Olo to change sides, not principles
After 15 years opposing the Government, veteran M.P. Olo Fiti Va'ai will begin a new chapter in the XVII Parliament when he sits with the Government for the first time on Monday.
In an interview with the Sunday Samoan, Olo, who has been branded as Parliament’s "lone ranger" said the dream he had upon first entering Parliament in 2006 is finally coming true.
In the absence of a strong opposition party and Samoa effectively being run by a one-party state, Olo remained devoted in his opposition to the Government.
Olo says he joined the Government to be an advocate for those who could not stand up against the Government.
"I have told this story so many times before," Olo said.
"The main reason why I became an opposition member was that I did not agree with the policies and principles that guided the [Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.)].
"They have been in power for too long and I knew from the beginning that my policies and my own principles are not similar to those of that party.
"But I was always praying and hoping that one day, Samoa will have a party that would defeat the H.R.P.P."
Olo believes that the Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party is the realisation of a 15-year dream for a new era of Samoan politics.
"Now that we have formed this new party and have won the trust and support of our people to oust the H.R.P.P., we feel that this is the answer to our prayers.
"Our journey to where we are today has not been easy; you are aware of that. But, that's all in the past and we are all looking forward to a fresh start next week."
While the member-elect for Salega East said he is ready to swap sides on the political spectrum, he admits that he will miss being on the opposition side.
He reflected on his time as an opposition M.P. and admitted that it has been an often rocky road.
"Being an opposition member was never an easy path for me as a politician," he said.
"Even when I knew that I was fighting alone, that did not discourage me from standing up for what I believed in. I remember stepping into the political arena for the first time back in 2006, those were very tough times for me.
"I tried to learn as much as I could from the veteran parliamentarians at that time. I felt like I was on the right side, opposing and questioning the Government of the day because it helped me learn more about the issues we continue to face as a nation.
"It will be different for me and the country will see a new Olo once we [F.A.S.T.] are sworn in to become the ruling Government.
"Things will not be the same and I know it will be hard to adjust to the changes."
However, with a big smile, Olo said he is more than ready for the next chapter of his political career.
"After being in opposition for more than a decade, I am ready for the next step.
"God's timing and calling is always perfect, right? All those years of being an opposition was preparing me for this. But that does not mean I will not continue to do what I have been doing for the past years.
"I will continue to do my research on the different issues in the country. The only difference now is that I will not be preparing questions. Instead, I will be preparing to answer and respond to issues raised by the other side.
"And because I have been on the opposition side for so many years, I understand what being on the opposite side [of Government] means. This means that I know all the tactics and strategies and I will be ready to answer any queries from the opposing side."
Olo said he will not hesitate to question what will now be his “own Government" from the backbench if their leader, Fiame Naomi Mata'afa does not include him in her Cabinet.
"If I will not be appointed as a Cabinet Minister, I will gladly, without hesitation continue to question our own Government. I am a person of principles and I always follow my heart and my instinct.
"It will not be a problem if I am not chosen as a Cabinet Minister. If I feel that something is wrong and is not right, I will address it. I will always follow and listen to my heart and what it tells me."
On the other hand, Olo said becoming a Minister would be the icing on the cake of his political career to date.
"I say this because it has been the dream of my forefathers and also my constituents," he said.
"In the past, I've had the opportunity and option to join H.R.P.P. and I would've joined [them] if I trusted their leadership and policies.
"But I did not want to join when my heart was not [one] hundred per cent into that decision. So I remained as an independent member and continued to pray for others to join me in defeating the H.R.P.P.
"So if I am fortunate enough to be chosen as a Minister, it will mean so much to me and my constituency. I will gladly offer my service and vow to do my best for the betterment of this country."
He then acknowledged the caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi for his leadership, saying he learned a lot from Tuilaepa.
"As an opposition member, I would go home and do my research thoroughly before any [Parliamentary] sittings. That's because I want to understand all the issues discussed and find any loophole so I can be ready to present anything I see that was lacking.
"The main reason why I did that was for the betterment of this country. I wanted them to understand things from our perspective because not all the legislation they come up with is complete.
"Therefore, we have to question them [Government] so they can look at the issues from another perspective. At the same time, it's really good to have debates in parliament because that's what we are there to do.
"[My role is to] be the voice of our constituency, not just to sit on those chairs and nod our heads.
"And I have learned a lot from Tuilaepa through the different arguments and debates we've had over the years. I can honestly say that I have observed all of his tactics and strategies and have learned a lot from him."
Before entering politics, Olo recalls being politically engaged since his youth, and has long cherished a dream of becoming a politician.
Olo first entered Parliament under the name Levaopolo Talatonu Va'ai. He comes from a proud family of politicians.
“My uncle Leilua Manuao had been serving as an M.P. for close to 40 years,” he said.
“So it’s in my blood and carrying on my family legacy has been a goal of mine since I knew what politics was.”
He served in the Samoa Government as an Assistant C.E.O. for the Samoa Airports Authority.
He attended Avele and Samoa College prior to attending Auckland University of Technology where he received his Bachelor’s Degree in Telecommunications Engineering.
He also specialises in Navigation Airport System and utilised his knowledge with the Samoa Airport Authority for 16 years where he managed the authority’s Technical Division.
Olo is also a businessman. He brought investors and was able to install the first solar panels in Samoa. Olo is the son of the late Mareta Togafau Fiti and Mat’autia Afoa Vaai.
After Samoa's General Election in 2016, there were officially three non-H.R.P.P. members in the House for Samoa's XVI Parliamentary term.
However, none was more vocal than the three-term Member of Parliament who saw the nobility of serving in opposition.
But that changed when another veteran M.P., La'auli Leuatea Schmidt, joined him in May 2020 - setting off a political chain reaction that few could have dreamt of.
La'auli was sacked from the H.R.P.P., after voting against proposed amendments to the constitution and a prolonged back-and-forth with then-Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi.
A month later, another former H.R.P.P. M.P., Faumuina Wayne Fong, joined Olo and La'auli on the opposition side, after he was sacked from the ruling party.
They were joined by former Deputy Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mata'afa, who resigned from Cabinet in September 2020 and only officially became the leader of the F.A.S.T. party after the dissolution of the last Parliament earlier this year.