P.M. attacks political "party of three"
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi has asked members of what he described as a political "party of three" to resign from Parliament and go back to hold by-elections in their constituencies.
The Members of Parliament include Olo Fiti Vaai, Faumuina Wayne Fong and Laaulialemalietoa Leuatea Schmidt. Tuilaepa made the call during a heated exchange between the four of them on Friday.
During the verbal spat, former Cabinet Minister Laaulialemalietoa accused the Prime Minister of misleading the country and doing everything to ruin his political career.
The exchange between the Prime Minister and La'auli, who recently left the Human Rights Protection Party, was sparked by an intervention by Olo while the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Lopao’o Natanielu Mua, was speaking.
The Minister referred to the more than US$23.5 million ($58.87 million tala) Samoa Agriculture and Fisheries Productivity and Marketing Project. Lopaoo said the funds from the World Bank under the International Development Association (I.D.A.) were US$13.9 million; the regional grant US$6 million and the International Fund for Agricultural Development grants amount to US$3.6 million.
But Olo questioned the spending of the $11.6 million I.D.A. funds.
Speaker of Parliament, Tole'afoa Leaupepe Fa’afisi, intervened to say that Olo’s time had expired and that his questions were misdirected; the issues should have been directed to the Minister of Finance.
That's when Laaulialemalietoa took the floor and moved a motion to have Olo table documents his questions.
“We are questioning the US$20 million and I request the documents procured by Olo to be tabled in Parliament,” La’auli said.
M.P. Faumuina Wayne Fong took the floor to second the motion by La’auli.
But Prime Minister Tuilaepa was not impressed.
“Mr. Speaker, this (political) party of three, are all wrong," said Tuilaepa.
Olo took to the floor once again and reminded the Speaker there was a motion in place in accordance with the standing orders dealing with public funds. But the Speaker would not budge.
“The ruling has been in play and they will stick to it and they must wait until they go back to discuss the specifics of the budget to debate on this issue,” said Toleafoa.
La’auli quickly moved to challenge the Prime Minister.
“There is no party, the public is tuning in and stop misleading the country. This is not a party,” he said about himself, Olo and Faumuina.
The Prime Minister said the trio had become a nuisance: “This party of three should be reminded that we don’t acknowledge a party of three, unless they are an eight member party. And if you want to make it official, do what is right you should all resign from Parliament and go through the by-elections.”
Faumuina and La’auli attempted to offer rebuttal but were overruled by the Speaker.
“I’m trying to keep to the middle of the road in terms of our work; be patient, wait until we go through the details of the budget then you’ll get your chance,” he said.
Faumuina also denied there was a political party of three.
“I also want to view this document [ from Olo] it’s best that we look at it, you never know it might be wrong.”
The Prime Minister again criticised the trio’s hunt for the documents, making reference to a Privileges and Ethics Committee investigation into La’auli. The M.P., who recently left the Government, is the subject of an inquiry into whether he “illegally” imported a generator.
“I assumed these members wouldn’t raise these documents and what are these documents, they brought some documents before that were not legitimate… this includes the member (Laauli) who has just spoken,” said the Prime Minister.
“Please, keep your proof (documents). There is a pile of documents we have that were found untrue (referring to Laauli's generator)”.
Laauli cautioned the Prime Minister against making reference to a report that was yet to be tabled before Parliament.
“This is a serious allegation Mr. Speaker," Laauli responded, "the country is watching. How can you say that when the Committee report hasn’t been tabled? I find it sad that how you are badmouthing me… and yet the Committee’s report hasn’t been tabled.”
However, the Prime Minister said his former party colleague had been implicated by other inquiries.
“It clearly says the generator he brought but it wasn’t a generator, it was a refrigerator. That’s what he used for these documents. It was only uncovered when it reached the Finance Committee that they found [the truth],” he said.
Laauli fired back, saying the Prime Minister was engaged in antagonistic politics:
“These are misleading statements, they are wrong, the Committee hasn’t tabled the report and it’s not appropriate for a committee you appointed to assess my report.
“Mr. Speaker, I have the utmost respect for you” and then he turned to the Prime Minister yelling: “don’t abuse your power.”
The floor was turned back to Lopao’o whose comments sparked another debate.
“This debate reminds me of a saying, those who live in glass houses don’t throw stones. That’s why we don’t throw things at you. What did you expect, that we just sit here while you throw things at us,” said Lopao’o.
Olo appealed to the Speaker that if Lopao’o responded to the questions there would be no argument.
“But he’s afraid to answer the question about the use of these millions. That’s why this argument started in the first place,” he said.
The Prime Minister again took the floor and described Olo’s manner in Parliament as “rude.”
Tuilaepa also referred to a recent exchange between himself and La'auli on television about a Court matter involving the former Cabinet Minister.
“I’m responding to your allegations ... and you say the [Prime Minister] is wrong and that I should be charged with contempt of court. What contempt of court? You should be charged with contempt of court."
La'auli said let the people be the judge.
“You (Tuilaepa) started it. You brought up everything while the ruling of [my] court case is pending. The ruling of my case will be delivered today (Friday). Today, the decision will be made on what you have been badmouthing me about.”
Tuilaepa spoke about the relationship between them as High Chiefs, which he said was not being respected by the argument, but Laauli questioned the relevance of such remarks:
“And where is your duty of care? You are trying to kill me,” he said.
Tuilaepa fired back: “What I’m trying to do is make you do the righteous thing.”
La'auli responded: “I’m trying to correct what you’re doing” before his microphone was turned off.
The Speaker took over and reminded that all members should be accorded respect particularly the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister and Laauli both later apologised for their actions. The exchange took place in Parliament in the morning before La'auli was exonerated of all the charges against him in the Supreme Court.