Samoa’s man of words, Ministry of Justice and media freedom

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi is a man of words. We know that. What with an impressive vocabulary boasting words like “fools", “stupid", “idiots” and terms like “professional idiotic humbug", he’s carved out quite a reputation.

Come to think of it, what is a “professional idiotic humbug”? Is it a burger? Do people still use the word “humbug”? Interesting isn’t it? But that’s what we mean; it’s a quite an impressive line up of descriptive words our Prime Minister has there. Keep in mind that lately he’s been delivering some thought provoking remarks – some of them inspirational, others demand scrutiny.

Take for instance the message in a story titled "No one is above the law, says P.M. Tuilaepa” published a few days ago. Hot off the heels of Cabinet's decision to terminate the services of the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration (M.J.C.A.), Papali’i John Taimalelagi, Tuilaepa said the sacking shows that “no one is above the law".

“As I have repeatedly stated in the past, no one is above the law and if there are allegations, the process is in place to deal with them,” the Prime Minister said.

“The latest termination was processed through the normal channels as prescribed by the law. This is a long standing policy endorsed by Government.”

Well fair enough. Who wouldn’t agree with Prime Minister Tuilaepa that no one is indeed above the law?

And so it turns out, Papali’i becomes the latest senior Government official to have been sacked by Cabinet. When it was put to Tuilaepa that the termination of the services of another high profile public official does not look good for his administration, he disagreed, pointing out that the implementation of policies shows a Government that follows the principles of “accountability, transparency and honesty".

Again, how wonderful. Who wouldn’t be inspired by words such as transparency, accountability and honesty? And isn’t it marvelous that you have the Prime Minister of Samoa talking this language?

But there’s just one thing. The Public Service Commission (P.S.C.) investigation, which led to the sacking of Papali’i, was triggered by the release of Court files from the Court to the Office of the Minister of Justice and Courts Administration, Fa’aolesa Katopau Ainu’u. Yes the Cabinet Minister.

The files were delivered by the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration employee, Tualima Pio and the Secretary of former Chief Executive Officer, Papali’i to the Minister’s Office in 2016. Mr. Pio took the bold step of telling the Samoa Observer about it so that the Government couldn’t possibly hide this little secret anymore.

Now let’s go back to Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s point that “no one is above the law". If that is so, shouldn’t the Cabinet Minister then, whose office was where the files were taken, also have been subjected to an investigation? Or are there different laws for different people?

It’s all good and dandy for our leaders to say no one is above the law but from an outside perspective, especially in relation to this case, it appears that there are certain people who are above the law.

Which begs the question, who is carried and who is made to walk? Who is crucified and who is set free? We cannot help but feel that perhaps Papali’i, with all his faults of course, has been made the scapegoat.   

Let’s move on to some more of Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s thought-provoking statements delivered publicly.  

On the day Samoa joined the rest of the world to celebrate World Press Freedom Day, Tuilaepa appeared on the front page of this newspaper to declare that press freedom is “alive and well” in Samoa.

“Journalists in Samoa have the freedom to do their job,” he said. “You should be jumping for joy and sing hallelujah that the Samoa Government understands the role of the media. You have the freedom to conduct your duties and write your articles, which I find that sometimes are stupid."

There’s that “stupid” word again but that’s okay.

What we do want to say is that the Government does not understand the role of the media – especially a free and feisty independent media – if the Prime Minister’s behaviour towards the nation’s only daily newspaper is anything to judge by.

During the past years, the pages of the Samoa Observer exist to remind of many occasions where Prime Minister Tuilaepa himself has refused to be asked questions by reporters from this newspaper. Many times.

Let’s be honest here; he enjoys telling stories that take up hours on end on national TV, radio stations and some other local media. Sometimes it’s the best comedy show in town and perhaps he feels that he’s doing them a favour by filling up some of the airtime they have no other local content for – including news. Fine; so be it.

But as a serious independent media organisation, we have a role to play as a watchdog of Government. And because we are not lapdogs, we ask the hard questions, uncomfortable and blunt at times. Our readers demand those answers. That’s what democracy and the freed press is all about.

Are we perfect? No. Do we always get it right? No. Yes we make mistakes, which we always own up to.

But that’s beside the point. You see when you are in a position of leadership talking about media freedom and all that glorious stuff; cherry picking the media groups you spend time with is not acceptable.

If anything, it really exposes the truth about this Government’s attitude towards media freedom. The media is free until you are the Samoa Observer where you have to send your questions to the Government’s spin doctor to answer.

Folks, that’s the reality in Samoa. The media is free until you start pushing those boundaries and asking the questions they don’t want to answer.

Let me tell you now, that is not media freedom. Telling journalists to send questions in writing – which often takes days for a response - is bordering on censorship. This is why we found the Prime Minister’s comments on media freedom day a bit hollow, just like all these long-winded stories he likes sharing with his lapdogs.

But then what do we know?

We’re only just a bunch of “idiots", “fools", “kids” and “professional idiotic humbugs” in the eyes of our man of words.

Have a wonderful weekend Samoa, God bless!  

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