The Government’s knack to amend Electoral laws: What’s the motivation?

It’s undeniable that Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Mailelegaoi and the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) have a knack for amending the Constitution. They have made no secret about their intentions, constantly reminding us that the Constitution must be treated as a “living” and “evolving document”.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa has always insisted that a Government led by leaders who are sensitive to changes in people and the environment must be bold enough to amend laws to reflect these changes. With that in mind, it’s fair to say we have lost count of the number of changes to the Constitution made by this ruling administration in its more than 35 years in power.

The Constitution as our forefathers had framed it during the Constitutional Convention in 1960 has been amended so much they would struggle to recognise it today.

To be fair to the Government, changes are not always bad. There are times when changes are necessary especially given the way the world has evolved over the years and the need for this nation to keep up, otherwise we run the risk of being left behind.

But there is something terribly wrong when they keep changing the Constitution at will motivated by political gain, power and greed. Those are changes that must be strongly opposed and this Government has a lot to answer for looking at what has been happening lately. Indeed, people can be forgiven for thinking that many of these changes are being determined by which side of the bed they wake up and what they had for breakfast.

Looking at some of these changes, they have shown absolutely no regard or respect for history, culture, religion, genealogy and the legacy of our forefathers and their fight for this country to be free from oppression and suffering.

The countless changes to the Electoral Act immediately come to mind. There have been far too many changes people have become so confused to the point where some of them have given up caring altogether. But where have these changes gotten us as a democracy? How have they improved the process of achieving free and fair elections?

All you have to do is look at the increasing number of petitions prior to the General Election, as we have witnessed during the past few weeks, as a direct reflection of the confusion and misunderstanding a number of these changes have created.

Even a simple concept like the monotaga (services rendered to the village or church), which every Samoan should understand because that is who we are as a people, has now become so technical we’ve had to resort to a legal interpretation by the Court for a solution. Now isn’t that sad? And what does this tell us about how far we have come and the impact of these changes in our society?

Let us be reminded here today that it was only two years ago the Government rammed through monumental changes to the Electoral laws, including redefining electoral boundaries which totally disregarded the make up of Samoan customs and culture. Does it surprise anyone then that where there is the absence of boundaries put in place as a mark of respect, love and Samoan customs, we now need to find our bearings in legal and technical jargon of law? This is an absolute travesty this country cannot ignore.

What’s even more alarming is that judging from what has been said publically, the Government is nowhere near done. Last week, Prime Minister Tuilaepa announced more amendments to the Electoral Act promising to provide more clarity on the definition of monotaga.

 “The [amendments] will thoroughly define what the monotaga means. And this is the service conducted by any chief once they are [bestowed the title] up until one’s death,” he said. “The service/monotaga does not limit to the contributions in terms of finances, food, fine mats etc., but it also applies to your contribution in the Village Council during the meetings where important matters are being discussed."

Prime Minister Tuilaepa needed not to exhaust himself trying to explain this. Every Samoan, young or old, who is providing service to their families, villages and churches one way or another, would understand it. We do not need further law changes to tell a Samoan what a monotaga is.

Interestingly, the Prime Minister also fired a broadside at the Judges of the Supreme Court who presided over the petitions.

 “In terms of the cases, no matter the legal arguments presented in Court, if the judge understands the true intention of what the monotaga is all about, they should make their decisions based on that,” Tuilaepa said. “But just because the lawyer is wrong does not necessarily mean their decision should follow suit. But then again if the judge [who is a chief] does not render any monotaga, how could [the judge] understand the Samoan culture and tradition?”

Now this is unfair for the Judges, especially when they do not have the freedom and the opportunity to openly respond to such stinging and personal public criticism. The Prime Minister’s unprovoked attack is also uncalled for because these Judges were merely doing their jobs trying to sort out the mess Tuilaepa’s Government created through these multiple amendments to the Constitution and the Electoral Act.

Which is why the Leader of the Fa’atuatua ile Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party, La’auli Leuatea Schmidt, makes sense in his call for the Government to stop amending electoral laws simply to suit their political agenda.

Instead, La’auli said amendments, if necessary, should be wholesale and address issues concerning electoral constituency boundaries and other pressing matters to ensure all Samoans – including thousands living overseas - freely participate in Samoa’s vote process. We cannot help but agree.

Changes where necessary should be considerate, measured and thoughtful. Anything less and motivated by greed and power is a disservice to the people of Samoa and members of the public.

What do you think? Have a peaceful Sunday Samoa, God bless!







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