Caretaker Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, has denied violating electoral laws in relation to him being conferred a new matai title in his constituency, two weeks ago.
The allegation was made by the leader of the Tautua Samoa Party, Palusalue Fa’apo II, who said the Prime Minister had used the bestowal of the Lolofietele title from Lepa upon him, to entice voters with gifts of money and fine mats.
In doing so, Palusalue said Prime Minister Tuilaepa had deliberately violated the law about traditional gifts, especially with the General Election less than four weeks away.
Asked for a comment, Tuilaepa rubbished the claim.
“From my point of view, the only reason why they’ve delved into these things is because they’ve run out of things to argue with,” the Prime Minister said.
“They are starting to play the man, but not the ball. You see, members of the public are following these exchanges. And they can determine a leader judging from what they spew out of their mouth.
“If you keep on spewing words and they begin to notice that there is a big problem, what then?
“I’m starting to worry… if they keep this up, they are only losing points. Not everyone is stupid.”
Tuilaepa said it’s a pity because he wants a strong Opposition party.
“But if they continue to be slack, by bringing matters that will only cost them points, what happens is you cannot stop people from leaving,” he said, referring to members of the Tautua Party, abandoning the group. According to Tuilaepa, members of the Tautua Samoa Party are inciting his constituents and putting ideas into their heads.
Asked if the bestowal and the presentation of gifts were illegal, the Prime Minister was emphatic in his response.
“It’s not unlawful,” he said. “This would be the third time in a row that my constituency has decided that there there would be no election. It reflects a Constituency led by foresight and wisdom.”
Tuilaepa said his newest matai title was an honour from his family, not an election campaign, as the Tautua Party alluded to.
“From what I see, they (opposition) are inciting my constituency.
The Prime Minister explained that this is the time of the year where families are able to meet and discuss issues such as titles because most family members have time off from work during the Christmas and New Year Period.
“These events happen around this time when some of our relatives are taking some time away from work. Families come together for reunions,” said Tuilaepa.
“(From those gatherings) they agree on who will hold such an important title. That is an honour from your family, it has nothing to do with the election.”
Tuilaepa recalled that in the past 12 months, he has been conferred four titles - including one from Papua New Guinea.
“They must also think that title from P.N.G is part of the election campaign. But a campaign for who? The Papua New Guinea people?
“My title from there is the paramount chief of Papua. In Samoan, it is referred to as the matai sili. That is how you spell it, ‘sili’ in case you write down ‘silly.’”
Another matai title Tuilaepa recently received is the Galumalemana title from his wife’s family at Vaitele. He joked that the Opposition must think that the title is another election campaign.
“But its an honour from my wife’s family,” insisted Tuilaepa. “I must be the most hard working in law in the family who does not complain.”
Tuilaepa then took a journey down memory lane. Back in 1967 before Samoa accepted Universal Suffrage, Tuilaepa said candidates were bestowing matai titles on the trays of pick up trucks. That’s because only matai could vote then.
He said voters were given titles such as Supoesi, Sasalapa and some other random names.
As such, it was not unusual for one candidate to bestow 300 titles and some got as far as giving out 400 titles for the election.
The titles were commonly referred to as “election matai.”
Fast forward to today, things are different now, Tuilaepa said.
With all citizens over 21 allowed to vote, the Prime Minister said he does not need to have a bestowal ceremony to win an election. His government’s work speaks for itself.