Tuilaepa’s musing, Samoan culture and the contradictions of our time
It wasn’t that long ago that Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, stood proudly at Mulinu’u, wearing a facemask, denouncing opposition to three bills that have been tabled in Parliament.
Using a ministerial statement to respond to concerns that the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, Land and Titles Bill 2020 and the Judicature Bill 2020, were “defective, dysfunctional, racist,” bring destruction to the Judiciary and would violate the concept of separation of powers, Tuilaepa simply brushed them aside as “unfounded” and “palagi thinking.”
The Prime Minister instead emphasised that the bills are designed to ensure the Samoan culture; village and communal rights are preserved and protected. He added that once the bills are passed, the Samoan culture would be at the forefront of all things done, ensuring that Samoans decide on matters only Samoans understand and can comprehend.
Now hold that thought for a minute and remember that this was just two months ago. On Wednesday this week, the same Prime Minister, this time in his high and lofty office at the Government building, smiled and applauded the decision by long-serving Member of Parliament, La’aulialemalietoa Leuatea Polataivao, to resign from the ruling Human Rights Protection Party.
La'auli, a former Speaker, Cabinet Minister and Member of Parliament for Gagaifomauga No. 3, had announced that he was reluctantly leaving a party his forefathers had devoted much of their time, sweat and energy to form.
Much to the delight of Tuilaepa, who said: “If you came through the election as a member of the H.RP.P, once you reject the H.R.P.P. policies, it means you have sacked yourself.
“What happened in this (La’auli’s) case is that he wasn’t sacked by the H.R.P.P., he sacked himself when he violated our agreements. We have an agreement, a written agreement. Before you become a member, we have an agreement where you pledge your allegiance to the party. That agreement is your commitment that you will not do anything to harm the party. So once you do something to harm the party, you have made a decision on yourself.”
The question is, what exactly did La’auli do to harm the party? What did he do to break the so-called agreement? To answer that question, we need to revisit the Electoral Constituencies Bill 2018.
Tabled by the Minister of the Electoral Office, Fa’aolesa Katopau Ainu’u, the bill redefined the boundaries for many electoral constituencies in Samoa. The worst part was that in terms of representation, it effectively removed a Member of Parliament from Savai’i, the biggest island of Samoa, only for Upolu to gain one.
When the bill was tabled, it attracted a lot of opposition. Two villages went as far as to lodge petitions with the Parliamentary Committee. While the Ali’i ma Faipule of Saleaula and Salamumu were against the plan to divide the territorial constituency of Gagaemauga No. 2, the Ali’i ma Faipule of Tafua, Savai’i, wanted to remain in the Palauli le Falefa electoral constituency. These villages were only a handful of villages and voters affected.
Back in Parliament when the bill was up for the third reading before passage, La’auli could not be silenced. Fearing that when the bill is passed that it would repeal the Constituencies Act 1963, La’auli criticised Minister Fa’aolesa and the Chairman of Parliament’s Standing Orders, Electoral, Petitions and Constitutional Officers Committee, Nafoitoa Talaimanu Keti, for ignoring the concerns of so many villages.
“I have noted with sadness that not one recommendation given by the Committee has been taken onboard by the Minister,” La’auli said, referring to the public consultation process, which included the tabling of petitions. “We had also expressed our concerns to the Committee because this has a huge impact on us from Savai’i. It’s not easy, the people of Savai’i are listening. The law of 1963 is about to be repealed. Not a single thing from the views expressed has been taken on board yet the Committee had been meeting for nearly four months.
“Where have you dumped our opinions and the views we expressed? Where have you discarded the wishes of Savai’i? This is not an easy matter where you have effectively removed one Member of Parliament from Savai’i and added four for Apia (Upolu). Mr. Speaker this is not a matter to be taken lightly.”
With those words and his vote against the bill, La’auli committed the ultimate sin in the eyes of Tuilaepa and the H.R.P.P. By speaking up to protect the sanctity, mana and the integrity of the Samoan culture and our traditional boundaries especially for Puleono, Tuilaepa and the H.R.P.P. effectively said La’auli had harmed the party.
Let’s pause and think about this for a moment.
Let’s think about Tuilaepa’s Ministerial statement in defense of the L.T.C. bills two months ago where he talked up the importance of the Samoan culture, village and communal rights and things that only Samoans can understand.
Now let’s apply that logic to the decision to redefine electoral boundaries based on geographical location? Isn’t that palagi thinking?
Let us be reminded here and now that “O Samoa o le atunu’u ua uma ona tofi.” That is, the boundaries and the demarcation of our villages; families, lands and everything about Samoa have already been decided.
It is why Samoa is unique. Our Parliament, and the representation by way of Members and their constituencies, is a reflection of Samoa, our fa’alupega, agaifanua, aganu’u, tuaoi, va tapuia, our customs and traditions.
These ancient constituencies had existed for a reason. They reflected the vision, wisdom and foresight of our forebears who set the foundation upon which Samoa’s political stability stands.
It goes without saying that this country today is at the crossroads. There are some tough decisions that need to be made.
On this Sunday, we are thinking about Tuilaepa’s comments. In one breath he espouses the need to protect the Samoan culture and the rights of Samoan people. Yet in the very next breath he does the opposite and demonises someone like La’auli for merely standing up for cultural protection and communal rights, especially for the very people Members of Parliament are elected to represent.
It’s full of contradictions, isn’t it? Or tell us we’re wrong?