Op-Ed | Beware of Things that go Bump in the Night....

I think many of our grandmothers used to say to us that ‘nothing good happens late at night or early in the morning’ (as yet one of the many reasons that you should not go out and stay out late with your friends) and those wise words proved true in the dark of night on Monday...

Perhaps catching wind of the fact that the Independent MP was joining the other party, a late night flurry resulted in coterie of public servants collectively colluding to effectively change the outcome of a national election.

The announcement was so deliberate and so obviously intended to derail the Independent Member’s announcement the next day, it simply raised and created suspicion; so too the method of communication of this late night coup (unlike all the other OEC announcements) which was publically released on OEC’s face book page, which was unworthy of the importance, magnitude and impact of the decision- all suggesting a rushed, ill thought out and underprepared response to a Direction.

Whether or not the action taken was lawful or not, is now a question which the Supreme Court will decide, and we must all have faith that the collective Justices will undertake their work according to the Judicial Oath they all took:

.., ‘and well and truly serve the Independent State of Samoa in accordance with the Constitution and the law, and will do right to all manner of people without fear or favor, affection or ill will..,’

The timing of the Electoral Commissioners ‘pre-emptive strike’ on the outcome of an otherwise well run electoral process, stinks to high heaven.

‘Crude, Rude and Graceless’ has also become ‘Cynical, Desperate and Shameless’, as all the officeholders of State who had some part in making the decision, all of whom are individually supposed to act as a ‘check and balance’ on extreme, unfair or illegal activity by public officials, failed us all miserably.

Most of the time the public never sees the ‘backroom’ action where public servants and the legal, financial, technical advisers all add their bit to a Government decision, and mostly you don’t see the big policy disasters because they’re caught before they get to Cabinet, or having made it to

Cabinet, perhaps dispatched by the Cabinet Development Committee (CDC), or other Constitutional Officers.

The problem though with tyranny, is that all those processes become mere ‘window dressing’ as the Leader makes all the decisions and the rest is just rubber stamping. This also creates a particular and hostile ‘modus operandi’ for public servants, especially if they want to stay employed or serve another term for the Leader, which is that you offer the advice he wants to hear, and you anticipate what will be pleasing to the Leader, and what will cause you embarrassment in front of all your peers at CDC and act accordingly.

The Constitutional Crisis not the outcome of the election and the decisions made by voters, but an act of a public servant.
Elections which have deadlocked results or a majority of one or minority governments happen regularly all around the region and the world (even in those bastions of democracy: New Zealand and Australia, and is not unusual, but the political actors involved – the parties and the politicians, are left to simply work it out because they need to, in order to govern, because that is their role and function.

In our case the country has been plunged into a Constitutional crisis not by its voters, but because of an administrative decision taken by an electoral official which has the effect of :

  • Changing the outcome of the national election; and
  • Devaluing the critical vote of the duly elected Independent Member, who had the ability to decide the outcome of the election, and had the deciding vote to give one party the majority of MP’s in Parliament to form Government

To adopt a legal interpretation which has the effect of increasing a Parliament is an ‘enormous’ act to take

To change the outcome of a national election by the exercise of power by an unelected official is an extraordinarily act at any time.

But to exercise such a power without first seeking the guidance and reassurance by the Supreme Court that your interpretation of the Constitutional provisions are in fact correct, that the circumstances warranted your intervention at that specific time, all when that special and paramount Supreme Law is not administered by you or your office, is an exceptionally ‘big call’ by a public servant, particularly when that act has the effect of preventing the formation of a Government.

To do so without acknowledging the significance of the decision, or the need to seek truly independent and authoritative guidance from the Supreme Court, (and not simply advisors who may have a vested interest to remain in their posts), was foolhardy, but probably consistent with the Crude Rude and Graceless attitude we saw more of during this week.

