Leader of the House, Olo and the mystery of the Facebook live

An interesting exchange broke out between Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and Salega East Member of Parliament, Olo Fiti Vaai, when Parliament convened for its one-day August session on Tuesday.

No sooner had the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Leaupepe Tole’afoa Fa’afisi, completed the routine pleasantries as they do in Samoa, Prime Minister Tuilaepa immediately took the floor. He wanted to elaborate on his role as the “leader of the House” saying many people do not understand the principle of the separation of powers.

Tuilaepa said there are even Members of Parliament, including a certain former Speaker and a former Cabinet Minister whom he did not name, who do not understand the meaning of the term “leader of the House.” Although the Legislative and the Executive are separate branches of government in a democracy, Tuilaepa said there are areas where they fuse and intertwine. Which is where he comes in as the “leader of the House.”

According to the Prime Minister, the Executive controls the funding that allows two other branches, Legislative and the Judiciary, to function. Secondly, he said that the Executive also provides the protection for the safety of the country from those who break the laws created by the Legislative.  With those things in mind, Tuilaepa was emphatic in saying that anybody who questions his role as the “leader of the House” are unfounded views based on the lack of understanding of the principle of separation of powers in relation to the three arms of a democratic government.

In a one- party state Parliament; there was of course very little objection except for the one-man opposition party in the form of Olo who did not buy Tuilaepa’s explanation. “Honourable Speaker, the reason why I question him is because it’s clear under Standing Orders that … he is the leader of the governing party but he is not the leader [of Parliament,” Olo said, adding that Tuilaepa’s authority should stop with the ruling Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) and the Government, while the Speaker of Parliament, Leaupepe Tole’afoa Faafisi, is the rightful “leader of the House.”

“He is the leader of the political party and that role stops in that circle and he is not the leader of the Parliament,” Olo said. “The Speaker is the leader of Parliament and he makes those decisions.”

And what did the Speaker of Parliament have to say for himself?

Well Leaupepe, aside from telling Olo to move away from the matter, he reminded that in Parliament, the Speaker is the only one whose interpretation of Standing Orders matters. That said, Leaupepe was of the clear view that Tuilaepa was indeed the “leader of the House.”

Which is hardly surprising, judging from what we have seen in the handling of Parliament debates over the years. It also explains why sometimes it feels like the Legislative is merely a rubber stamp for the Executive.

But then what do we know? As far as Tuilaepa’s concerned, we’re just a bunch “kids”, “idiots” and “fools” who do not understand anything.

But then again, we feel for poor old Tuilaepa. After all these years in power, we doubt he needed to remind anyone in Samoa about his role in anything and everything. Is he not the man who gets the “secret whisper” from God? Is he not the most powerful, most knowledgeable and perhaps the most intelligent politician on the land? Is he not God’s gift to Samoa and mankind with such unquestionable wisdom?

That’s why he’s not just the Prime Minister, he is “leader of the House”, “the father of the nation”, the “toeaina” (old fella), among the many labels he wears as the head and patron of so many groups, organisations and sports bodies. It would be a mighty impressive list if we were able to compile them all. What a man!

But let’s talk about his hat as the “leader of the House.” 

Interestingly, in yesterday’s Samoa Observer, another story titled “Parliament Facebook livestream mystery” immediately grabbed the attention. It focused on why there was no livestreaming of Parliament’s session on Tuesday on the popular social media platform.

According to the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Tiatia Graeme Tualaulelei, he did not give instructions to cease the live streaming, which had become quite a popular attraction for Samoans locally and abroad. As the Clerk, Tiatia said he was under the impression that the livestream was still on.

“I will have to talk to our I.T. again on that,” Tiatia said. “Our I.T. had informed me that it was still on but I’ll have to ask him again now…”

That was on Tuesday. As any good opposition M.P. would do, Olo immediately pounced.

 “It seems like it was deliberately turned off so that people wouldn’t understand what is being debated,” Olo claimed.  “Our people are used to going on Facebook to watch Parliament. We need to be more transparent about these things and the Clerk needs to inform people about such changes. But why would they turn it off on Facebook?...”

Good question. Well, late last night, Parliament issued a statement. 

“The new initiative by the Office of the Legislative Assembly is its effort to stop and dampen unpleasant and discourteous comments made towards Members of Parliament during its live proceedings on Facebook which exemplifies a breach of respect towards leaders of our country,” it said. (See page 5). 

Really? Transparency, accountability? 

Maybe someone should tell the “leader of the House” that in the absence of the Facebook live, it’s time to allow those “fat” and “stupid” reporters into the Parliament chamber to do their job. As members of the fourth estate. You know, like they do in a normal democracy!

But don’t hold your breath. Please. 

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