Draft law to criminalise Govt. leakers unnecessary, let’s think about what’s best for Samoa

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has done a lot for Samoa. That is the undeniable truth.

The man has presided over this country as the Prime Minister for the past 20 years, achieving more than anyone else of his stature in history.

Indeed, he runs an administration that has been in power for close to 40 years, with a Government which is full of laui’a*.  Yet today he appears to be a worried man.

The question is: what could a man, who is arguably the most powerful person in Samoa today, be worried about? 

Well, judging from what he’s been saying publicly lately, he is not happy with the work of the fourth estate.

To be precise, he is unhappy about the Samoa Observer, a small newspaper being run by people he has repeatedly called “idiots” “fools” and “kids” among many other colourful names.

How do we know?  Well that’s what he’s been telling everyone in Samoa and around the world on his media programmes. Friday’s front-page headline titled “P.M. defends draft law to criminalise leaks, takes aim at the Samoa Observer” removed all doubt.

According to the Prime Minister, a proposed law, which threatens to jail Government officials for up to seven years for leaking information, was made necessary by journalists writing "negative stories" with the intention of boosting newspaper sales.

“Their intention is not to report the truth. These journalists will twist the information and they will benefit from it financially and yet their stories are based on lies,” he said. "So the purpose of these laws is to protect the country."

Now that’s a pretty serious allegation, don’t you think? Don’t you think liars belong in jail?

But what is it the Government is really trying to protect the country from? 

Tuilaepa cited some examples on his weekly programme with the Talamua Media the day before, when he targeted the Samoa Observer, accusing the newspaper of publishing stories with negative consequences for Samoa.

He referred to a story about Samoa Airways' jet operations incurring a $6.6 million loss between October and December last year.

"Their notion is that they have the right to publish these figures and they forget the impact it has on the airline,” he said. “These are the type of issues that we don’t really tell anyone about it, but the Samoa Observer are the ones slandering the efforts of the airline and jeopardising the Government’s proposals.”

Well slow down a bit, Mr. Prime Minister. The story in question was based on figures in a financial performance report submitted by Samoa Airways to the Ministry of Public Enterprises. It was made available for download from the Government's website, which has since been removed. It was not a leaked document.

The Prime Minister also accused the Samoa Observer of undermining the Samoa Rugby Union (S.R.U.).

“There were many times World Rugby finds out about certain decisions from them [Samoa Observer] instead of the S.R.U.," said Tuilaepa. “It is quite unpleasant that they have not been informed officially when they [Samoa Observer] have already reported on the decisions; and the World Rugby complains about it and it makes the negotiations difficult, yet these are sensitive matters."

Now what is the Prime Minister talking about here? Ladies and gentlemen, it is not a classified secret that the Samoa Rugby Union is “bankrupt.” That was declared by the Union itself in a desperate bid to shore up some cash.

And if he is talking about the recent coaching fiasco where World Rugby threatened to withdraw funding, it wasn’t the Samoa Observer who appointed a coach who was ranked seventh by the Selection Panel, which angered World Rugby. The decision was made by the Samoa Rugby Union.

The only thing the Samoa Observer is guilty of was reporting the truth.

Moving on, among other issues, Tuilaepa criticised the Samoa Observer for publishing reports about sensitive policy proposals, such as the draft Crimes Act amendment criminalising the release of public information.

“We haven’t finalised the plans and yet they have announced it,” he said. “The end result is that information is leaked and it is not good for the government when they are in the proposing stages yet it is already been publicised."

Now we can understand what the Prime Minister is saying. 

But isn’t the watchdog role of the media, where sources become extremely critical, a normal part of democracy? And is Samoa not a democracy anymore?

Maybe the question we should be asking is why are officials leaking these documents? The only answer we can think of is that they are worried about what is happening in this country today.

There is no doubt in our minds that these public officials care for this country and they want you and me to know what this Government is thinking.

The truth is that, of all the offences such as the abuse of power and resources and acts of wrong doing public officials should be jailed for, don’t you think threatening to jail them for leaking information is a bit extreme?

Indeed such an eventuality would be an utter shame.

Now think of Samoa’s solid reputation around the Pacific region and the world in terms of political stability, media freedom and economic development that the Prime Minister has played an instrumental role in developing, over the years.

Why is this Government and Prime Minister Tuilaepa undoing all that hard work by coming up with such a law threatening to bring a climate of fear in the pubic service?

Don’t you think such a law threatens to erode the respect people have had for what Samoa and this Government has achieved for the past close to 40 years?

Today, let’s think about putting our best foot forward to advance the development of this country by insisting on transparency, accountability and good governance instead of engineering this unnecessary legislation motivated by paranoia and fear.

The Government has a lot of work to do and so does the fourth estate. A robust independent media being allowed to ask hard questions of its Government will only enhance Samoa’s reputation as a maturing democracy in this part of the world.

What do you think? 

Have a pleasant Sunday Samoa, God bless!

*Laui’a is a Samoan term for big fish. 

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