’s the opportunity to disagree and have different views. Indeed, we don’t have to agree on all things. 

There will always be issues where opinions will be divided and views will differ. That makes life all the more interesting. Imagine how boring it would be if we all believed in the same thing?

What’s important is for us to take the different viewpoints on board, pick what’s best for us and run with it where necessary.

Certainly, here at this newspaper we don’t prescribe to the views of the Commissioner either. We believe that our matai system is based on mutual respect, dialogue and goodwill. 

Having said that, it must be stated that we’ve also seen several instances of military rule in the matai system. Armed with a dangerous weapon called the Village Fono Act, we’ve seen how some matai councils have used this to abuse their power by ordering untitled men and others under their authority to break the law. 

Think of the countless Court cases where matai leaderships have been prosecuted and convicted for breaking the law in relation to the burning of homes, properties and evicting innocent Samoans. 

History exists to tell us all about these instances.

Getting back to the point about this furore being unnecessary, it’s unfortunate that this has taken the attention away from the real issue.  We say this because we believe the real issue is the objection from within the Police force to the changes being introduced by Commissioner Fuiava.

Let’s not forget that all this came about because of a letter penned by a group, which describes themselves as “Police officers who want to make use of the time and money we are paid with.” 

The letter is addressed to the Police Commissioner. Copies of it are also addressed to Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, Minister of Police, Sala Fata Pinati, Ombudsman, Maiava Iulai Toma, Chief Justice, His Honour Patu Tiava’asu’e Falefatu Sapolu, Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Tuisugaletaua Sofara Aveau, Minister of Public Enterprises, Lautafi Fio Purcell and the Editor of the Samoa Observer.

The letter makes a number of allegations against the administration of the Police service. Among them is the allegation that Commissioner Fuiava is running the Police force “like a military base.”

“How can we go and arrest members of the public when the Police officers are leading the way in breaking the law,” the letter reads. 

“We pledged our oath in this work force because we wanted to assist our country, for everyone to feel safe. However we feel it’s been run like a military base by the Commissioner, forgetting that this country is founded upon God.” 

While we cannot tell you all the allegations, suffice to say, they are quite serious. Some of them are not new when it comes to the Police force but they are the type of allegations that should be looked into and investigated. We believe the Office of the Ombudsman should step in and open an investigation into the issues raised.

When the Commissioner was asked for a response, he said that the Police officers unhappy with the changes being made should find new jobs.

 “The government wants change, that’s why they brought me in,” he said.

“I’m trying to bring this organisation up to the level that is [the] international standard. I’m trying to drive it forward to hold us accountable.”

 “I’m sorry if some folks in this organization do not agree with that and like that relaxed way of running things as it was before.” 

“I’m bringing in change and that’s part of it. You might not like the change but I tell you it’s based on principles being used overseas and practiced over many years.” 

“Everybody has to align, follow the rules, do your job, that’s the bottom line.” 

“Do your job and you won’t end up in jail, get suspended. You’ll get praised. Learn your job and do it well, respect people, act professional, man up and be responsible. That’s part of the military.”

Again, we might not all agree with Commissioner Fuiava but he makes some very valid points. And we believe this is the real issue, which the attention should focus on. It’s not about how old your matai title is or how much you know about the matai system. That’s irrelevant.

It should be about using the letter, finding out the truth and then taking necessary steps to improve the status quo. 

On the other hand, let’s give Commissioner Fuiava an opportunity to prove himself and show why the Samoa Police force needs the changes he is introducing. In  other words, give him a break!

What do you think? Write and share your thoughts with us!

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