Walking the walk, on the rule of law

Eight weeks after the general election and Samoa’s political crisis appears to have peaked, with the worst of it hopefully over now that both Prime Ministers have reached a point where they can start negotiating face to face.

The decision on the ‘sixth woman’ Member of Parliament, from the Court of Appeal, seems to have reduced the temperature we have seen building between both the Human Rights Protection Party and the Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi party, including both parties’ supporter groups.

As to which party will form the majority Government after election petitions and by-elections, only time, and the Judiciary, will tell.

For now, we hope for a move away from petty and personal attacks and more productive dialogue and a plan to be put in place for the Executive government – whatever form that will take - until the end of the court action.

The key role the Courts have played in this political melee cannot be understated, and from whatever prism you choose to view our election battles, it should always consider the importance of the rule of law.

Presently, the F.A.S.T. party and their Leadership have had to move quickly to mitigate long-lasting damage to their well-managed campaign optics, with the announcement that the elected Member for Aana Alofa No.4 and appointed Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Toeolesulusulu Cedric Schuster, has resigned from his Ministerial post due to an arrest for driving under the influence on the Independence Day public holiday.

Fiame confirmed the resignation via Facebook live stream on Thursday.

“I have in my hand the letter of resignation by Toeolesulusulu and to protect the integrity of the Ministerial portfolio while he faces the traffic charges before the court.

“We will await the decision by court on this matter.”

Police Commissioner Fuiavailiili Egon Keil confirmed that the M.P. was held in custody on Tuesday night. On Thursday, the mug shot of a shirtless Toeolesulusulu was circulating widely on social media. By Friday, the Commissioner confirmed that the police officer who leaked the photo had been suspended.

The breach within Police ranks has been attributed in some way to political motivations, although Fuiava said investigations are still ongoing.

The Toeolesulusulu situation does present an opportunity for the rule of law to be employed to its fairest and most transparent conclusion.

We have already heard from F.A.S.T./Fiame that they will retain Toeolesulusulu as a member of Parliament/member of their party, while also accepting his letter of resignation as Cabinet Minister, to await the Court decision.

We have also heard previously from the Police Commissioner, who, upon police action during the Monday 24 May swearing-in of the F.A.S.T. M.Ps, said they don’t take sides.

 “We are really honoured to perform our function as the primary law enforcement of Samoa,” said Fuiavailiili. 

“As you know as law enforcement, we are supposed to enforce the law and we don’t take sides. “We treat everybody the same.”  

With the rule of law being one aspect of our democracy that has weathered the storm during our constitutional crisis, all eyes will now be on Police and the Judiciary to see how they will handle this traffic charge and rogue police officer’s actions.

We have heard the Prime Minister-elect Fiame Naomi Mataafa speak prolifically on the rule of law and its central positioning in her drive for a change. The rule of law and its fair application to all citizens was her major campaign message as she toured with the F.A.S.T. roadshow earlier this year.

She has often used the example of the President of the Land and Titles Court, Fepuleai Attila Ropati, by condemning the Parliamentary Special Inquiry Committee that submitted a report recommending for fellow legislators to endorse Fepuleai’s continuation in his position.

The recommendation was made, despite the President’s criminal conviction following an incident where he hit a security guard and was fined $7,000.

At the time, almost two years ago, then Deputy Prime Minister Fiame said she would stand by the law.

“We stand by the law, we are lawmakers, we live, abide and respect the law. I strongly support the motion by the government to terminate the service of the President of the Lands and Titles.”

Fiame then pointed to the eligibility clause for M.Ps which says once they are convicted for a crime that carries a jail term of four years, they are stripped of their Parliamentary titles.

The announcement by Fiame and the F.A.S.T. party, that they have accepted Toeolesulusulu’s resignation from his Ministerial post, must have been a difficult choice, considering the very slim margin of majority the party currently holds within Parliament.

A conviction that could carry 4 years or more as punishment would mean the Aana M.P. would likely lose his seat if the rule of law is to be followed.

The proactive move to remove him from a position of authority is commendable, as it shows the Sa’o Faapito’s campaign promises and iron-clad stance are to be trusted, that all people are equal before the law.

The Prime Minister-elect’s choice to raise the bar on Ministerial behaviour in her Cabinet, so early in the game, is an encouraging sign of what we can expect in future from the young party.

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