M.P., P.M. square off over legislative process
An M.P. and the Prime Minister argued vigorously about whether the power of the head of the Ministry of Prime Minister and Cabinet (M.P.M.C.) to pass bills into law is "appropriate".
Salega Member of Parliament, Olo Fiti Vaai, raised questions on Wednesday about the authority of M.P.M.C. chief Agafili Shem Leo to turn a bill into law if the Head of State does not sign off on its passage.
After a bill is passed by the Legislative Assembly there is a seven-day window for the Head of State to sign off on the legislation, signaling his assent to the law.
But beyond that window any proposed legislation can be passed onto the M.P.M.C. Chief Executive Officer for endorsement.
“To me, it is not appropriate,” Olo said in Parliament.
But the M.P.'s criticisms drew a rebuke from the Prime Minister, who said the process of the Ministry chief having the authority to sign bills into law had long been part of Samoa’s democratic system.
“This is nothing new,” Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi said in response to Olo’s criticism.
“This was in fact embedded [in the constitution] by our forefathers and that is why I want to correct your wrong allegations.”
Olo in turn disputed the Prime Minister’s claims and took to the floor to argue that the provisions had only recently been inserted into the constitution.
“It is new,” he said.
"It was only approved [into law] in 2016."
Olo listed his reasons for why he felt the placement of power in the hands of a Ministry C.E.O. was, in his view, “inappropriate”.
“Bills are proposed by the Government and [are] approved in Parliament and [if they are not endorsed by the Head of State] then it goes to the M.P.M.C. Chief Executive Officer for endorsement,” Olo said.
“And when that happens, questions do arise [about] the process.”
But the Prime Minister denied there was any problem of centralising power within the Ministry.
“The bills are approved by Parliament which is the supreme body and Parliament has a representative from each respective constituency,” the Prime Minister said.
“Once a bill is passed and it is not endorsed by the Head of State there is a process and he has seven days [to sign his assent to the legislation].
“And within those seven days, Cabinet will also deliberate whether there are any prominent reasons why this law should not be endorsed.
“The Head of State will [also] be given the opportunity to elucidate the reasons why the bill was not signed into law.
“After the seven days, the Secretary of the Cabinet will then announce to the public the law is deemed to [have] come into effect.”
The Prime Minister also noted that anyone is eligible to become the Head of State, so long as they are a registered chief.
“The same eligibility also applies for anyone to become a Member of Parliament; one’s chiefly title must be endorsed and registered,” Tuilaepa said.
Earlier this month, His Highness Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II signed into law three bills restructuring the judicial system on 4 January, after Parliament overwhelmingly endorsed them 41-4 in a December vote.
Last month a decision to oust Olo from Parliament for signing up to contest the April election under the banner of the Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party for allegedly breaching party-hopping provisions was overturned.
The Supreme Court ruled that the vacating of Olo’s seat and that of the M.P. for Urban West, Faumuina Wayne Fong, was unconstitutional.