Criminal Libel, Ole Palemia and corruption in high places

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

It’s a done deal. Prime Minister Tuilaepa and Samoa’s one-party state Parliament have gleefully brought back the Criminal Libel Act into the law books of Samoa. 

They did this with ease during this year’s last Parliament session at Tuana’imato where hardly a soul objected during the discussion of the Crimes Amendment Bill.

 In fact, the reintroduction of the law, which had been abolished in 2013, passed the first, second and third reading within less than an hour. 

And with that ladies and gentlemen, Samoa has taken a step back to the dark ages since this ancient piece of legislation has been outlawed in most civilised societies around the world.

And yet in Samoa today, in the 21st century, the leaders of this nation have quite happily resorted to it as if it’s the answer to all our problems. Pity that given the amount of laui’as with big brains in the government involved in this fiasco.

Surely one of them could have piped up to tell their leader that in the eyes of the world, Samoa looks like a country stuck in the past with such a barbaric law being used to threaten and gag people.

But then who could possibly oppose what the Prime Minister wants. Having lorded over the affairs of the 38-year-old H.R.P.P. for close to 20 years, what he says goes. 

Which means the passing of the Bill would have been quite a proud moment for Prime Minister Tuilaepa and all their big fishes. 

You see since the news broke, he has been instrumental in bringing back the law, as part of a government-driven effort to clamp down on “ghost writers” such as “Ole Palemia” and others who use anonymous social media pages to push their agenda.

When it comes to faceless bloggers and people who abuse freedom of information to vent unfounded and personal attacks on others – including innocent members of the public - the government has got a legitimate concern. 

Here at the Samoa Observer, we don’t subscribe to the idea that freedom of information and expression should be used to abuse and hurt people. 

Instead we believe freedom of information and expression should be used to build our country and allow a vibrant exchange of views and ideas so that people are informed, educated and entertained. That includes views we don’t necessarily agree with. That after all is what the media is about. 

This is what should be encouraged.

Then there is also the media’s role as a watchdog of the government, which we believe, is what the Criminal Libel law is really designed to discourage. 

When people are afraid to speak up and express their views, democracy withers and dies. For the media, when sources dry up because they are afraid, corruption will thrive and people suffer. 

It’s hard to deny that in Samoa today, especially in the government, there is a real climate of fear where people are afraid to criticise their leaders because of repercussions. Contrary to what they say about Samoa being a free country, people, especially in government, are afraid to speak to the media. Some of them know they are being monitored. Which is a sad turn of event. 

What does that have to do with Criminal Libel and Samoa today? 

Put it this way, if the government wanted to track down Ole Palemia and other faceless bloggers who are critical of them, they will not catch them using Criminal Libel. 

How can you prosecute a ghost-writer? How can you bring criminal charges against someone whom you have no idea who they are?

The fact is this piece of legislation exists to cripple media operators who are trying to be the watchdog of government – under conditions that are already hard enough. It is designed to silent dissent and shut up people who disagree with the status quo.

This is a sad day for this country. We say this because there are much more pressing issues the government should prioritise. There are stories of austere corruption that have been permeating unstoppably throughout the public service which have yet to be addressed appropriately.

Take for instance the issues raised by the Controller and Chief Auditor, Fuimaono Camillo Afele, in his report to Parliament for the periods ended 30 June, 2010 and 30 June, 2011 which revealed allegations of unbridled corruption in the government. The report was referred to the Officers of Parliament Committee (O.P.C.), chaired by then Associate Minister Papali’i Niko Lee Hang to investigate. In the end, they backed and proven a number of allegations raised by Chief Auditor Fuimaono. They even found collusion to defraud taxpayers of millions of tala.

We don’t need to go into details. You know what we are talking about.

The point here is about consistency in the pursuit for truth and justice. Here is the government using its power to bully people they see as a threat to them by bringing back an old piece of legislation that has been discarded by most democracy.

But where is the consistency then? 

If they are hell-bent on catching bloggers and people expressing their views, what are they doing then to people – public servants – found to have abused their positions, public assets and monies?

Which public servants are subjected to investigations, scrutiny and eventually sacked and which ones are forgiven and allowed to get away with breaking the law and rewarded? Isn’t everyone supposed to be the same under the law? Or are there people who are above the law in Samoa?

Why do we get the feeling that the government is again up to its old ways of trying to silent the independent media so that its reign as an undisputed one-party state remains forever? 

Tell us what you think!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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