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L.T.C. bills, General Election and the woman challenging the Prime Minister

On the eve of the tabling of a report by the Special Parliamentary Committee tasked to review the Constitution Amendment Bill 2020, Lands and Titles Bill 2020 and the Judicature Bill 2020, one more interesting development has emerged.

After a wave of opposition and the subsequent consequences it has had on the Government, including a very high profile split between the former Deputy Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, and the H.R.P.P ranks, another woman has risen to question Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi on the bills.

This time, the leader of the Sovereign Independent Samoa Political Party (S.I.S.), Fesola'i Logo Toloa, has challenged Tuilaepa to a public debate on the merits of the bills, which propose an independent Lands and Titles Court, as well as monumental changes to the judiciary and the Constitution of Samoa.

Whether the challenge will be accepted by the Prime Minister and what the potential implications are on what happens next, we don’t know at this stage.

It’s fair to say however that the vibes coming from the Government are not positive for such an eventuality. Two weeks ago, the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Tiatia Graeme Tualaulelei said the Special Parliamentary Committee is expected to table its report when Parliament reconvenes on 27 November 2020. That is only a few weeks away.

But from what the Chairperson of the Committee, Gatoloaifaana Amataga Gidlow, has said publically about their work, we can probably conclude that the report will be in favour of the bills being pushed through to the final reading, with maybe a couple of exceptions.

Last Sunday, the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration, Moliei Simi Vaai, also confirmed that an independent legal review of the bills has been completed. “It’s done," she said, adding that the “review was to seek a different perspective outside of Government – a view that is independent that will provide advice in case we miss something…”

Up until now, the Government has not officially confirmed who conducted the review and how much it cost. But it would be safe to say as a matter of fact the review would have been paid for by taxpayers’ money. It means that whatever legal opinion was provided, should also be made public, just as the Special Parliamentary Committee report that is expected to be tabled at the next session of Parliament.

What happens after that is the multi-million-tala question. Given the sensitivity of the bills, would the Government push to have the third reading and pass them during this Parliamentary sitting? Or would they postpone it until after the 2021 Election? Whatever they decide to do, what is certain is that Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his administration would be doing their homework very, very carefully as we speak.

It is undeniable that the L.T.C. bills have become an election issue, and it could well sway some votes. It has already rattled the leadership of the H.R.P.P. leading to one of the most public fallouts in Samoa’s political history, revealing that not all is well within the party ranks. As expected, Prime Minister Tuilaepa, being the master tactician, immediately pounced to plug the gap by changing the Electoral law, stopping any more members of the H.R.P.P. leaving.

But was that enough? Would it be strong enough to hold? Again, only time will tell. What’s important in as far as the H.R.P.P. is concerned is that they play their cards right in relation to the L.T.C. bills. The options are: Pass the bills now and risk the ire of all the people who have placed themselves in harm’s way by publically opposing and condemning the bills, at the ballot booths.

Alternatively delay the third reading; offer a promise to review them and that would go a long way to appease a lot of unhappy people who have condemned the Government on the proposed measures.  

Let’s not forget a good number of these critics are Government supporters historically. For many of them, this is the only time they have risked their necks because they feel so strongly about the negative implication these bills could have on the nation. We applaud their courage. Desperate situations call for desperate measures.

Historically speaking, Fesola’i, the woman who has stepped forward to challenge Tuilaepa to a public debate over the L.T.C. bills, has always been a strong advocate for the Government.

But like many other people who care deeply about this country, they are concerned about the future of Samoa. So in a letter to the Prime Minister, Fesola’i said the bills are repugnant” and “in breach” of the Constitution, claiming many Samoans have been deceived.

 “When I have proven to you and Samoa beyond all doubt that you and your Cabinet have erred, then, firstly, you shall respectfully and willingly shelve the three proposed the three bills,” Fesola’i wrote to Tuilaepa, adding that the debate should include experts from Samoa and overseas.

 “I anticipate your favourable response,” Fesola’i concluded.

Will Prime Minister Tuilaepa take the challenge from a woman?

And if he does, wouldn’t it be fascinating to have the Prime Minister, Fesola’i, Fiame, a representative of the Samoa Law Society, a representative of the Judges, representative of the international community, human rights organisations and other political parties to what could probably be the most important public debate in this country’s history to date.

It’s highly unlikely that it will happen. But it could happen. Stay tuned!

 

 

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