Non-Samoan speaking citizens deserve answers too

The General Secretary of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (C.C.C.S.), Reverend Vavatau Taufao, wants the Government to address nationally important issues in both English and Samoan.

The General Secretary of the country's biggest denomination expressed his disappointment after learning that a reporter for the E.F.K.S. T.V. was refused an English response to a question by the Director-General of Health, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, on Monday.

During a press conference on Monday Leausa and the National Emergency Operations Centre (N.E.O.C.) Interim Chair, Agafili Shem Leo, addressed Samoa’s COVID-19 response in the wake of a close shave with infected crew on a container ship now in American Samoa.

Leausa answered questions by the Samoa Observer’s English-speaking reporter in Samoan and declined to repeat an answer to a question in English when asked by the reporter for the E.F.K.S. T.V.  This newspaper reported on the incident in Wednesday’s edition in an article titled ‘Health Chief refuses to answer English questions.’

“That’s a bit rough from the Government, they shouldn’t be like that,” Rev. Vavatau said on Wednesday.

“Samoa has non-Samoan speaking citizens, and they all deserve to be informed. I believe the Government should express themselves in English as well.”

The Reverend said while he feels that way, he acknowledged that reporters are still free to translate any statements given in Samoan themselves.

In the Wednesday 18 November’s edition of the Government newspaper Savali, the Government  defended Leausa’s decision in an article titled ‘Responding in Samoan Language consistent with Government Policy.’

In it, they deny Leausa was trying to exclude the Samoa Observer from the press conference, saying it is following policy to “re-emphasize the value and essence of the Samoan language.”

Agafili is quoted saying: “you come to Samoa, we communicate in Samoan.” The article itself is published in English. 

A December 2019 Cabinet directive means all Cabinet submissions and directives should be made in Samoan, Agafili, who is also the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Prime Minister and Cabinet said.

Cabinet has extended this to official addresses at public events and press releases issued by Government departments to the public or media.

“Using Samoa’s native language in local public addresses re-emphasizes [sic] the value and essence of the Samoan language,” Agafili said.

“The same approach has been undertaken in the way Parliament of Samoa conducts all its business and undertakes deliberations in Samoan. 

“You go to France, they communicate in French, you go to Germany, they communicate in German, you go to Japan, they communicate in Japanese, you come to Samoa, we communicate in Samoan.”

This week’s press conference came a week after a container ship’s crew tested positive for COVID-19 in American Samoa waters, days after it had docked in Apia having cleared the medical checks.

The N.E.O.C. came under fire for taking a day to respond to requests for official comment, while the Department of Health in American Samoa had released information on Monday evening, including personally relaying the details to Leausa.

The Savali writes: “The Cabinet Secretary’s response is to clarify implications of a story […] that Leausa had dodged questions.”

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