A political storm but is it passing?

Politics is crackling through the air in Samoa at the moment like an electrical storm.

A tempo that had been building gradually in the Parliamentary chamber now appears to be approaching a crescendo. But is there more yet to come?

Even usually mundane events have set off ripples and opposing forces: anything but stability. 

Laaulialemalietoa Leuatea Schmidt announcement of his resignation is just the latest example of the volatility that now surrounds Samoan politics. 

La’auli verbally resigned from Parliament.

That instantly set off alternative interpretations from the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, and the Electoral Commissioner, Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio, about whether a by-election would be needed. 

And then those plans fell apart. 

After visiting his electorate on Sunday La’auli resolved not to submit the formal resignation required to trigger a by-election process at all but instead to remain in Parliament and, following consultation with his village elders, but to form a new party. 

Ironically, though the message such actions sends is very different, its consequences will bring us to a similar place but with very different outcomes.

If he declares a new party before the remainder of his Parliamentary term he is almost certain to set in chain a process that will trigger his resignation.  

The resulting by-election would be the first test of the force of Lauuli’s ambitions for change:

“God will choose the crew who will join (the party),” he told the Samoa Observer on Saturday. 

"Keep in mind, we don't voyage on a losing canoe. If we look back at when the ruling Human Rights Protection Party was first set up, then we will know what I am saying is true.”

Whether these ambitions will ever be realised remain to be seen.

But the conditions that gave rise to La’auli’s defection did not come about by accident. 

Samoa is currently against the backdrop of massive unemployment.

The pillars of our economy have been decimated utterly, as global tourism grinds to a halt and remittances drop.

Jobs have been lost en masse and a fact that we had known for too long finally came to hit us in the face: that we were overdependent on the external world for our livelihoods. 

The desperation of people can be no better illustrated by the photo of those ordinary Samoans queuing outside the front of the Samoa National Provident Fund building, some for payments of less than $20.

Is it any wonder that the national crime rate, which had been dropping, was found to have increased by 13 per cent 

For Members of Parliament, the atmosphere outside of the Chamber always permeates through its walls. 

And the recent willing nature - and language - of debate on the Parliamentary floor, while far from unheard of in Samoan politics and Parliamentary debate, has been another symptom of this fevered atmosphere.

Taunts between enemies have been one thing. But those between allies have been particularly telling.

But we learnt something else on Sunday.

That the events that led up to this entire drama were all for nought. 

The $300,000 200kva generator which La’auli railed against was never purchased, it was revealed. 

While a cost for the generator of that size had been allocated - no contract was ever awarded. Instead, the generator has been re-tendered and for a much smaller size of some 110KVA,.

But the Privilege and Ethics Committee report which in one sense censured La’auli to the point of prompting his exit in another sense proved him right. 

It found that in the tender process for the 200kva generator that was at the centre of the storm surrounding La’auli, several Government agencies had acted improperly.

No expert advice had been sought on the proper cost of a generator of this size.

It cited Government agencies including the Prisons Ministry as behaving “hastily” when dealing with large sums of public money.

Indeed, while the nature of the proof he presented to support his argument was found by the Committee to be misleading, ironically it also proved the M.P.’s principal point.

Quotations for generators of the size at the centre of the debate featuring La’auli could be obtained, the Samoa Observer was told by providers in New Zealand and Australia between $70,000 to $80,000 tala.

Kicking up a stink about the putative $300,000 expenditure allegation now seems far from unreasonable - just as many senior M.P.s thought seeking to punish La’auli with a suspension from Parliament for complaining about it was. 

So what is the meaning of the drama we have just lived through? There has been sound. There has been fury. But has there been significance? We will soon yet know.  



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