Laauli rejects vote-buying claims

The deputy leader of Fa’atuatua I le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.), Laauli Leuatea Schmidt has denied “buying votes” from voters.

The accusations were made by the caretaker Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, on Wednesday during his weekly TV3 programme. 

The Prime Minister said the F.A.S.T. s "vote-buying" took the form of customary presentations and recent measles epidemic assistance.

But La’auli flatly denied the claims.

“He said there was one basket of three bongo [snacks] and one toilet paper and followed by [F.A.S.T. leader] Fiame [Naomi Mataafa]’s comments to vote for F.A.S.T. – wow – I was there during that time and Fiame did not say anything [about] voting,” La’auli said during the TV2 Soalepule programme.

“The assistance was given with pure intentions for the children.

“If their wisdom and knowledge, which he speaks on so often, had not thought of such assistance [for the affected families] then they have to accept that this is being done with clean intentions by the Fa’atuatua I le Atua Samoa ua Tasi to give that assistance.”

La’auli explained that it was a popular request from overseas supporter groups to give something to the families of those children.

Official estimates are that 83 mostly infant lives were claimed during the 2019 pandemic. But subsequent reporting by the Samoa Observer has revealed a non-Government organisation working closely with the health Ministry estimated the true death toll from the virus was 100.

Baskets full of groceries and toys plus $300 cash for each child claimed by the epidemic was donated by associations and Samoan citizens living abroad.

Party deputy Chairman, Olo Fiti Vaai was recently in Savaii distributing baskets and cash to families who lost children or relatives on the big island.

“I don’t know what they think but the country will bear witness,”  said Laauli. 

“This is our very own effort that has in the pipelines for a very long time and it was done with a genuine heart.”

Fiame said the controversy seemed to be caused by the timing of the assistance, so close to the April General Election, but that should not discredit the initiative’s spirit.

The claims are being made as threats, but it will not discourage the F.A.S.T. party to lend a helping hand like they’ve always planned, she said.

“We take for example what happened during the tsunami; the Government came long after families and various organisations had come to assist,” she said.

“And why is that? Because something major has happened to a part of the country and they want to reach out, offer their condolences and help.

“That’s exactly what is happening with the measles and its being done by F.A.S.T. because as the epidemic hit, this family was already starting to form.”

Fiame said they have noted 134 deaths from the measles epidemic based on the number of families who showed up with relevant documents as proof during the course of their assistance.

“We have to always remember the reason why we (F.A.S.T.) were established and we have to acknowledge the generosity of overseas Samoans who contributed to the cause,” she said.

“What do they want? We pile up the goods sent over and distribute them amongst the F.A.S.T. members?

“The party has carried out its work made possible through the contribution of those who donated to the cause because of F.A.S.T.”

However, speaking on Thursday during his 2AP programme, the Prime Minister said there is no way they can say their measles assistance is not in any way connected to the general election.

“It is very easy to see; unless it is someone who is dumb who does not understand this,” he said.

“It’s been two years already, and now they want to give out money [so] closely ahead of the general election?”

Voters go to the polls on April 9. 

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