P.M. justifies bizarre behaviour, turns on Samoa Observer

Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, has defended his behaviour during a recent public event where he abruptly stopped a choir made up of students, while they were singing the Lord's prayer.

He has also criticised the Samoa Observer for reporting on the incident, saying it was a desperate attempt to sell copies of the newspaper with a story written by an "11-year-old reporter."

“They really made it look like it was a serious situation when it really wasn’t at all," Tuilaepa was quoted as saying in the state-owned Savali newspaper. "So they manipulated the story so they can have a front page story for the paper to sell. I don’t mind though as I’ve grown used to this type of tactic from them."

The incident in question took place during the U.N.D.P. Spotlight Initiative Samoa – Fautasi o Toa Challenge launch on the black sand beach in Apia, last week where the Prime Minister was the keynote speaker. After the opening prayer by Father Filipo Kapeli, students from St. Mary’s College and Don Bosco were singing the Lord ’s Prayer when Tuilaepa grabbed the microphone and told them to stop. 

“I have to go because I am thirty minutes late to a Cabinet meeting,” Tuilaepa said.

The incident shocked many guests who attended the event. Questions sent by the Samoa Observer to the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary, Nanai Lave Tuiletufuga, to determine what was so important that the Prime Minister would stop the Lord’s Prayer, were never answered. 

But in the latest edition of the Savali, Tuilaepa said he was running late for a Cabinet meeting.

“Cabinet follows a very strict guideline and protocol. And if I can’t follow protocol and standards that I hold my Ministers to, then I am not setting the example of being a good leader,” Tuilaepa said. “They would see me as discriminatory, if I had favoured staying at the launch for as long as I wanted while Cabinet members waited for me.”

He continued to accuse the Samoa Observer of going to "petty lengths" for a front page story, saying the newspaper insinuated that he had committed a serious offence.

Tuilaepa backed up his comments during an interview with TV1, where he continued his attack on the newspaper. 

“That means they were looking for a front page for the paper to sell so they can get some money," he said, adding that he does not mind helping the newspaper get news so it can survive.

Tuilaepa explained that the event he attended was part of St. Joseph’s College 70th anniversary. His participation at the Fautasi o Toa launch was also an opportunity to showcase the Government’s support in advocating for the elimination of violence against women and children. 

As for S.J.C. and Marist, Tuilaepa said he was a father figure to them.

“If I am the [patron] father-figure that means all the old pupils [S.J.C.] are my children," he said. "That means the choir is also my choir and it was our ceremony. So I came wearing my fatherly hat, St Joseph’s College was the first college to be established in 1950."

He also made reference to him being a former student of the College.

"As I stood up and was about to deliver the keynote address after the first verse, I raised my hand, then my choir understood. But the problem was the male choir conductor did not understand because he was turning his back towards me," Tuilaepa said. 

“When I raised my hand the song finished because the children understood.

“There were three messages that I delivered: if I raised my hand, it means the children are happy that I am saluting their song; secondly, they are happy that I am praising their singing and they have nice voices; thirdly, they know that it’s time to stop singing the second verse but allow me to finish because I will also sing."

The Prime Minister said in his opening remarks, he reminded the audience that if "you have one prayer and two songs that means you have three prayers." 

“It is because a song can be a prayer, a prayer can be a song, and also a speech can also be a song," the Prime Minister said.

“So with the addition of my speech it makes it four prayers on that day. But the eleven-year-old girl reporter who was there to write the article did not understand. As a father, I was only talking to my children."

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