My reflections on Parliament

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Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Ta’isi Efi
The Head of State 
Message at the Official closing of the 
2011-2015 Parliamentary Term

 

Through God’s love and grace we have today reached the end of our 15th Parliamentary term. God has given us many blessings over the last five years, but equally He has given us many challenges and responsibilities. I offer as part of our proceedings some brief words of reflection, not only on our achievements over the last five years, but also on our challenges and responsibilities moving forward.

Last year Samoa published through its Office of the Ombudsman and the newly established National Human Rights Institute its very first State of Human Rights report.1

Advocating for human rights is advocating for the humane treatment of all people at all times. It is advocating for the right of every human person, no matter what their status or position in society, to have all that they need to have to enable him or her to live a healthy, dignified, safe, and empowering life.

The aforementioned Ombudsman’s report highlights the importance of probing and understanding how the concept of human rights, as an international discourse, sits within the conceptual frameworks of Samoa – within our faasamoa, our core values and customs. The report reminds us that concepts, such as human rights, make more sense if we can see how they relate to our everyday lives; how they fit within our visions and dreams for ourselves, for our children and the future.

Our Constitution, the supreme law of our land, prohibits inhumane practices. It prohibits the abuse of power and corruption in any shape or form; it counsels against violence and demands accountability and transparency.

Our Constitution holds the wisdom and dreams of both our forebears and our children to come. We must always tread carefully, not with fear but with love, whenever we revisit the Constitution, lest we tread carelessly on those dreams.

Our government, public servants and civil society (including our faith- based social services) have worked hard and invested resources in projects that promote positive and increased awareness of civic rights and responsibilities, including the translation of universal principles and concepts, such as human rights, democracy, development and good governance, into local frameworks and vice versa.

Our 15th Parliament has served Samoa well, not only in terms of its work in the area of human rights but also in raising critical public consciousness about their civic rights and duties, both core to the foundations of a Parliamentary democracy.

The following provides an indication of the achievements of this Parliament over the last five years. It is indicative not exhaustive.

In 2011, the first year of this 15th Parliament, the government owned SamoaTel was privatised. This move by government enabled the introduction of new technology and competition to Samoa, bringing submarine optic fibre cable connectivity to Samoa for the first time and enabling the set-up of Moana TV, an internet protocol television service – a first not only for Samoa but also for the South Pacific.

On the 1st of June 2012 we celebrated Samoa’s 50thanniversary as an independent modern state and paid tribute to all who sacrificed so that we can enjoy the freedoms and liberties we now take for granted. In December of that same year we were once again reminded, however, of our increasing susceptibility to natural disasters. Cyclone Evan was heralded as the worst cyclone to hit Samoa in two decades. It took a dozen lives in Samoa, much less than in Fiji, and destroyed many homes and livelihoods.2 We will always be grateful to all who gave so selflessly from around the world to our recovery.

Of note in 2013 was the amendment to the Constitution that has enabled a definite increase in female participation in national politics next election – an assured increase in female political participation in Parliament from its current status of just under 5% to at least 10% of the House. This is a major milestone for Samoa and for a Pacific Parliament.

Women today make up just under half of Samoa’s total population and are slightly more in number than men in the 65 years and older age group. And women and children are highlighted in the Ombudsman’s report as the main victims of domestic violence, including sexual abuse and incest. It is time that we as leaders of our great nation find effective ways to deal with this problem. The cost, as we are now witnessing, of not doing so is too high.

Throughout this five year Parliamentary term, this 15th Parliament has made significant inroads into addressing youth offending, family violence and alcohol and illegal drug dependency. The establishment during this period of the Olomanu Juvenile Facility, the Family Court, the Family Violence Court, the Drugs and Alcohol Court, and the National Human Rights Institute, is clear evidence of a commitment by the key partners to working effectively together – i.e. the Law and Justice sector, the Law Reform Commission, our donor partners and this 15thParliament.

