Providing legal advice to Members of Parliament on draft Bills that are tabled in Parliament is a challenging role for the legal advisor to the Samoa Parliament, Dr. Lalotoa Mulitalo.
Dr. Mulitalo leads a team of six research officers at the Office of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly of Samoa, providing support to parliamentarians as part of her job under the Samoa Parliamentary Support Project (SPSP), a collaborative effort by UNDP, AusAid and partners.
On her role as legal advisor to Parliament, Dr. Lalotoa said, “I encourage parliamentarians to state their views and thus represent their constituencies effectively on proposed draft Bills. We want our elected lawmakers to be informed and confident to voice their views when Bills come up for passage through Parliament.”
Previously, the office title ‘Parliamentary Counsel’ was with the Attorney General’s Office, a position Dr Mulitalo held for 5 years. She was Team Leader of the Legislative Drafting Division, responsible for drafting all government Bills for passage through Parliament. Now Dr. Mulitalo holds the same title but this time with Parliament, now making available legislative drafting services to the Members for Select Committee amendments to draft Bills, or private member’s bills.
In her capacity as part of the SPSP, Dr. Mulitalo provides legal advice to all Members of Parliament as well as the Clerk and the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. She offers explanations of the draft Bills to help Members better understand the intentions of different Bills, and the purposes for which they were drafted. She puts law proposals into their proper legal contexts and advises on the proposed benefits and likely impacts of a Bill, and a Bill’s possible place/position in the fabric of current and existing laws of Samoa.
Dr. Mulitalo is excited and looking forward to drafting a first ever Private Member’s Bill in the history of Samoa, and as explained this is a draft law that can be initiated and introduced in Parliament by a non-government Member.
“My work is challenging but also very rewarding when you think of the positive impact on the development of our nation and on people’s lives, I look forward to being instructed by a Member to draft the first Private Member’s Bill in the history of the Parliament of Samoa,”
The Human Rights Protection Party Government won the last general elections held in March, 2011, with a majority of 37 seats. For the first time since independence, however, an official opposition was formed within the Parliament, comprising 12 members from the Tautua Samoa Party. Against this background, the UNDP Multi-Country Office in Samoa developed a project to support Samoa’s parliament by strengthening the capacity of all Members of Parliament to use parliamentary processes to more effectively engage with national development issues and build greater transparency in its work processes so that the Samoan public have a better understanding of and trust in its elected parliament.
UNDP Resident Coordinator, Ms. Lizbeth Cullity said of the project, “Parliamentarians need to be able to access expert research and advice for the development of solid draft legislation. This project has assisted in the strengthening of Parliament and as such helps support the “checks and balances” conducted by the three branches of government.”
“The SPSP project is of great value – it not only strengthens the capacity of Members of Parliament to carry out their roles and responsibilities but also fosters democratic processes in the country. It serves the people of this country as Members of Parliament will be more capacitated to use parliamentary processes to scrutinize law proposals whether they are contributing to the economic, social and environmentally sustainable development of Samoa,” explains the Head of the Governance and Poverty Reduction Unit at the UNDP Multi-Country Office in Samoa, Sala Georgina Bonin.
The project started in 2012, with funding from multiple donors including Australian government DFAT, Government of Samoa, Pacific Parliamentary Partnership Programme and the UNDP Multi-Country Office in Samoa, and is now expended to June 2016.
Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Laauli Polataivao Leuatea Polataivao Fossie Schmidt is very supportive of the parliamentary strengthening project, and acknowledged with gratitude the assistance by UNDP, AusAID, PPPP and the Government of Samoa, with a special mention of the assistance by Dr. Mulitalo, which has greatly helped in facilitating the understanding of proposed laws for MPs, and especially for new parliamentarians.
Speaker Laauli wants a continuation of the funding assistance from the international community and for a greater impartiality of the Parliament as he prefers to have the drafting of laws (pursuant to a Select Committee or a Member of Parliament request) and Standing Orders of Parliament to be carried out by Parliament’s Legal Counsel rather than be taken up by the Attorney General’s Office, which is the principal legal advisor to the Government, and is only subject to the Government. To ensure the independence and impartiality of the 3 arms of a democratic Samoa, independent legal services must also be made available to Parliament.
“The Parliament needs its independence from the other two organs of government, the Executive and the Judiciary, so we need to build up the capacity of its secretariat to provide efficient secretariat services to the Members of Parliament and at the end of the day contributing to democracy,” Laauli said.
“The Samoan Parliament has done a lot of work recognising and adopting international agreements and aligning itself to the modern global world. In the future, I’d like to see some day all papers tabled in parliament not in bulky folders but on tablets using wifi connection. With a new Parliament in a few weeks time, there will be a lot of work introducing new members to parliamentary procedures.”
Laauli is proud that Samoa has adopted a law to increase the representation of women in parliament to 10%, which is another project with UNDP and DFAT funding, and says Samoa is setting a standard for its neighbouring islands in achieving this political milestone.
The UNDP parliamentary support project had four pillars, 1), strengthened effective leadership and accountability of Members of Parliament and political parties; 2), strengthened law-making and committee oversight in support of the achievements of the Millennium Development Goals; 3), supported the engagement of the public with the Members of Parliament, especially with regards to young people and women; and 4), provided efficient, professional and high quality administrative support and services to the Members of Parliament and other key client groups.
The SPSP project has been extended to June 2016, and the challenge then will be for stakeholders to continue strengthening the capacity of the parliamentarians to ensure that project outputs are not lost. For this, it is currently being discussed to move the position of the legal advisor into the budget of the parliament.