Savalenoa as new Attorney General, laws and free speech in Samoa’s democracy
Life goes on. Despite the social and economic challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic, today we find that nothing really can stop the time.
Looking back to the past seven days, it has been quite a week. One of the biggest developments was the Cabinet announcing its decision to endorse the recommendation by a Selection Panel to appoint Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale as the new Attorney General.
The appointment fills the void created when Lemalu Hermann Retzlaff resigned at the beginning of the year. Whether it was by design or not, Lemalu’s resignation became effective just before one of the most turbulent times in recent memory involving the Judiciary, the legal fraternity and the Government.
The variety of opinions over laws and legislations introduced by the Government created a furore with implications that are still being debated as we are resting this Sunday.
It goes without saying that the Attorney General, as the state’s most senior legal advisor, is a critical appointment in as far as the Government’s legal representation goes and Savalenoa’s arrival could not have come at a more appropriate time.
A senior member of the legal fraternity in Samoa with more than 20 years of experience in the legal profession, Savalenoa comes well prepared for the job.
"I am extremely honoured and I also feel very privileged,” Savalenoa said. “I look forward to returning to the public service and serving in this role.”
Well, Savalenoa has her work cut out. She does not need to be reminded that she has arrived amidst a storm over three bills the Government has tabled proposing to reshape the judiciary.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi constantly tells the world that the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, Land and Titles Bill 2020 and the Judicature Bill 2020 are designed to ensure the Samoan culture; village and communal rights are preserved and protected.
He insists 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.
But not everyone agrees and for good reason.
The Judges of the Courts and legal experts from all over the world have cautioned that the bills are extremely dangerous and they threaten to “destroy” the rule of law in Samoa.
Calling the bills “defective, dysfunctional” and “racist,” a Committee of the Samoa Law Society that reviewed the bills, have argued that these legislations should never have been entertained by the Office of the Attorney General and they should also have never been tabled in Parliament. They have warned that the bills would change the foundations upon which our justice and judicial system rests. Even worse, they have called it the “most extensive and incoherent attack” on Samoa’s founding document, the Constitution.
This is the environment the new Attorney General Savalenoa is walking into.
This is the hostility she is inheriting from her predecessor who perhaps saw this coming. Who knows?
We do not claim to be legal experts but we know the Office of the Attorney General is supposed to “serve the people of Samoa by upholding the Constitution and providing the highest quality legal service to the Government.”
In other words, the Attorney General and all the people working in that office are supposed to put Samoa and her people first and foremost, above anything else – including political motives and agenda.
Looking at the immediate past, we cannot say that the Office of the Attorney General has done this. We have seen so many controversial and politically motivated laws and legislations that we must ask the question; who are they really serving? Are they there to protect the people or do they exist to protect the selfish ambitions of their political masters and their affiliates?
It wasn’t that long ago that Prime Minister Tuilaepa called all the state lawyers into the Cabinet room and reminded them about their "signed and sealed employment oath" to serve Samoa to the best of their knowledge and abilities.
As the new Attorney General takes charge, we hope she takes time and think long, seriously and hard about the “oath” she will take and her contribution to the future of Samoa. Needless to say, the laws she and her office drafts today will shape Samoa’s tomorrow. It will dictate what type of future our children, their children and their children’s children will have.
This is what we all need to think about.
It is also why Tuilaepa should not have stopped with lawyers when he challenged them about their oaths. Tuilaepa should have also asked himself and all those Members of Parliament who have been voted to those positions of power to do what is right before God and for the people.
On this Sunday, let us humbly remind them that as public servants, they took an oath to represent the people of Samoa and place their interest first and above everything and anything else. Which means they should desist from placing their own interest, that of their political peers, friends, relatives, business mates and political groups first and do what is best for the country.
Lastly, they should insist without ceasing on the principles of accountability, transparency and good governance. This is the essential for democracy to thrive.
Speaking of democracies, one of the most concerning aspects about Samoa today is the loss of voice and free speech in the public service – and in many other places. There is an air of paranoia that is instilling fear and driving a sense of insecurity. It is undeniable that there is a culture of fear among people when it comes to speaking up and articulating their concerns. But then that’s perhaps a topic for another day.
In the meantime, we offer our congratulations to Savalenoa Mareva as the new Attorney General and wish everyone a peaceful and restful Sunday, God bless!