Associate Minister of Health sets record straight
The Associate Minister of Health, Tofa Li'o Foleni, says he respects the law and as a Minister of State, he would not openly violate the orders of the coronavirus pandemic State of Emergency (S.O.E).
The Member of Parliament for Fa’asaleleaga No. 3 made the point when he visited the Samoa Observer on Thursday to dispute a story titled “Associate Minister denies emergency breach” published on the front page of the Weekend Observer last week, and picked up by other international news agencies.
“I am the Associate Minister of Health and in that regard I will not jeopardise the health of the nation and disrespect the S.O.E. put in place by the Government to protect the health of our people,” he said.
“I take my role seriously which why I want to categorically state for the record I did not breach the S.O.E.”
The story questioned the opening of the Minister’s family home at Sapapali’i (umusaga) despite the S.O.E. banning gatherings of more than five people. A video showed well over five people present during the opening.
Tofa did not dispute the fact there were more than five people present. But he disputed the use of the word “umusaga,” which is the traditional Samoan word given to grand opening of homes and family projects.
“I am aware we cannot have a umusaga and so we didn’t,” he said. “The only thing we did when our family building was completed was to hold a thanksgiving service.
“So I only invited the Church Minister, his wife and two other Exhorters from our church since I am also an Exhorter. The rest of the people present were my children and their children.
“As a Samoan, I have a big family and we want our children and their children who are in Samoa to gather there so we can have a thanksgiving service at the end of the project. And because we couldn’t invite the church choir due to the S.O.E. we got our children to be the choir instead.”
After the blessing of the building by the Church Minister, Tofa said food was distributed to be taken away and that was it.
“What we had was a thanksgiving gathering,” he said. “I am aware of the S.O.E. and I want to make it clear I do not oppose the S.O.E.”
According to the most recently amended state of emergency orders circulated by the Government the rules on large meetings are as follows:
“The restricted number of no more than 5 people [applies] to the following: (a) funerals, traditional title bestowals, birthdays, reunions; and (b) opening ceremonies for buildings (umusaga),” the orders read.
Five people are also the maximum number allowed to gather at funerals, traditional title bestowals, birthdays and reunions.
Before the story in question was published last week, the Government’s Press Secretary, Nanai Laveitiga Tuiletufuga, did not respond to questions about whether the hosts or family members counted towards the five-person restriction for events.