Law, health system weakening: Fiame

Former Deputy Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa said Samoa is “sliding away from the rule of law” and criticised the capacity of the country's health system in a post-resignation interview. 

Fiame resigned last Friday afternoon after speaking out against three proposed bills that would restructure Samoa’s judiciary.

Speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday, Fiame said her resignation now allowed her to speak freely: 

"The basis of my complaint is we are sliding away from the rule of law,” she said. 

But when asked to nominate other issues which the public wanted to hear more about, she said: 

“One of the things that really showed up last year with the measles [epidemic during which 83 people's lives were lost] were the weaknesses in our health system.

“We just have to return to the basics, ensure those are in place, intact [and] they’re strengthened. It’s all about just building the human resource to carry out the development work in the country.”

Fiame did not directly say whether she would join the Fa'atuatua ile Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party at the next election in a bid to challenge the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi.

“The F.A.S.T. party [has] been speaking up strongly also about these [three] bills,” she said.

“So we have common ground on those issues moving forward.” 

But she noted the difficulty of challenging the party of Government. 

“I’ve been with the [Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.)] for a very long time," she said. 

“My former party is a very strong party.

“It is very difficult for other voices to be heard or to be aired because the prominent or the Government party is so strong. 

"There's a generation now in Samoa that doesn't know anything else but H.R.P.P. so it’s not going to be an easy challenge. 

“Next year, with the coming election that is an unknown factor. But I don’t make light that my former party is a very strong party; it’s been in place for a very long time. 

“But I think in democracies, it is important, especially in the Parliamentary sector that there is good representation of the cross section of views in the country.”

Her comments as the first ever woman to be Australia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, praised Fiame for setting an example for human rights and freedom. 

“Fiame Naomi Mata'afa has been an outstanding leader for the Samoan people, and particularly for Samoan women,” Ms. Bishop said in response to questions from the Samoa Observer. 

“As the first woman to hold a Cabinet position and to be Deputy Prime Minister, Fiame has laid the foundations for generations of women to build on her achievements.

“I have long admired Fiame’s contribution to the people of Samoa and I am confident that it will continue as she advocates for human rights and freedom.”

Ms. Bishop was herself the first female Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, the current party of Government in that country, a role she held for 11 years before her recent retirement. 

Fiame has joined a growing group of members independent from the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P) ahead of next year’s election.

But she declined an invitation to become a leader of the Fa'atuatua ile Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) political party extended by La'auli. She said she will remain an independent M.P. until Parliament is dissolved in January.

Fiame said making the minority position on the bills heard in Parliament will be an “uphill battle.”

The former Deputy Prime Minister noted that conventions of cabinet solidarity obliged her to refrain from criticising agreed Government policy. 

“I was quite prepared to do that,” she said. 

Fiame said she and just three other Members of Parliament have criticised three bills that would make the Land and Titles Court (L.T.C.) an independent branch of Government. L.T.C. decisions would be free from judicial review by the Supreme Court under the changes. 

“There is essentially only four of us,” she said, referring to herself, Laaulialemalietoa Leuatea Schmidt, Faumuina Wayne Fong and Olo Fiti Vaai. 

“It is important that [these] voices [are] heard within Parliament”.

When Fiame and her constituency of Lotofaga presented their opposition to the three bills last week, Tuilaepa said he expected her to leave the party. 

Fiame said a separate L.T.C. would violate norms of the international rule of law.

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