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Samoa’s men of letters, Regulator and the biggest drug bust at Faleatiu

It’s all happening in beautiful Samoa, isn’t it? There is no doubt about that.

What with Samoa’s man of letters and Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi being in fine form, firing his pen at everyone and anyone, a measles epidemic worsening by the day and the biggest drug bust in history all coming in one week, who said Samoa was boring. For such a small country, there is certainly no shortage of drama.

It all started last Sunday when a letter from Prime Minister Tuilaepa addressed to the Acting Chief Justice, Vui Clarence Nelson and the President of the Land and Titles Court, Fepulea’i Atilla Ropati surfaced in a story titled “P.M. writes to Judges about drinking alcohol in public places."

 “There have been numerous reports about your consumption of alcohol in public, which is inappropriate for Judges,” Tuilaepa penned. “There were embarrassing incidents which you have not addressed that I am well aware of because the complaints from the country are directed at me, rightly or wrongly.”

But why Judges of the Courts of all people? Don’t politicians, senior public servants and even Church Ministers drink alcohol in public too? By the way, isn’t a glass of wine or one beer good for one’s health and perhaps state of mind?

Well, according to the Prime Minister, his concern is when that one beer becomes one too many. Apparently, this has caused some “embarrassing incidents” which members of the public have complained about.

“It is in the spirit of cooperation amongst the different arms of the Government that I am writing this to you,” he continued. “But I have no business in behaviour that have become habitual.”

Well that’s a classic Tuilaepa line isn’t it? But then Tuilaepa is not the only one who knows how to write letters and throw classic lines in Samoa. Acting Chief Justice Vui makes a fine letter writer himself. On Monday, instead of directing his response to Prime Minister Tuilaepa, he wrote to this newspaper instead.

“Thank you for the front page coverage which was clearly designed to portray the Judiciary in a most unfavourable light,” Justice Vui responded.

According to the Judge, he said the coverage - including an editorial penned about the number of controversial developments in the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration during the past few years – overlooked two important factors.

Writes Justice Vui: “The majority of Judges do not consume alcohol. You have unfairly maligned them. And those that do, no longer habitually do so in public spaces. What they do in private with friends is with respect their business, not yours or mine.

“The Prime Minister and you have been known to drink alcohol in public. Are editors and politicians for some reason to be held to a different standard?”

Justice Vui continued his criticism of the Samoa Observer and the writer, saying: "You have become ensnared in a political agenda by publishing confidential correspondence from an administration whose cases are being ruled upon every day, sometimes with adverse consequences, by the very same Judges. I would like to think this was done unwittingly. But hey I could be wrong.”

Everyone is entitled to an opinion and Justice Vui obviously has expressed his.

We are delighted he has.

Perhaps the only thing we want to say is that this newspaper does not become “ensnared in a political agenda.” We are not politicians and we have no other agenda than to report the truth.

And the truth is that this latest letter from Prime Minister Tuilaepa has again exposed a fear we have been highlighting for years. It has everything to do with the Government meddling with the affairs of the Judiciary, which should not be happening at all in a functioning democracy where the separation of powers is paramount.

The question for Justice Vui - and everyone in Samoa who cares about this country - is how did we arrive where we are today? How did one man become so powerful that he thinks it is his duty to lecture and insult? Who gave him the freedom, let alone permission?

Don’t rush over that. Think very carefully.

We say this because another letter from Prime Minister Tuilaepa to the Regulator, Lefaoali’i Unutoa Auelua – Fonoti, which surfaced on the Samoa Observer the next day, was just as brutal. This time, the letter is about the controversial developments regarding the Digital TV.

 “In the meeting we had (which the Regulator did not attend), I had instructed you all to talk again. To me, the margin of profit for the Digital TV is high,” the Prime Minister wrote, telling the Regulator “you do not understand the issues I am raising.”

 “What I meant in my instructions is that you are to report back to me before any decision is made. But for you to issue a press statement where you attempt to interpret my thoughts shows that you think you know everything. It is good to be wise but it is not good when you think you know everything. Listen and obey.”

Now this is what you call a “political agenda.” Let’s face it, the Regulator Lefaoali’i is not an angel herself but she was placed there by this Government to do a job. In performing that job, she and all the people involved in establishing the Digital TV platform – including members of the private sector - have become scapegoats in a project that has obviously become a hot political potato.

We await the next developments with great interest.

In the meantime, while all these letters were flying back and forth, at the Apia Police station, Police Commissioner Fuiavailiili Egon Keil and his men were quietly hatching a plan to raid a village cartel which has become notorious for harbouring drugs, guns and illegal weapons.  

On Friday morning, some 100 Police officers – most of them armed - executed the biggest drug bust in Samoan history, which netted 10,000 marijuana plants, firearms, methamphetamine, ammunition and cash. Six suspects were arrested including two women and an escaped prisoner, Uili Manuleleua.

The raid by far is the best news we’ve had all week.  

We believe the Commissioner of Police, Fuiavailiili Egon Keil and his men must be saluted for a job well done.

Just imagine for a minute if these drugs and weapons had ended up on the streets. There is no doubt the impact would be disastrous for many families, churches, villages and this country.

As the Minister of Police, perhaps this is something Tuilaepa, our man of letters, should focus his Government’s resources attention on instead of meddling with the Judiciary and others.

But then that’s what we think anyway.

What about you? What do you think?

Have a peaceful Sunday Samoa, God bless!

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