The possibility of Samoa having a female as the Head of State in the future is being considered by the government.
The plan is revealed in a Cabinet Directive (FK (17) 33 where the Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (M.P.M.C.) has been tasked to lead the preparations for the review of the Head of State Act 1965.
The Cabinet Directive was referred to in the Public Service Commission’s last newsletter for 2017.
The newsletter points out that a Review Committee within the M.P.M.C. has been established for this task.
“This review was prompted by Cabinet to reflect changes made to the Constitution regarding the Head of State post,” the notice reads.
“Some of these changes include but are not limited to the eligibility criteria, the number of years or the duration of service and the possibility of having a female Head of State in the future.
“Other key changes that will be proposed deals with changing the agency responsible for administering the Head of State Act from the Legislative Assembly to the Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.”
Furthermore the Review Instructions which includes the proposed changes is currently being developed and will be forwarded to the Attorney General’s Office upon completion.
Last November, the Constitution Amendment Bill (No.3) 2017 which proposes to limit the Head of State’s post to two terms was tabled.
The limitation of the two terms for the Head of State is part of the review mentioned above in the Cabinet Directive FK (17) 33 where the Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet was tasked to lead the preparations for the review.
It’s unclear at the moment whether the Review Instructions has been forwarded to Attorney General, as emails sent to the Lemalu Herman Retzlaff have not been responded to.
Questions sent to Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Chief Executive Officer, Agafili Shem Leo on the status of the Review Instructions have also not responded to.
During Parliament sitting in November, 2017, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi explained that the government is proposing to give the holder of the Head of State title a 10-year two-terms limit.
This is as opposed to the current practice where members of ruling H.R.P.P. vote on the position after every five years.
As reported earlier, speaking about the amendment Tuilaepa said the change gives the position the respect it deserves. As it stands, he said it is not a good look when such a highly esteemed role is subjected to a vote every five years.
Given the smallness of Samoa, Tuilaepa admitted that such a vote would always be a sensitive matter given family and blood connections.
But should the amendment be passed, there are conditions.
One of them is that after the holder serves his/her 10-year term, he/she will be retired from the position forever.
Tuilaepa used the term “malolo manumalo” or “victorious retirement” to describe the exit by future holders.
“This is not a new amendment,” he told Parliament yesterday.
“This is the result of an agreement discussed during an H.R.P.P. caucus meeting. We have 47 of 50 members of this Parliament and we have all come to the conclusion that this is the best way forward.”
Tuilaepa added that 10 years for someone to hold an “honorary” titular role reflects the respect and honour afforded to the position.
The amendment was widely supported by Members of Parliament.
However Salega’s M.P., Olo Fiti Va’ai, objected saying the appointment should be made for life.
He criticised the fact the vote is now solely made by H.R.P.P. members outside of Parliament. Olo argued that to maintain integrity of the position, the vote should be conducted inside Parliament where Samoa meets. This is how democracies should operate.
P.M. Tuilaepa disagreed and he immediately took the floor to correct Olo. He said the appointment of His Highness Tuimaleali’ifano was made in Parliament. Members of the H.R.P.P. only discussed and made their recommendations outside Parliament but the actual appointment only took place when Parliament convened.
“But there was not vote (inside Parliament),” Olo argued. “That was done outside Parliament. This does not reflect democratic practices.”
Tuilaepa refused to accept this.
“I want to correct the member who keeps getting this wrong,” he said. “He is an old member of Parliament and he still doesn’t understand these things. The appointment was made in Parliament.”
At that point, Speaker of Parliament, Tole’afoa Leaupepe Fa’afisi, advised Olo to move away from the issue. He reminded him that “whatever the government says, it is final.”
To which Olo responded, “Alright then, let people be the judge. But that is my opinion.”
Tuilaepa again objected.
“When your opinion is wrong, we have a responsibility to correct it. And if you keep getting it wrong, we will correct you every time,” the Prime Minister told Olo.
In response, Olo said: “Can you let us be right for once, everything we say is wrong, wrong, wrong according to you.”
Looking at the bill, Olo raised a couple of points. First he said the 10-year appointment is an expensive decision since Samoa will have to mint new coins and print new money notes every time a new Head of State is appointed.
He suggested that since the government has moved away from only appointing only Tama Aiga to the role, instead of the Head of State, the position should be called “Governor General.”
“This is appropriate since anyone now, as opposed to holders of the Tama Aiga titles, can become a head of State.”
Olo also questioned the government’s influence on the position. He expressed disappointment that Head of State appears to be controlled by the government.
He referred to part of the bill where the Head of State has seven days to sign an issue into law. If he refuses, the Prime Minister will have the power to assign someone else to sign instead of the Head of State.
“What roles do the members of the Council of Deputies serve then?” he asked. He wondered if they are just there for formalities when the Prime Minister controls everything.
Associate Minister and Faleata’s Member of Parliament, Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi supported the amendment. He reminded that the role of the Head of State is a government appointment that the Constitution stipulates anyone can hold the position, regardless of whether you are a Tama Aiga or not.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa strongly denied the claims from Olo.
He said Members of Parliament and members of the public have a lot of time to make their views known since bill has now been referred to a Parliamentary committee.