Father or statesman? The Prime Minister should choose

The Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, has increasingly been referring to himself as a “father of the nation”.

And he certainly has been issuing some fatherly advice lately, especially to the representatives of this country and those who serve in its most important roles.

He famously, of course, recently told Judges to refrain from drinking in public. 

And on Friday, we reported that during a public address on labour and exports, he sought to publicly remind our nation’s foreign workers to adhere to basic standards of decency and honour. (“P.M. tells proud ambassadors no alcohol and extra marital affairs). 

He publicly asked them to, again, adhere to some rather basic standards of decency: refrain from alcohol consumption, “extra marital affairs” and breaking the law. 

If Tuilaepa is the father of the nation - and we do not quibble with the immense difference he has made to Samons’ lives - then what does that make the often eminent individuals who he scolds publicly in this tone of voice?

These are the kinds of foundational father-son chats one associated with the mid-to-late teen year. They were enough to produce embarrassment then; thank goodness they were not before a public audience.

For the Judges we perhaps have less sympathy, although the Prime Minister treating the judicial branch of Government in this way is very worrying from a democratic standpoint, as this newspaper has pointed out.

They are, after all, intelligent men with thick skins, broad backs and sharp tongues. Acting Chief Justice Vui Clarence Nelson demonstrated this perfectly last week when he struck back at this newspaper and the idea Judges needed such reminding in a letter published in these pages. 

If we were to include other representatives to receive a public dressing down from the Prime Minister and laid their names down end-to-end we could walk upon that list from here to New Zealand. Athletes, his own Ministers, church leaders, nurses, foreign leaders and a list that is too long to mention have all come in for the treatment.

Tuilaepa's natural inclination to sound off on the other eminent members of our nation provides two insights into his thinking that raise two questions. 

One, he is not giving enough thought to the damage such criticism does to the others who represent and uphold the name of Samoa here and overseas, particularly when these public lashings do not seem to be tied to particular incidents.

Samoa may have a father-figure but it takes a family: jurists, members of the labour forve, civil servants and others to make a nation. Their standing in the public eye is an immensely important part of that job and, frankly, enough bad news comes from these institutions for their shaming not to need a nudge from the P.M. 

These people represent Samoa overseas, or serve institutions that are meant to be the ultimate authorities in our society and to command the ultimate in public respect - the judicial branch. 

There is already more than a whiff of cynicism among the public about the way politics and Government in Samoa operates if you listen carefully. By these outbursts the Prime Minister is compounding it and may be undoing his years of work of nation building. 

You will never once read in the pages of the Samoa Observer a call for punches to be pulled when public officials are in the wrong or for their criticism to be dampened; no one could seriously make that allegation. But when the messages are delivered without context they generate more questions than insights. 

Secondly, by diminishing in public other members of Samoa’s leadership classes, he is not thinking enough about who will take over if and when he retires. (Or if you read between the lines to some of the responses to these criticisms the targets are chosen carefully). 

Whatever the case, this nation and its future are the losers from this kind of rhetoric. 

We respectfully suggest that after two decades presiding over the nation the Prime Minister asks himself if he needs to dispense such fatherly advice so freely and so publicly. And, on the occasions when he feels that he must, he acts as a father who cares about the reputation and standing of his sons and daughters and has some confidential conversations in private.

After two decades in the office of the Prime Minister of the Independent State of Samoa, which he has done so much to shape, we suggest that the Prime Minister consider another role he fulfils which is complementary to that of a father of a nation: a statesman. 

By not doing so our leader runs the risks undermining the standing of the people who collectively govern this nation and on whose shoulders our future rests. And for what?

What do you think, Samoa? 

Have a good weekend and God bless. 

Update: This story has been amended to reflect the fact that the Prime Minister's criticism was directed at seasonal workers not official representatives.

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