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Tyrannical power exercised in L.T.C. bills, Law Lecturer says

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi and his Government have been accused of exercising tyrannical power through their push to pass the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, Lands and Titles Bill 2020 and the Judicature Bill 2020. 

So says University of Auckland Law Lecturer, Fuimaono Dylan Asafo, in the first of two pieces published on Radio New Zealand and subsequently in several more publications around the region.

In the piece, the Harvard University educated lawyer said time and again, Tuilaepa has shown his tyrannical stripes.

His response in the face of criticism, especially in response to the suite of controversial bills tabled in Parliament has been to lash out and insult his opponents, Fuimaono said, meaning it is time to talk about the rise of tyranny in Samoa.

“Therefore, while Tuila'epa and the recently resigned Attorney General, Lemalu Hermann Retzlaff, have told us that the proposed amendments are justified and that we have nothing to worry about - the extent and diversity of the opposition to the amendments (and Tuila'epa's responses to them) strongly suggest, if not confirm, that tyrannical power is being exercised,” he wrote.

The bills tabled in March have passed their first and second readings. They are currently before a Parliamentary Select Committee which has been conducting hearings on them and soon will begin village based consultations.

Fuimaono argues three key precedents show Samoa who their leader truly is.

In refusing to undertake an inquiry into the fatal measles epidemic of 2019, passing the criminal libel law and making Samoa a Christian state by amending the Constitution, Fuimaono argues Tuilaepa is not interested in upholding democracy while he is leader.

He has supressed free speech in firing two Members of Parliament from his own party after they voiced opposition to the bills, had the Government’s lawyers warned against speaking out and had the Parliamentary Select Committee hearings closed to the public.

“Tuila'epa has also shown us that he isn't scared of spearheading bold and controversial changes to the law. The 1998 law to switch roads in Sāmoa from right to left-hand traffic and the 2011 law to move Sāmoa one day ahead to align with New Zealand and Australia have made this very clear," Fuimaono said. 

“But now, with the proposed constitutional amendments to make fundamental changes to the Land and Titles Court (nicely summarised here and here), Tuila'epa faces his biggest controversy yet.

“Therefore, it's time that all Samoans across the diaspora talk about the rise of tyranny in Samoa, and more importantly, what needs to be done to end it.”

In the case of the measles epidemic, Fuimaono said Tuilaepa’s reticence to hold an inquiry is out of fear that the truth will out, as Former Head of State Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi said. 

“Rather than providing a direct response to Tuiatua's concerns, Tuila'epa resorted to personally insulting him, remarking “maybe the old man is deaf and I doubt that he watched the TV about the public announcements on the vaccination campaigns.”

And on passing the criminal libel law in December 2017, Fuimaono said legal scholars red-flagged this proposal early on. Then in October last year Malele Paulo was arrested and jailed for his online comments about the Prime Minister. 

This revealed the “unject and self-serving nature of this law,” Fuimaono said. 

“As political studies scholar Jope Tarai has observed, Paulo's imprisonment is the first case in the Pacific where a person has been jailed for making negative comments on social media, and it sets “a worrying precedent for freedom of expression in Sāmoa and the Pacific.”

Finally, Fuimaono offers the Constitutional amendment to make Samoa a Christian state. While broadly accepted by the community, the internationally inspired Islamophobic motivations behind the amendments remain to some beyond the pale.

“While some Sāmoans may still support this law nonetheless, the terrorist attack in a Christchurch mosque in March last year (and the string of attacks it inspired around the world) serves as a reminder that the need to resist Islamaphobic fearmongering is greater than ever.

“Furthermore, Tuila'epa's and Retzlaff's claim that the amendment genuinely recognises the importance of Christianity in Sāmoa was arguably undermined with the passing of a law to tax all church pastors in June 2018. 

“Again, while some may agree with the general idea that church pastors should be taxed, opponents to the law noted that it was passed without adequate consultation and that it breached the Constitution's protection of Christianity - a protection that was supposedly guaranteed with the amendment just one year before.”

Fuimaono is intending to publish a second piece outlining how “Tuilaepa’s tyranny in Samoa” should be overcome. 

Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s office has been contacted for comment. 

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