Fiame's exit and Government in Samoa

Things fall apart. 

With the resignation of Fiame Naomi Mata'afa from Cabinet on Friday that will pave the way for the swearing in of Samoa’s fourth Deputy Prime Minister in as many terms of Government. 

Such instability at Samoa’s second tier of power might say a lot about the way the country is being governed at present. But it could also say a lot about its future. 

Tuilaepa has presided over a period of nation building in Samoa. 

These decades have not been hindered by the influx of foreign aid, latterly supercharged as Samoa finds itself as the centre of great power competition for its loyalties between cashed up Governments east and west.

But we are entering a new world - one of economic contraction; one in which Samoa finds itself standing in a queue for monetary assistance; and one in which our major imports and exports have been severely damaged. 

Guiding Samoa through these waters will not be easy.

There is a generation of Samoans who have not known any Prime Minister other than Tuilaepa.

But as large as he looms over national politics even he is not immune to the rules of political gravity.

Going to the polls for the fifth time, it is arguable that it would have been advisable for the Prime Minister and, indeed, his party, to have long groomed a potential political successor.

But instead of a succession plan or a consultative style of Government it is unclear that the Prime Minister’s political and personal style is amenable to partnership of any kind. 

Before Fiame’s exit, the most recent example of which was the expulsion of H.R.P.P. stalwart, La'aulialemalietoa Leuatea Schmidt, whose feud with the Prime Minister began last year over changes to the Electoral Act.

Upon his departure from the H.R.P.P., a party to which both he and his family were deeply connected, La’auli made prophetic comments in reference to himself in Fiame that he and the party had become too closely entwined with its current leader. 

“We worked hard to build the party with our sweat,” he said.  

“He should mind what he says to us, those that came yesterday should be mindful of those that came before them. 

“This was not the motivation behind the establishment of the Human Rights Protection Party to have one person decide for all.”

The Prime Minister has long exuded a political persona that allows for absolutely no dissent. 

And its inability for him to get along with anyone who is not in absolute lockstep agreement with him has long been evident. 

The dissent between the Prime Minister and his deputy has been bubbling away now for some months. 

It was all the way back in April that Fiame, in Parliament, raised the Electoral Bill 2020, which changes the conduct of elections in Samoa, and asked questions about whether its requirements for permanent residency might have an effect on Samoan culture. 

In response, Tuilaepa said the changes were designed to eliminate corruption.

And every attempt to combat corruption, he said, pointedly, invited a response from dark forces: “The devil acts quickly to (try to) break it…”

Fiame understandably interpreted the remark as an oblique jab at her:

“Tuilaepa, are you saying that the devil is standing here… for (merely) expressing my views (on the subject)?,” she said.

Tuilaepa returned fire: “Any of my Ministers that does not agree with (the bill) has the chance to resign”.

But it was Fiame’s decision to join her village in conveying their views opposing one of the most significant overhauls of Samoan law in the country’s post-independence history that provoked Tuilaepa into kicking her out. 

A package of three bills before Parliament would create an entirely new branch Government and an autonomous Land and Titles Court (L.T.C.). This is not a small change to the country’s democracy. 

It was not wrong of Fiame to attend that meeting. Plenty of other M.P.s did so and saw it as part of their duty as elected representatives, such as Associate Minister Tofa Li'o Foleni and Afamasaga Rico Tupai.

What Fiame did wrong in Tuilaepa’s eyes was to express an opinion contrary to his own.

“I don’t mind if [she] doesn’t approve,” he said. 

“That is her decision which means she is no longer with this party.”

There has been plenty of commentary about Tuilaepa’s leadership style over the years.

But these two short remarks may be among the most revealing.

Lotofaga has since June closely studying the L.T.C. bills and making careful considerations for how they could be improved.

That is democracy in action. 

Lotofaga belongs to its people and no one else. 

Did Tuilaepa really expect Fiame to expressly go against the wishes of those to whom she swore to represent?

If so we are witnessing the collapse of something else; something much bigger than any single political partnership.

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