Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi did not mince words when he blasted the Principal, teachers and parents of students attending Avele College during a closed meeting on Thursday.
Held at the Prime Minister’s Office, the media was barred.
But a recording of the meeting obtained by the Weekend Observer indicates that the Prime Minister was not happy about the behavior that has led to the closure of the school. He blamed the Principal, Lesaisaea Reupena Matafeo, and the teachers first and foremost.
“The reason why we called for this meeting is because we don’t have any more faith in the Principal and teachers of Avele,” Tuilaepa told the gathering. “I have the old Avele (Avele Tuai) Constitution here. It says that whenever there is a school fight, the old students would have to walk around with umbrellas and the little boys have to observe them well.
“If they put up the umbrella, it means that they have to fight. If they don’t, it means that they don’t have to fight. That has continued even up until now and that is a very bad spirit.”
Tuilaepa said only assassins harbour such codes and methods. “The bad thing is that these old boys graduate from Avele and then go back and teach at the school, continuing on with such behavior. And the students are told to do the same thing. So they will continue to fight when they see that the umbrella is up.”
Referring to the decision to close the school a nearly two weeks ago, Tuilaepa said the goal was to protect the students from other schools.
“This is a very sensitive issue,” he said. “It is a very difficult issue that is getting worse and out of control. Students have used a lot of very dangerous weapons that harm innocent members of the public.
“And they’ve affected the lives of students from other schools. Hence why the government stepped up to make a quick decision.”
Tuilaepa also referred to incidents in the past. “Just months ago, there was a gathering of schools in front of the government building. It was the aftermath of another school brawl in town, which almost affected Police officers.
“At this gathering, I made a promise that the government will take action if another fight breaks out again that puts the safety of members of the public at risk.
“The statement I made was general. But even after that, interschool violence emerged again with Avele College being involved again.
“So I asked myself, where are the teachers and the principal of Avele College while these kids are out there causing trouble? “Where are the people that signed and shook hands with other schools and reconciled with them and said that it won’t happen again?”
In Tuilaepa’s opinion, the staff of Avele College did not take his statement seriously.
Today, Tuilaepa is adamant that there is no reason to re-open the school, unless he and his Cabinet could be persuaded and convinced that the students would change their ways.
“I was there when the government back then decided to bring back Avele; when it was closed before. But I am not afraid to make the decision to close Avele. There are other schools available for all the students. Schools that have never been involved with the school fights.”
The Prime Minister also blasted Principal Lesaisaea, suggesting that he might be the person bringing bad luck to the school. “I don’t know if there’s a curse on you or what?” Tuilaepa said.
“This is the third government department you’ve worked for and led and none of it has ended up well. So I’m starting to wonder if you’re the reason why all of this is happening to Avele?”
Tuilaepa then asked the gathering to try and understand the reasons for Cabinet’s decision. “We want all of you to see and understand why we made the decision,” he said. “We’ve been trying to put a stop to this problem and there is no guarantee that it will stop now. We don’t know that and we don’t want to take that risk again.”
Tuilaepa said Cabinet would meet on Monday when they will make a decision. In the meantime, he has given the school an ultimatum, to come up with an undertaking that the behavior of the students will change, should the school reopen.
“So the fate of the school is in your hands, and you will make the decision for the school. So you have to come up with strong and valid reasons why we should open Avele again.
“And also you have to come up with ideas and solutions that can convince us that Avele will no longer be involved in any fights in the future.
“And if we make a decision on Monday to give your school one more time, we will sign a memorandum which all of you will sign. And if there will be another fight after that, we won’t be having these kinds of meetings anymore. We will just close the school.”
In response, Principal Lesaisaea acknowledged Prime Minister Tuilaepa for taking the time to explain Cabinet’s decision.
“A loving parent is one who speaks the truth and one who corrects the wrongdoings of their children,” he said.
Lesaisaea conceded that there was no need for them to build wall so they could hide their faults behind it.
“All of us understand and accept all that you said. Because this is not the first time our school had been involved with interschool violence.”
He apologised on behalf of the students, teachers, parents and the Old students of Avele College.
“We understand that we are all at fault. And we ask for your forgiveness.”
He then pleaded with Prime Minister Tuilaepa to give Avele another chance.
“Thank you for the great reminder for all of us. This is a wakeup call for all of us to rise up to our duties and responsibilities. Let yesterday’s mistake be a lesson for today and most importantly for the future.”