An ava ceremony gave senior electoral officials from the Commonwealth Pacific Election Management Bodies (E.M.Bs) a taste of Samoa yesterday in Apia.
Held at Sheraton Samoa Aggie Grey’s Hotel, the officials are on island as part of the Commonwealth Election Professionals (C.E.P) Initiative to examine ways in which electoral democracy can be strengthened.
They are also discussing some of the key challenges and opportunities in delivering credible, inclusive and transparent elections.
The Acting Prime Minister, Papali’i Niko Lee Hang, welcomed the participants.
“We all know that elections present complex and ever evolving challenges for any country especially in electoral management bodies due to the nature of politics,” Papali’i said.
“It is critical for a healthy democracy that the electoral management bodies are independent despite pressures they have to endure throughout the election cycle.”
The Acting Prime Minister highlighted the value of teamwork.
“There is a saying in Samoan ‘o le tele o lima e mama ai se avega’ (the more hands, makes a burden light) meaning if we collectively work together it will lighten our work load.
“So the message here is clear that we have all gathered here today to work together, share our knowledge, understanding, expertise and most importantly our experiences as electoral professionals.
“So that at the end of this workshop you can confidently go home and say that you have planted a seed here in Apia and that one day that seed will spring out to bear fruits of healthy elections.”
Head of Caribbean & Pacific Section, Commonwealth Secretariat, Leulua’iali’i Albert Mariner, highlighted the importance of elections in democracy.
“Electoral Administrators are recognised as being at the frontline as custodians of democracy,” he said (see his speech).
“Democracy is one of the fundamental values of the Commonwealth. At the Secretariat, we provide practical technical assistance, peer-learning and hands-on training for the staff of election commissions.
“We do so as part of our mandate to deliver on the first article of the Commonwealth Charter, adopted by Heads of Government in 2012, which recognises: “the inalienable right of individuals to participate in democratic processes, in particular through free and fair elections in shaping the society in which they live.”
One of the flagship electoral programmes in the Secretariat is the Commonwealth Election Professionals Initiative.
Launched in 2013, the initiative is delivered through the Commonwealth Electoral Network, which connects electoral commissions in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Americas, Europe, and the Pacific. Samoa and Fiji are current members of the steering committee of the C.E.N, representing the Pacific.
The Apia workshop is the first of a series of Commonwealth Election Professionals (C.E.P) training events that will take place across the Commonwealth over the next three years.
Australia is funding the training.