A bill to amend the Constitution to define Samoa as a Christian State was tabled in Parliament yesterday.
The Constitutional Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2016 was presented by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi when Parliament convened for the last time this year.
The Constitutional amendment in relation to religion is one of two changes announced by Prime Minister Tuilaepa.
The second change proposed was tabled in the Constitutional Amendment Bill (No.1) 2016. The bill seeks to remove the appointment of the Director of Public Prosecutions, returning its powers and duties to the Attorney General.
Both changes were not discussed, as it was the first reading.
According to the Constitutional Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2016’s Explanatory Memorandum, it aims to insert in the Constitution that Samoa is a Christian nation to declare the dominance of Christianity in Samoa.
A pre-sitting briefing held on Monday gave the Members of Parliament the opportunity to ask questions about bills before Parliament reconvened yesterday.
According to the pre-sitting summary on the Legislative Assembly website, Attorney General, Lemalu Hermann Retzlaff explained the Constitutional changes.
Lemalu told M.Ps it would not affect the human rights protected under Article 11, which permits all citizens to practice their own particular religious beliefs.
Currently, reference to Christianity is in the Preamble but the amendment “will enshrine Christianity from within the body of the Constitution which effectively provides a legal definition of the State’s religion.”
Lemalu said the government is not attempting to control religion among its people but merely attempting to define the State religion.
As for the decision to return the powers of the Director of Public Prosecutor to the A.G, Lemalu also explained to M.Ps at the pre-sitting briefing the amendment would decrease the cost of operating a separate prosecution arm.
In addition, he said the amendment will lessen instances of ‘conflict of interest’ with the Attorney General subsequently overseeing all prosecution cases.
The separation of the A.Gs office and the N.P.O. was recently enacted.
Lemalu stated that as a result of recent events within the N.P.O., Cabinet decided that the previous structure, wherein prosecutions were handled by the Office of A.G. is preferable and also more cost effective.
“One Member commented that the principal act was not defective, but rather the implementation and monitoring processes were at fault for recent events within the NPO, and that in the future, the recruitment process for lawyers should be closely monitored,” stated the Legislative Assembly website.