Olo’s fate symptomatic of one party state Samoa

Amidst the euphoria of the nation celebrating her 57th Independence anniversary last week, a story titled “Govt. removes Olo from Parliament's Finance Committee” was published on the front page of the Samoa Observer.

It surfaced during the coverage of Parliament’s one day sitting where the Minister of Finance, Sili Epa Tuioti, tabled the budget for 2019/2020.

What should have been a straightforward budget session, as we see every other year, suddenly became very controversial when the Deputy Speaker, Nafoitoa Talaimanu Keti, announced changes to several Parliament Committees.

The most interesting one of them all, and perhaps the most odd, was the removal of Salega Member of Parliament, Olo Fiti Vaai, from Parliament's Finance and Expenditure Committee.

The Deputy Speaker did not give any reasons for reshuffling the Committees.

All he revealed in relation to Parliament's Finance and Expenditure Committee is that Olo had been moved to another Committee. In his absence, the new members included the newest Member of Parliament, Namulauulu Sami Leota and Ili Setefano Ta'ateo, who will join the Chairperson Allimalemanu Alofa Tuuau, Faumuina Tiatia Faaolatane Liuga and Toomata Aki Tuipea who make up the rest of the Committee.

The multi-million-tala question is obviously why? What has Olo done this time? Why was he removed? And was the reshuffling of other Committees only a front to make Olo’s removal a bit less obvious?

In any case, the plot to cover the obvious failed because everyone – including the media – saw it for what it was really worth. It was quite obvious that this was another attempt to silent the only Member of Parliament who constantly questions this Government’s activities publically and openly.

Asked for a comment, Olo said he wasn’t quite sure about the reshuffle but the decision did not surprise him.

“I am certain it has to do with the issues that I raised in Parliament pertaining to the finances of the Samoan government," said Olo. “I understand the Parliament Standing Orders concerning information that are confidential to which I have followed but once it is tabled in the Committee it is public information and I think that is the main reason I have been replaced."

 Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi disagreed. In another story titled “Olo was just transferred, not removed” published on the front page of yesterday’s Samoa Observer, the Prime Minister downplayed the development.

“I have to correct that allegation,” Tuilaepa responded. “He hasn’t been removed he’s been transferred to another Committee.”

According to the Prime Minister, Olo has been replaced by the new Fa'asaleleaga Member of Parliamemnt, Namulau'ulu Sami Leota.

“We have to use his ability and his vast knowledge for Parliament work hence the necessary changes to committee members,” Tuilaepa said of Namulauulu.

“There are many other committees that were reshuffled and Olo has been allocated to another committee.  But this is his nature. Every time there is an issue, he always draws the attention to him so people can feel sorry for him.”

The Prime Minister then delved into the issue of confidentiality in relation to the work of the Committees. He said Parliamentary Standing Orders means hearings are strictly confidential.

“Any Parliament Committee member has to review reports and question witnesses and then they submit their written recommendations in Parliament for final decision,” Tuilaepa said.

“Under the Standing Orders, Members of Parliament cannot divulge any information that is elaborated within Committee hearings, it is confidential.”

With Olo accused of leaking information, Tuilaepa said it poses a risk to integrity of the Committee’s work.

“If this happens, the witnesses will not tell the truth knowing there is a Judas the betrayer in the Committee hearings,” Tuilaepa said.

The Prime Minister added that it is vital for witnesses who appear before these Committees to tell the truth and be assured that what they are revealing will remain confidential.

“Members (of Committees) should not be gossipers. Information is strictly confidential as indicated by the standing orders.”

But Olo, as you would expect, disagrees.

“I followed the standing orders of Parliament and I raise issues within Parliament. Once it is tabled (in Parliament), the matter is public info,” Olo said.

“Also there shouldn’t be any confidentiality clause in Parliament; this is where everything should be reported about the other arms of government.”

Well what do you think?

From our standpoint, the truth is quite simple. Whether he’s been removed or transferred, it is still the same thing. Olo is no longer a Member of Parliament's Finance and Expenditure Committee. Which is a real concern.

As if this one-party state Parliament is not worrying enough, Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his administration continue to hack away at every bit of opposition so that their control is maintained and could possibly continue forever.

So much for democracy, freedom and good governance.

Have a great Tuesday Samoa, God bless!

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