A series of editorials published in the Samoa Observer between Thursday 26 May, and Monday 30 May, has apparently incurred the wrath of Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who retaliated by attacking the Samoa Observer’s editorial writers as “shameless, one-sided ... revisionist(s).”
And yet, according to the Samoa Observer, the editorials that Tuilaepa is complaining about, told the truth, and nothing but the truth.
His displeasure showed up clearly in his responses during an interview with the Savali Newspaper last week, a text of which was forwarded to the Observer by Acting Press Secretary, Renate Rivers.
It is published in verbatim below.
Today's editorial, “Power ... corrupt(s), and absolute power corrupts absolutely ... ,
SAVALI NEWSPAPER interview with the Prime Minister on the Budget, Passports and Manu Samoa
Good morning, Sir. We've just wrapped a successful Independence Day out at the Faleata Sports Complex, and the new budget has just been unveiled so there is a strong feeling of national pride and hopefulness for the future and what lies ahead for our country. As former Minister of Finance, what is your take on the new budget?
As you know, the theme for the new budget is "Strengthening the Foundations: Building for Tomorrow", so it is very clear what government is aiming for here - putting in the work and laying the building blocks today for a more resilient and robust economy tomorrow. This is very important when you consider that Samoa's economy, due to our size and location, is highly sensitive to external shocks such as a global economic downturn, natural disasters, and the effects of climate change.
The new Minister of Finance has taken the path to consolidation. What this means for government is stricter controls over spending, a tougher stance on complacency and a fair distribution of resources. Last year I tabled a budget calling for Samoa to live within our means, and this year we want to build stronger and sustainable for tomorrow.
So what does that mean for the average person in Samoa, who is trying to earn a living and support their family and community?
It means that government is going to focus on strengthening policies and developments that will yield long-term benefits for all. We have to build a movement towards sustainable long-term development. This won't mean immediate wealth and prosperity, no.
We are still focusing on job creation for our young people and stimulating growth in the private sector because that is the backbone of any economy. Our tourism sector is one of our biggest revenue earners, so government is working to improve infrastructure and create more opportunities for visitors to come to Samoa and spend their foreign currency here.
We want individuals, families, communities to have gainful employment, and increase the standard of living of every single person in Samoa. There are a number of ways this is going to happen - everything from raising the capacity of the Seasonal Employment schemes with New Zealand and Australia, to development of tourism initiatives we have in the pipelines, to huge telecommunications upgrades that will change how Samoa connects to the rest of the world. And of course agriculture production to be given greater emphasis. Cattle, sheep, piggeries, poultry and sheep farming, not to forget vegetable farming which the Chinese are helping us with, and we are continuously experimenting to introduce new taro varieties to meet the heavy demand in New Zealand and other medicinal herbal drinks which we also export. So far fish exports top all our exports since we have two fishing companies operating in Samoa.
Now let's talk about recent media coverage rehashing passport scandals from the nineties and casting doubt on Parliamentary procedures. The Samoa Observer has printed old editorials from almost twenty years ago, suggesting that a previous HRPP government sold passports.
This is 2016. We are in the 21st century, so the newspaper coverage of old issues from almost twenty years ago says a lot about what kind of bubble some of these newspaper people are living in. It means they have run out of news.
But what do you make of these editorials?
Aside from the fact that they are, at best, revisionist? Well, I am told that these editorials are full of the usual shameless, one-sided commentary we have come to expect from the Observer.
Casting back to those years, I recall that the issue was cleared up by a Commission of Inquiry as well as investigations by Police and the subsequent prosecution which zeroed in on two officials who were alleged to have sold Samoan passports. Since no one is guilty until proven so by court, we had expected that the issue of selling passports would be clear then. However, one of the accused officials died before the court case and when the second official's case was heard, it was dismissed due to a legal technicality which subsequently lead to amendments in our legislation.
Therefore, what was an administrative and procedural failure within the Immigration department back then, was manipulated in to a political game of innuendo and trickery by some opposition MPs. This was fed to the public through coverage by media owners who were sympathetic and pandered to the opposition.
The Observer's statement that there was no debate in Parliament regarding this passport issue is utter rubbish.
