La’auli’s “truth,” S.I.S.D.A.C. controversy and freedom of expression in Samoa

By The Editorial Board 27 June 2020, 11:54PM

Time flies, doesn’t it? With June coming to an end this week, August will soon be over and we could almost hear the Christmas carols. Where did time disappear?

The truth is we’ve been preoccupied with so many interesting developments on so many different fronts that hardly anyone has been keeping track of time.

The past sevens days are a classic example. There is hardly a tedious moment in Samoa, especially if you’ve been following some of the drama unfolding before us. As the nation rests this Sunday, we think two developments this week, highlighted in stories published on the pages of this newspaper, are worth reflecting upon.

Firstly, the decision by Supreme Court Justice Vui Clarence Nelson to dismiss more than a hundred charges against former Cabinet Minister, Laaulialemalietoa Leuatea Polataivao, on a Friday, is a very interesting development. The decision over the longstanding dispute over the nonu company Laauli and another fellow H.R.P.P. member, Peseta Vaifou Tevaga ran, adds a new explosive dynamic to the political climate.

“Like I said before I walked away from my Ministerial portfolio, I claimed my innocence," he said. "Now the truth has been revealed." So what is the truth? La’auli was charged with one count of forgery, one count of using forged document, 50 counts of illegal trading and 48 charges in relation to unathorised hire of truck. None of those charges were proven. Justice Vui found that the prosecution failed to prove the charges against La’auli beyond reasonable doubt.

After a seven year legal struggle, which forced La’auli to resign from his Ministerial post while he fought to clear his name, the decision on Friday in his favour will reinvigorate his political ambitions, and that of his supporters.

What we need to remember is that this has cost La’auli much, much more than money in legal fees. He’s lost his Ministerial post; he has subsequently been removed from the H.R.P.P. and Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has been relentless with his public attacks on him. What next?

Only time will tell.

The second big development during the past seven days was contained in a story titled “P.M. issues legal threat against Church, TV1,” published on Thursday’s Samoa Observer. This nasty little episode has been well detailed on the pages of this newspaper and through coverage by other media groups that we’re not going to delve too much into the details today.

What we find rather interesting – and worth a comment – was Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi’s instruction to the Office of the Attorney General to initiate a "libel and criminal probe" against the leader of the Samoan Independent Seventh Day Adventist Church (S.I.S.D.A.C.), Willie Papu, and TV1.

Speaking about the offending sermons and the allegations made by Papu against other churches and Tuilaepa, the Prime Minister said: “Small knowledge is extremely dangerous. These slanderous opinions are unacceptable not only in Samoa but for all Christian faithful’s and communities worldwide.”

Let us be clear about this. This newspaper does not condone the views of Pastor Papu and S.I.S.D.A.C. We find the attack by Papu on other churches and the Prime Minister inappropriate, unnecessary and quite unbecoming of a Church Minister.

He should publically apologise to the churches and the people he has offended.

TV1 should also have exercised better. But Chief Executive Officer, Galumalemana Faiesea Matafeo, has already apologised, which should go a long way in bringing finality to this matter.

To err is human and in this line of work, everybody makes mistakes.

Which brings us to the issue of freedom of opinion and freedom of religion. Speaking of those freedoms, Prime Minister Tuilaepa made a point we think deserves a comment.

In Parliament, he said: “The S.I.S.D.A.C. Pastor like many individuals are obsessed with their hallucinations that they are protected under the freedom of speech and freedom of expression rights which gives them free reign to publicly shame and discriminate against any individual, organisation, church or government without facing any legal consequences.

“I can assure you Mr. Speaker and Members of Parliament that there is no absolute right to freedom of expression.”

We respectfully disagree. Firstly freedom of opinion and expression is not a hallucination. It is a basic human right guaranteed for every Samoan in the Constitution, the foundational law of this country.

In other words, every Samoan has “absolute right” to freedom of expression, enshrined in the Constitution.

But this freedom comes with responsibility. This is why it is often stated that freedom of opinion and expression is not absolute. Such a distinction must be clearly spelled out to avoid confusion. As long as opinions and expressions are truthful, and not deliberately abused to discriminate, insult and shame, the last time we checked, Samoa is still a free and democratic country, where such freedoms exist.

The same freedom that affords Prime Minister Tuilaepa the opportunity to say whatever, however, and whatever he wants on television, radio and newspapers, against anybody, every other day of the week. Which is ironic, isn’t it?

Think of the language Tuilaepa often uses? Think of the things he’s been saying about everybody and anybody? Don’t they sound awfully similar to the offending language of that S.I.S.D.A.C. preacher?

It goes without saying that leaders should lead by example. What they say, especially publically, and the examples they set, create the atmosphere and set the benchmark for their followers.

Leaders cannot use abusive, offensive and inconsiderate language, especially in public all the time, and then cry foul when the shoe changes foot. That’s the worst form of hypocrisy.

What do you think?

Have a peaceful Sunday Samoa, God bless!










By The Editorial Board 27 June 2020, 11:54PM

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