What is the message behind Prime Minister’s salary cut?

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

The irony is simply hard to ignore. On the front page of last Sunday’s Samoa Observer was a story titled “Cabinet approves salary increases for Judges.”

As the headline reveals, a Cabinet paper received by the Samoa Observer confirmed that a proposal by the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration to raise the salaries of Justices in the Supreme Court, Judges of the District Court and the Land and Titles Court had been given the nod.

But there was something far more interesting in F.K. (18) 17. Buried among the salary raises for the Judges of the Court was a small note at the bottom about the Prime Minister’s salary. 

It just said that the Prime Minister’s salary of $187,500 per annum is subjected to a restructure as recommended by the Salary Tribunal so that it would eventually be reduced to $182,070 per annum. That is a reduction of $5430.

Now in the bigger scheme of things, the amount is probably insignificant. There are other ways where the holder of the Prime Minister position can make up for it.

Still, the idea that the Prime Minister’s salary has been slashed will no doubt raise eyebrows with people asking a lot of questions. 

Which should be the case. Folks, here we have all Judges of the Court being given salary raises and yet the holder of what is arguably the most important position on the land has had his pay cut. 

What message is the Government sending out with this decision?

Now enter outspoken Member of Parliament, Olo Fiti Vaai, who is an ardent critic of Tuilaepa and his administration. Two days after the news broke, he described the decision as “insulting.”

 “This is where the Government should apply common sense,” Olo said. “The Prime Minister has been a public servant for many years and this is what he gets in return? A reduction on his salary? This is an insult and this Tribunal recommendation should not be considered at all.”

And to ensure his point is well and truly hammered home, Olo struck an emotional nerve.

Listen to him again: “I am not speaking as a politician, rather I speak as a citizen of this great country. Considering the accomplishments and how Samoa has come since independence if anything, his salary should at least be $300,000.”

And why should the Prime Minister’s salary be increased to that amount, Olo was asked.

“He has numerous commitments,” Olo said. “Not only that he is the leader of the Government, but he’s also Head of Parliament. He’s the Chairman of the Samoa Rugby Union, the Patron for the Samoa Fa’afafine Association; the current Chairman of the Pacific Island Leaders Forum.” 

“In Parliament, Tuilaepa is the Leader of the House as he is the Leader of the party in Government, and as identified in Standing Order.” 

Now that’s a new one, in as far as most people are concerned. 

Asked to elaborate on what he meant by saying that the Prime Minister is the Leader of Parliament, Olo said: “Under our new standing orders since our election into office, any Government Bill may be presented to the Assembly by the Prime Minister as Leader of the House and it’s clear under the Standing order of Parliament for our sitting this term.” 

“On top of that the Prime Minister also advises the Head of State.” 

But that’s not all, Olo said. 

“He also heads the Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Public Service Commission, Legislative Assembly, Office of the Attorney General, Office of the Ombudsman, Samoa Law Reform Commission, Ministry of Police and Fire and Emergency Services Authority.”

“That is why I resent the move to reduce the Prime Minister’s salary.”

There is no doubt about it, Olo has a valid point, one many Samoans would agree with. The fact is that whether you love or loathe Prime Minister Tuilaepa, his work over the years speaks for itself. 

Come to think of it, there must be method to thy madness. 

We know Tuilaepa is the man lording over Cabinet, which means that he would ultimately have had the final say in this matter. 

Obviously Prime Minister Tuilaepa is sending out an encrypted message not just to his party, public servants but also the entire population. 

Coming at a time when the Government has come under enormous scrutiny for raising taxes and forcing Church Ministers to pay taxes, this decision is well calculated and well timed. And what is the message?

Well don’t be shy, tell us what you think?

Have productive Thursday Samoa, stay tuned and God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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