The Hansard Record in Parliament will show that there was plenty of discussion after Prime Minister Tofilau delivered his report to confirm in Parliament that the government was wrongfully accused of illegally granting citizenship and a passport to a foreigner whose granddaughter was awarded a scholarship under the government scheme, documentary proofs were provided in Parliament by Tofilau, proving that the decision for the granddaughter followed logically from the fact that the grandfather, and therefore his offspring in Samoa, were also granted citizenship by the former Minister of Immigration in the previous government, which the HRPP succeeded.
I remember vividly that debate because reference was also made to my signing, as Acting Prime Minister when the Prime Minister was overseas, of the documents on the grant of the passport to the student after it was ascertained by the Head of Immigration that the law had been complied with. Sano should check his facts before he starts to write about issues that he has obviously chosen to forget.
The editorials also claim there was a grand Foreign Investment scheme to sell our passports to rich foreigners.
This government has and continues to approve citizenship for all sorts of people from diverse regions across the globe including Asia.
We grant citizenship to Europeans, Americans, Pacific Islanders, Australasians and anyone else who decides they want to call Samoa home. This is what governments do.
What that newspaper is trying to do is to cast doubt on a particular group of immigrants. Whether this is due to a fear of foreigners, or a dislike for change, or development or simply racist, it's hard to tell because these editorials are always bursting full of personal opinion and sweeping generalisations. Many of the so-called facts they give are nothing more than personal opinion.
The government welcomes foreign investment! It's the only real way we can develop our private sector, which as everyone knows, is the backbone of any economy. How else are we to generate more employment for our growing population of young people? The fear-mongering by the media about foreign investment in Samoa is at odds with their own recurring complaints that government is not doing enough to create jobs or address social issues that stem from stagnant development.
So which is it? Do these armchair critics want Samoa to develop and attract new opportunities, or do they want to keep out foreigners due to unwarranted fears of foreigners owning too many businesses in the country? To me these so called critics are racists of sorts.
And more importantly, what does the public want? The answer to that is the resounding victory and belief in government's vision, as shown in our March elections. The country trusts and believes in our plans for the future, that's why Parliament is almost entirely held by HRPP.
So you, acting for Tofilau, didn't have a hand in approving citizenship for foreigners who otherwise were not entitled to it?
Look, government does not stop when the leader is away overseas. That is a fact. The work of government doesn't stop or wait for anyone, not even for a Prime Minister. If I am traveling overseas, there is someone appointed to take over in my stead.
As government leaders, we are signatory to many different issues of importance: from multilateral agreements, Parliamentary bills, Cabinet decisions all the way down to maternity leave forms and bank withdrawal slip approvals for donations for our church fundraisers.
We sign to approve, confirm, delegate, assign, authorise so that government business flows smoothly.
It was in this capacity that I fulfilled my duties and approved citizenship for a great many people who had been processed by the officials and put forward for approval. This is what all Prime Ministers have done, going back years and years. When I became Prime Minister I changed the system. Those who have fulfilled our citizenship requirements have to take their oaths and have their citizenship certificates handed out to them and witnessed by the Cabinet Ministers in session.
Maybe the Observer's writers don't remember as well as they think they do, but I suppose if you have a selective memory, you tend to ignore other facts that don't suit your narrow field of vision.
And what of the claims of missing and sold passports? That you knew about it and did nothing?
Once we knew, having read about the alleged sales from the reports, we acted.
Government is a great big machine, with many different moving parts. You trust that good governance measures in place will keep everything running smoothly. But nothing is ever perfect, so once this passport issue was identified we were able to move quickly and appointed a Commission of Inquiry to look in to it, and ensuing Police investigations identified the individuals responsible for illegally selling passports.
As I said before, as a result of the investigations, government moved to improve legislation and amend the Crimes Ordinance at the time to include illegal acts committed by citizens employed by government outside of Samoa. This is now provided for under the Crimes Act 2013.
What this means is that government proactively took steps to remedy the legal framework, which was lacking, and increased accountability across the spectrum.
Why do you think this issue is still being raised by other media?
Perhaps it's because the HRPP has recently made history with its landslide victory in our general elections, and some old dogs still have a bone to pick about that. But with old dogs, their bark is usually worse than their bite.
Now that we have no more opposition party, maybe the Observer has decided to take on the role themselves and keep up the tradition of barking up the wrong tree.
All in all, these wasteful tales from Sano these past few weeks can be summed up in two letters.. BS!
Speaking of landslide victories, do you predict the same for the Manu Samoa vs Georgia this weekend?
I shall leave that prediction for the Manu Samoa to respond.