I have been watching with great interest from afar the development of this issue in our beloved country. Interestingly, many, including the highly credentialed Rev Vaiao Eteuati, have been fooled by the apparent simplicity of the issue. But I do not see the issue as simply about the clergies paying taxes. Like the question that the Pharisees put to Jesus, the debate at which the government and the Ekalesia Fa’apotopotoga Kerisiano Samoa (E.F.K.S.) are now embroiled is more than tax. I see it as a question of authority, like in Jesus’ debate with the Pharisees, and a clash of Samoan and Christian values with the profane, imported colonial values of Tuila’epa and his party.
To gain insights into what is going on, one has to take a step or two back and look at what has been happening in Samoa since Tuila’epa became Prime Minister 20 years ago. Then, one needs to read with an analytical eye his recently published memoir, Palemia. The book is very revealing of what Tuila’epa is trying to achieve and how he sees himself.
The title of the book suggests a very confident and, to some extent, arrogant man. There have many Prime Ministers before him, and there will be many more after him, but he simply called his memoir, Palemia. He wants to tell the Samoans and the world that, he is the MAN! That he is the only Prime Minister that matters in the history of Samoa.
The book also suggests that, he is a man with a mission to re-form Samoa according to his ideas. There is an air of belief that he was predestined for the role. To reshape Samoa in line with Tuila’epa’s beliefs would require the abolition of cultural norms and established systems and structures. And this has been happening in the last 20 years, but only a handful of people seem to have noticed.
The fathers of our country that drafted the constitution had many models to choose from, but they opted for a form of government that combined democratic principles with Samoan mores and Christian values and the recognition of traditional systems like the matai system and its associated protocols. As a result, even though a notion of democracy was written into the constitution, only the matais were eligible to run for office and there was a kind of unwritten rule that only the Tama’aigas should hold the positions of Prime Minister and Head of State; a recognition of our respect of our culture. But if our much loved, first Prime Minister were to return today, he would no be able to recognise the constitution and Tuila’epa would probably ask him to be his driver at best. Such is his attitude towards those with big titles but with little education.
We talk with pride about our country as one that is well set and organised since time immemorial, providing for stability; but that is true only in rhetoric nowadays. The changes that Tuila’epa has made to the constitution has allowed him to do as he wishes, and the Tama’aigas and other paramount chiefs have lost, virtually, all their mamalus. They are now just like the Fais and the Lafais, setting up the stage for him to, one day, ascend to the office of Head of State.
The changes to the constitution are allowing him to enact laws to control virtually all facets of Samoan life. It is hard to believe, but the matai system and village governance are now under his control. He can affect village mayoral decisions, and his laws are essentially dictating who can be heads of families.
The public service has also changed so much to suit his desire to control everything that moves under the Samoan sun. When I was a public servant, the Public Service Commission appointed and dismissed all public servants. Now, all heads of government departments are political appointments. The Police Commissioner was always chosen from within the force, but the current Commissioner knew virtually nothing about policing in Samoa and likes to do things the American way.
Even sport cannot escape the intrusive hand of Tuila’epa. As is well known, he is the chairman of the Samoa Rugby Union. The man is so powerful that there is a feeling in the book that he sees himself as invincible. But there is one frontier that Tuila’epa has not captured, yet: the church, particularly the EFKS; Tuila’epa seems to have had all the other denominations in his pockets.
While watching the standoff between the E.F.K.S. and Tuila’epa develops, I soon realised also that, we are not just losing control of our lives and resources to Tuila’epa; we are also losing ourselves, our identity.
Tuila’epa has continually trampled over our values, the beautiful things that define us as a people. Things like deference and humility. Things like decency and compassion. The E.F.K.S. leadership is displaying all of these values, while Tuila’epa and his conceited Minister of Revenues display contempt and rudeness. So what we are seeing is the clash of Samoan and Christian values against an imported form of government and laws.
With Tuila’epa taking a totalitarian approach to governing, the democratic principles and processes used in drafting legislation are also being assailed. The processes require public consultation, especially with key stakeholders, but listening to him suggests there was no public consultation.
This reflects the confidence and arrogance of the Prime Minister who has no respect for anyone, but the one he sees in the mirror.
I hope I was able to shine some light on the issue, my fellow Samoans everywhere. The standoff between Tuila’epa and the E.F.K.S. has nothing to do with taxing the clergies. Like the debate between Jesus and the Pharisees about paying taxes, this also is not about taxes, but authority and values. What belonged to God was everything, including Caesar and the taxes paid to him.
Since Tuila’epa has got all the other denominations in Tuila’epa’s little pockets, the EFKS represents the final frontier in his conquest to own all of us. It is important that the EFKS stands firm against Tuila’epa’s bullying tactics.
For the rest of us, we also have to make a decision, whether to value our Fa’asamoa and Christian values and stand shoulder to shoulder with the EFKS, or to give in to the profanity and imported values of the Tuila’epa and his cohorts and let him take away ourselves and our resources.
Do not be like the German priest who refused to condemn Nazism, and when Hitler’s men turned up to arrest him, there was no one left to defend him. I have the sad feeling that our country is heading that way. Only us the people of Samoa can stop the insidious trashing of our Samoan and Christian values by Tuila’epa and his unfeeling team.
*O Apelu Tielu o se faife’au fa’au’u a le Ekalesia Tu’ufa’atasi a Ausetalia (Uniting Church in Australia) ma o lo’o galue nei i le Ekalesia PIC i Papakura, Aukilani, Niu Sila. O le susuga ia Tielu o ia fo’i o se tagata e iai le tomai i le tamao’aiga, o se saienetisi, o se faia’oga ma se tusitala. U tele ana tusitusiga ua lolomia i nusi pepa taua, ‘ese’ese.