In fact a return to the polls may not have the calculated effect expected by the Leader, and in fact may deliver the opposite result from a country still not listened to, their wishes ignored and now their votes nullified. The call was unequivocably for change at the top, nothing more nothing less...did no one in the remaining Blue Caucus remember the results ? does no one there have the intestinal fortitude to bring real and fundamental change to a party punished at the polls for persisting with Crude Rude and Graceless ?...apparently not and the sheer unadulterated arrogance of appointing a Speaker and Deputy Speaker in the current circumstances is breathtaking.....

The calculated use of the late night Expansion of Parliament 

The 26-26 deadlock created by one of his own officials, has now been used by the Caretaker Leader as a basis to argue for, and justify the conduct of new elections, so the historic result of two weeks ago can be wiped from our history, allowing the power, they believe to be restored to its long term owner HRPP.

To ignore and reject the mandate given to the FAST party (formed only 8 months ago) to bring change, decency and accountability back to national politics and the public service, is perhaps yet another monumental miscalculation by someone who has led his Mute Party to the greatest electoral defeat in the Party’s history, yet there he remains, the Leader still, facing absolutely no accountability or responsibility for leading his whole team into the abyss of abject and miserable failure. With the ultimate irony, that the Leader has sacked so many public servants over the decades for purported incompetence and non performance, yet it appears he does not play by the same rules as the rest of the public, and that is fundamentally important for any public office holder, for their credibility and the dignity of their public office.

If you were a Savaii MP you can feel rightly aggrieved that a unilateral decision to prolong the Parliamentary session effectively cost you 5-7 weeks of campaigning time and action...and ultimately your seat...

To mastermind, and be complicit with your advisors, in what actually amounts to an administrative coup, against the results of a free, fair and well conducted general election decided by the votes of the people of this country, because your side lost, perhaps is the most shameful example of the ‘The Biggest Loser’ Only in Samoa Edition, and debases us all here and beyond Samoa, as our incredulous families overseas gasp with shame and embarrassment that Samoa is sliding into an ocean of international condemnation and hilarity.

Caretaker Government

Like it or not, Samoa adopted a system of Government drawn from the Westminster system of England, and so many of the policies and rules that hold our system together, come from there and continue to be applied in most democratic type governments including Samoa.

One of those conventions relates to ‘Caretaker Government’, which happens once Parliament is dissolved and national elections are conducted, and maintains the general administration of Government and continues with routine matters, until a new Government is sworn in. There are certain rules and conventions for a Caretaker Government which often include the following:

  • They avoid making any major policy decisions that will commit an incoming government or limit its freedom to act

  • They do not make or renew any significant appointments

  • They do not sign or execute any major contracts or agreements

  • They do not make any significant financial decisions, or borrow or commit public funds, or give government guarantees

  • They protect the apolitical nature of the public service

  • They avoid using public resources for the benefit of or the advantage of any political party¹

Once the Official Results were released on 16 April 2021, by convention no MP who lost their seat was entitled to remain a Minister, Associate Minister or MP, nor may continue to enjoy any of the benefits of such as from 16 April 2021.

Once Parliament was dissolved on 3 March 2021, the Caretaker Government commenced and continues until a new Government is sworn in.

Leadership in Good and Hard Times

Former President Trump incited a Public Riot on the Capitol Complex on the very day that the United States Congress and the House of Representatives were to confirm the results of the Federal elections and shouted ‘Stolen Election’ in a voice which still resonates with members of the Republican party, and as such is the 2020 ‘Sore Loser’ award winner.

I would hope that the Leader whose legacy is extensive and extraordinary, whose achievements are significant and extensive, would lead, a country which is grateful, but ready for change, to the next stage of its history with dignity and honor, knowing that he had done all he that he was able, but prepared to allow a transition to new leadership and fresh ideas within his own party, or a peaceful transition to a new Government, willing to steer the ship of state.

In short your people spoke....please listen....

Footnote: 1 Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Government of Australia ‘Guidance on Caretaker Conventions (2018)

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