One of Samoa’s longest-serving Cabinet Ministers and the first woman to serve as Deputy Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, resigned from the Cabinet and split with the party of Government on Friday.
Fiame, who is also the Minister for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, confirmed her resignation on Friday afternoon following a brief meeting with the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, at which she tendered her resignation.
In an interview at her office after her resignation was tendered, Fiame said her decision to leave Cabinet is due to her disapproval of three controversial bills to make Land and Titles Court autonomous.
“The bills came from Cabinet and the truth is if I cannot support the legislation I have to tender my resignation,” she told the Samoa Observer.
“My relation with the political party – that lies with the party they make that decision – and my decision to resign from Cabinet where I work, especially with the legislation I objected to came from Cabinet.
“So I cannot stay in Cabinet and continue now that I have publicly stated that I don’t support the legislation.”
But at a regularly scheduled caucus meeting of the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.), Tuilaepa informed Government M.P.s that Fiame was also no longer a member of the party.
On Friday night it was unclear under what circumstances Fiame had parted ways with the H.R.P.P.; she had earlier suggested she would leave the question of her ongoing party membership to others to decide.
But according to remarks made by the Prime Minister at the closed-door caucus meeting, the veteran M.P. for Lotofaga will now sit as an independent M.P.
The split came after she expressed her concerns about the Constitution Amendment Bill 2020, Land and Titles Court Bill 2020 and Judicature Bill 2020 when she attended the Special Parliamentary Committee consultation, which has been tasked to review the proposed changes this week.
Fiame, who has been the M.P. for Lotofaga since 1985, said she intended to continue her duties as a Member of Parliament.
Asked how she felt after resigning as the country’s first female Deputy Prime Minister, she said she is now “free”.
“Because I’m constrained and it’s what has to be done,” she added.
“And I’m ready for it and I have already met with the Prime Minister where I gave my letter [of resignation].”
The meeting with the Prime Minister, who is also the leader of the Human Rights Protection Party, was “a good meeting” according to Fiame.
“I think he was saying to me, we can’t go on the way [it is],” she said.
“I don’t think he wants that to happen while I’m still in Cabinet. It's not a good look and I agree with him.
“And I’m free, I’m no longer in Cabinet and I can now [speak my mind on bills].”
She said talking about issues such as the three L.T.C. bills did not mean she intended to speak ill of anyone, but that she was hopeful of a positive resolution.
“These bills, if we are not careful, we are really going to play with the legal basis upon which our Government is based,” she said.
“As a Member of Parliament, there is no use of me being a Member of Parliament if the judiciary system is no longer solid.”
In terms of her decision to step down from Cabinet, Fiame said she hasn’t been lobbying with any Members of Parliament because she respects their choice.
“But I think the message is we all really have to think seriously about this,” she said.
“It’s not just a matter of what the party wants.
“And because we are the ones that are going to be making the decision [on the bills] they shouldn’t take it lightly.
“I can’t influence what they [Members of Parliament] think, I think it's important because I don’t think there has been much discourse within Members of Parliament on these…”
When Prime Minister Tuilaepa was asked by radio 2AP about Fiame raising concerns about the bills, he said he didn’t mind if she didn't approve of them.
“That is her decision which means she is no longer with this party,” Tuilaepa responded.
But Fiame, when asked what she meant when she said she is free, she then made reference to the H.R.P.P. rules.
“When you are in a party it's sort of towing the party line going along with the Cabinet,” she explained.
“I’ve been there for so long and you can do that to continue the work of the Government.
“‘But I have always thought since I became Member of Parliament, especially with the party system, if there will ever be a time that this will happen that I cannot sort of carry the party line or the Government line.
“It just so happens to be this one [this time].”
Fiame was first elected as Member of Parliament for Lotofaga in 1985 and was first appointed Cabinet Minister in 1991.