Parliament, Fiame and P.M. Tuilaepa on palagi thinking
The truth is out there for all to see. The authoritarian manner with which Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has been running the Government was exposed in the worst possible place on Tuesday – in Parliament.
While those of us who closely follow the developments at the Maota Fono i Tiafau would have seen some glimpses of it during the recent past, the showdown between Tuilaepa and his deputy Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, where she was stopped from offering her opinion in Parliament, is undoubtedly the most telling.
It not only exposed tensions in the leadership ranks of the all-powerful Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) machinery, it was another reminder about how blatant fundamental rights and freedoms are openly violated in this country today. If the Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa was denied the opportunity to openly express an opinion about a matter of national significance in a chamber where she is mandated to speak, what hope is there for anyone else?
For the uninitiated, the verbal spat happened during the discussion of the Electoral Bill 2020, which is proposing more changes to the way the General Election will be conducted next year. One of the proposed changes focuses on “permanent residency” that would require voters to cast ballots in the electorate in which they reside.
Fiame expressed concerns about this, cautioning that the residency requirement had implications on the Samoan culture. She also reminded Parliament about the frequency with which the electoral laws have been amended and changed during the recent past.
But Tuilaepa intervened saying the proposed changes reflect lessons learnt from previous elections. “[It is also to [eliminate corruption] which is what many are saying,” Tuilaepa said. “The devil acts quickly to (try to) break it…”
Now whom was Tuilaepa calling the “devil”? And what “corruption” was he referring to? He did not say.
In any case, this did not sit well with Fiame, who objected to Tuilaepa’s reference to the “devil.” Said Fiame: “Tuilaepa, are you saying that the devil is standing here… for (merely) expressing my views (on the subject)?
While the Speaker of Parliament, Leaupepe Toleafoa Fa’afisi, was trying to stop Fiame, Tuilaepa interjected reminding about the “collective responsibility” of Cabinet Ministers.
“Any of my Ministers that does not agree with (it) has the chance to resign,” Tuilaepa fired back. “But the decision I give you, all you Cabinet Ministers just listen. If you don’t support it, you know what to do. I am standing here as the leader of the Government”.
Poor Prime Minister Tuilaepa. Does he really need to remind everyone that he is the leader of the Government? How can anyone forget him? Given the way he has been ruling the Government and Parliament with an iron fist, how can anyone not remember his name?
Besides, judging from the way he’s been behaving lately and the things he has been saying, it’s impossible to forget that name.
Now listen to what he said during the same Parliamentary session about three highly controversial bills, which threaten to violate the Constitution and destroy the concept of the rule of law in Samoa.
“Individual rights are in the Constitution and they are in the constitutions of all nations governed by papalagi,” he said. “The rights recognized by common law are from papalagi, they came from the traditions of Britain. These are their customs; they are palagi customs because they do not have a culture like Samoa where villages are governed by ali’i ma faipule.”
Samoa has been politically independent for nearly 60 years, has Tuilaepa finally just reaslised that there is something wrong with the palagi laws?
Besides, if our people have been living peacefully and in harmony as a result of these palagi laws, why are they changing them now? Has anybody ever told Tuilaepa the Prime Minister’s role is not a Samoan thing? Even Cabinet Ministers are not a Samoan thing, let alone political parties. We can go on.
What was broken again that needed to be fixed?
Somewhere, somehow, something just doesn’t add up.
We also get the feeling that these bills must be weighing heavily on the minds of certain individual Members of Parliament. While the one-party state type of Parliament might not allow them to say what they really want to say openly, deep down inside, and as Samoans, they too must be hurting.
And they should. This is their country too and as custodians, they have a responsibility to their ancestors as well as the future generations to do the right thing. Fiame Naomi Mata’afa knows this. O Samoa o le atunu’u ua uma ona tofi.