The inaugural State of Human Rights report specifically mentions “data collection” as a key area for future Parliamentary attention and strengthening. Education and community outreach, policy and funding were also recognised as overarching areas in need of closer attention. Best practice and/or evidence based decision-making, especially at the national level, relies heavily on the proper development, maintenance, collection and reporting of good quality research and evaluation data. This is a key challenge for the next Parliament.

In 2014 Samoa hosted the 3rd United Nations International Small Island Developing States (SIDS) conference which, in the main, focused on the two key themes of the century – climate change and sustainable development. Both impact most on the health and wellbeing of small island states like Samoa.

Over three and a half thousand delegates from 115 countries across the world participated in the conference, enjoyed our hospitality and contributed to our local economy. Hosting the SIDS conference was a significant milestone for Samoa and for this Parliament for it lifted Samoa’s international standing as a host nation and undoubtedly contributed to our winning the rights to host the Commonwealth Youth Games the following year.

Samoa can be proud of her sports men and women, her public servants and private businesses. Many have achieved international standing in their chosen fields and despite considerable odds. They are inspirational role models for all but especially the young.

I end my reflections by first recognising those private citizens and active coalition groups – those within government or across governments, the opposition, donor groups, the diplomatic corp., the public service, churches, villages, civil society, and private businesses –who have made a public stance, whether large or small, against personal and/or institutional violence, corruption and/or abuse over the last five years.

Pope Francis in his New Year’s address this year warned against the destructive forces of cynicism and indifference. He encouraged us “not to lose hope in our human ability to conquer evil and to combat resignation and indifference” and spoke inspiringly about our human capacity as God’s children “to rise above self-interest, apathy and indifference” to ultimately do what is right and “to show solidarity” in times of crisis.

Our Constitution and its supporting institutions and structures were made for us by us; they were made by our forebears with the assistance of some wise counsels for our current and future benefit. As prudent and loving leaders we must be constantly open to evaluating and re-evaluating the wisdom, relevance and justice of our Constitutional provisions before we exercise our power to amend them. Constitutional amendments ought only to be done where it is determined, after rigorous debate and scrutiny in the House and the appropriate support of the people, to be the right and just thing to do.

Secondly, I acknowledge all our overseas families and friends who have continued to faithfully contribute to our remittances income, which alongside what we earned through tourism, has helped to finance all of our foreign trade (of goods only) deficit since 2005.4 We acknowledge your sacrifice and your love and support of your families and friends. I know that your families thank you and Samoa thanks you.

I want to leave you with the words of a native American Indian priest, Father Paul Ojibway, who in reflecting on the lessons learnt by his Indigenous people, said that: “...when all manner of things are described, the lasting task the Indigenous of the New World teach[es] us to care about is the most obvious and probably the most difficult in becoming human beings – [that is] how to forgive one another”.

But forgiveness, as Biblical scholar Andrew Pinsent points out, is “certainly not the same as excusing, tolerating or otherwise endorsing what is wrong”. Forgiveness is both a process and a state of heart. It involves reciprocity and goes hand in hand with accountability and remorse. In the world of leadership doing what is right is sadly often more difficult than doing what is wrong. And, for far too many it seems easier to just stay silent. The words of Martin Luther King may serve as lodestar in moments of hesitation. He says: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”.

As leaders we have a sacred duty to be vigilant about our democratic processes, about universal principles of due process and transparency and about the rule of law. We have a sacred responsibility to ensure that we are accountable not only to ourselves and to our nation, but also to God.

Today let us both celebrate our achievements this past five years and remember all the efforts and sacrifices made to ensure peace and good governance in our nation. I commend the government, the opposition, the independent members of the House, and all Parliamentary staff who have contributed to the successes of this 15th Parliament, for your loving work and commitment to Samoa and its living legacies.

Mr Speaker, those are my reflections. May God bless the remainder of our proceedings. I now pronounce this 15th Parliament of Samoa officially closed. Soifua.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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