Congratulations, Prime Minister Tuilaepa!
Today marks twenty years since the swearing in of Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi as Samoa’s sixth Prime Minister.
Having already taken on the double mantle as the country’s and the region’s longest serving Prime Minister, Tuilaepa appeared unfazed by the milestones yesterday.
Asked for a comment by the Samoa Observer, he said: “Thank you God.”
That was all he uttered, with a wide smile on his face.
He was sitting behind his desk in his office at the Government Building, surrounded by reporters, who had gathered for his weekly media programme.
He was more interested in talking about the work his ruling Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) is doing to develop Samoa.
A Samoan flag was positioned to his right with a Christmas tree to his far left, and decorations hanging from the ceiling, showing the end of another year and the approaching festive season.
Tuilaepa first entered Parliament in 1981 and is the Member of Parliament for the Lepa Constituency.
He is married to Gillian Meredith, with whom he has eight children, and is a devout member of the Roman Catholic faith.
Born in Lepa, Aleipata and educated at Marist Brothers School, Apia, St Joseph’s College, Lotopa before continuing his education at St Paul’s College in Auckland, New Zealand.
His leadership has been marked by political and economic crises, natural disasters, regional tensions and local challenges.
Tuilaepa’s political career started during turbulent times but has overseen an unprecedented period of political stability, and economic development through his leadership in modernizing the economy, improving education and health and reducing poverty in Samoa.
In his memoir released last year, Tuilaepa reminisced on the troubling times that met him.
“There was no honeymoon. It was my first year there were four Prime Ministers in and out of office in a period of 12 months,” he said.
And with the leadership at the crossroad, the P.M. said the HRPP at the time knew that for Samoa to recover from its challenges, the party had to be in charge—in order to salvage the economy and restore public confidence.
“You only need to say 1981 and the miserable memories of the PSA strike come to play.”
In 2001, Tuila'epa was re-elected for a second term and marked 40 years of Samoa’s Independence. A year later New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark formally apologised to Samoa over its poor treatment of Samoan citizens during its colonial administration.
Key achievements of the Tuilaepa Government include: getting vehicles in Samoa to switch to left-hand drive in 2009; changing Samoa’s time zone in 2011 to go forward by 24 hours to bring it in line with Australia and New Zealand; the launching of Samoa Airways and introduction of new international routes; joining the World Trade Organisation in 2012; the introduction of a quote system increasing women representation in the parliament; and multimillion tala investments in transport infrastructure, which include donor-funded projects such as the Faleolo International Airport.
Tuilaepa attended the University of Auckland where he gained his Bachelor of Commerce and Master of Commerce degrees.
Prior to entering politics, he served in Government in the Department of Treasury and also as expert Intra-ACP Trade, Transport and Communications with the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) General Secretariat in Brussels, Belgium.
He has held the position of chairman in many organisations and corporations in Samoa as well as in international organisations.
Among his achievements are his matai titles. Besides being called Tuila’epa—a high chief’s title at Lealetele—he also has seven other matai titles: Fatialofa, Auelua, Lupesoli’ai, Neioti, A’iono, Galumalemana and Lolofietele.
The Papua New Guinea government also awarded Tuilaepa with the title Grand Companion of the Order of Logohu (GCL) in 2015 and conferred him with the title of “Chief” in PNG.