Independent MPs adding colour to vibrant democracy

The increasing criticism of Independent Members of Parliament by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, and the war of words that follow, is setting up next April’s general election to be one of the most highly-anticipated in our modern history.

The verbal stoush are good signs of a thriving democracy, as our leaders exercise a fundamental freedom that is enshrined in Samoa’s Constitution, that of the freedom of expression.

And six months out from the 2021 General Election, the voters would welcome more of it, as Members of Parliament put their political rivals’ policies or party manifestos under the radar and scrutinise them with purpose.

But amid the ferocious tit-for-tat in recent weeks, the heated exchange has uncovered uncanny details of the Government’s plans to further strangulate the evolution of our democracy, by outlawing Independent Members of Parliament.

The proposal by the Prime Minister, to push through legislation to remove Independent Members in the Parliament and force candidates to only register with a party during an election, has been met with consternation.

“In the next General Election [after 2021 election] we might not have independent [members],” Tuilaepa said. “This will prevent what is happening at the moment where you leave a party and hide around and make fun [of the party].”

Urban West Member of Parliament, Faumuina Wayne Fong, was a member of Tuilaepa’s Human Rights Protection Party [H.R.P.P.] until May this year when he was sacked from the ruling party.

He has slammed the proposal and described it as another example of the Prime Minister becoming a dictator.

“This is dictatorship for him telling M.Ps where they go,” he said.  “Where will he stop with all of these?  The P.M. talks as if he owns the whole country and running the country like a dictator.” 

The M.P. for Salega East, Olo Fiti Vaai, expressed the same sentiments and added that the P.M. has no business to question where members should and should not go while emphasising that the Speaker is the head of the Parliament.  

“His authority ends inside the H.R.P.P. circle and his instructions should be directed at their own members,” he said.  “If he wants remove independent seats then open up the floor to recognise any M.P. in a party instead of the required number [of eight].

“If we are to follow rules from New Zealand then lift this ban so that any number of M.Ps from a party can be recognised in the House.”

It is not surprising that the Prime Minister has opted, yet again, to capitalise on his party’s majority in the Parliament to propose pushing through contentious legislation without consultation with the wider public.

In the best democracies in the world, bills that are truly representative of the people’s aspirations and desires for change that would result in the betterment of their lives and a prosperous future, get through to the Parliament for its consideration after an exhaustive consultative process.

And you do not have to look far for evidence of the Government’s use of its majority numbers in the Parliament to sponsor undemocratic legislation, which if enacted would ultimately work against the overall interests of the people. 

The controversial Government-sponsored Land and Titles [L.T.C.] Bills – comprising the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, the Land and Titles Bill 2020 and the Judicature Bill 2020 – are a case in point.

So what is exactly wrong with having Independent Members of Parliament in our Legislative Assembly? 

It appears – based on this newspaper’s coverage of Tuilaepa’s statements in various forums over the last couple of days – that he is infuriated that the former Deputy P.M. Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, Olo and Faumuina are Independent Members of Parliament and are yet to be aligned or associated with any political party.

Now that appears to be the inspiration for the Prime Minister’s announcement recently, that he proposes the introduction of legislative amendments to remove Independent Members of Parliament.

Perhaps, it is time the people apply a checklist to Tuilaepa’s proposal, prior to the proposed amendments being tabled in the Parliament. 

Will this bill put food on the table for Samoan families? No. Will this bill result in the re-employment of thousands of workers laid off due to the COVID-19 global pandemic? No. Will this bill address rising poverty among ordinary families due to the lack of educational or employment opportunities? No. 

Now that’s one perspective. Let’s look at the other side. 

Could the bill remove the ability of Members of Parliament to choose differently – in the Parliament – rather than align themselves with a party whose policies they don’t agree with? Yes. Could the bill enable the ruling H.R.P.P. to continue to dominate the proceedings of the legislature? Yes. And could the bill result in the loss of checks and balances in the Parliament and remove the right of citizens – through their elected representatives – to effectively scrutinize legislation that could be detrimental to their interests? Yes.

You can conclude whose interests the proposed law to remove Independent Politicians represents. 

If the events of late, connected to the proposed Government reforms of the Judiciary, are any indication then citizens should not take these verbal skirmishes between our leaders for granted and continue to be vigilant.

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