An open letter to Members of Samoa’s Parliament

Terry Dunleavy MBE,

Auckland, New Zealand.


Talofa ia outou afioga,

As an insignificant retired palagi journalist in Niu Sila, I wondered whether it was appropriate for me to make a comment on a political issue in Samoa, but eventually my respect, admiration and alofa for Samoa and its wonderful people persuaded me that I must.

I was saddened to read in the Samoa Observer on-line that a diplomatic passport has been declined for Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese and Masiofo Filifilia, and I wonder whether the matter has been properly thought through.

It is vital that the significance of this is established now for the long-term future, as Tupua was the first holder of the office of Ao o le Malo, to pass on the reins while still alive.  As someone who had the honour of knowing personally both Tupua and his distinguished predecessor, Malietoa Tanumafili II, I was never in any doubt that Tupua was the obvious choice in 2007 to succeed the late Malietoa. And Parliament was wise and well justified in re-appointing him in 2012.

Why do I think it necessary that Tupua retains for life, the diplomatic passport that was rightly his when he became Ao o le Malo?  

The colour or status of his passport is unlikely to affect the way he is greeted and treated when he visits another country in the future.  Given the respect he has earned around the world, for his force of personality, his courtly manner and his acknowledged scholarship, he will always be welcomed anywhere as an honoured special guest for WHO he is, not just for WHAT he used to be. 

Internationally, Tupua will always be acknowledged as an ambassador for Samoa, now unofficial, but an ambassador nevertheless.

It will be easier for Tupua (and for Masiofo Filifilia when she accompanies him) and for host countries to accord entry procedures as an honoured guest without having to turn a blind eye to the absence of a diplomatic passport, but it will cause bemusement that his own country has failed to provide him with the documentation to ensure his appropriate official reception.  

This failure to acknowledge his continuing mamalu does not demean Tupua, but it does demean Samoa.

Which in turn debases the mamalu of Samoa, at a time when, for the last decade if not longer, to those of us with a close interest in the whole of the Pacific area, among the troubled political waters that have heaved around so many island states, Samoa has stood as a beacon of calm, assured, united political stability. 

The kind and level of stability that reflects calm, assured, capable political leadership.

With Tuilaepa as Prime Minister since 1998, and Tupua as Head of State since 2007, Samoa has been blessed in its leadership. 

Within Samoa itself, and far beyond its shores, that partnership has been hailed as the very model of constitutional and political excellence and capability.  Both gentlemen knew and respected their separate roles.

It helped that Tupua had come through the political and ministerial ranks, and thus knew where the lines between the two offices lay:  his to be guardian of fa’aSamoa and its chiefly heritage; Tuilaepa’s to be the political manager. And beyond Samoa, each to be in his own way and in his own role, an ambassador for his country. 

There is a reason why other longer established independent countries retain special privileges for their principal leaders during life after serving their counties in the highest office. It is lifelong recognition of, in part, their service as ultimate leaders; but also the inherent loneliness of those high offices they have filled. As former US President Harry S Truman so bluntly expressed it: “The buck stops here.”

That is why a Head of State, a Prime Minister or a president deserves some recognition for life beyond that reserved for lower orders of political and administrative leadership.

Now, for the first time, the Independent State of Samoa has the opportunity to establish a standard for the future.  The continuation of a lifetime diplomatic passport for a retired Ao o le Malo, and Palemia, is one small way of recognising and rewarding service at the very head of the nation’s constitutional and political life.

In that light, I would hope that fairness will prevail, and that Tupua’s diplomatic passport will be renewed.

Manuia lava Samoa!

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