One hundred days on, how changed is Govt.?

By The Editorial Board 20 October 2021, 8:24PM

It is, of course, an American invention: an arbitrary political measurement that dates back the better part of a century. 

The success, or otherwise, of a Government’s first 100 days in power. Why not 99? Why not 101? 

Somewhere along the line it became the gold standard in political theatre for appraising the performance of a new administration.

Accounting for the messy power crisis that followed this year’s 9 April poll we are in fact creeping up on another milestone for the political phenomenon that is the Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party. 

This week we will tick over to 200 days since the 9 April election that so improbably brought the new Government into office. 

Thanks to confusions arising for a “caretaker Government” that was found to never have legally existed, the Government of Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa will close in on its milestone early next month.

 What have we seen in this time?

F.A.S.T.’s time in power needs to be judged in the proper context of its constraints and possibilities. 

The first of those are public expectations. 

The highly unexpected nature of the party’s come-from-nowhere victory and its displacement of the two-decade Prime ministership of Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi by its very nature created enormous and probably realisable expectations of change on its own steam. We haven’t seen a seismic shift in the way Samoan politics is conducted, nor any policy achievements to match. But, then again, nor should we have expected to. 

For one thing, the Government inherited an economy that had been, and continues to be, steadily contracting. 

It has managed to pass a $982 million budget but while operating within the revenue constraints of a shrinking economy its ability to make major policy changes has been severely limited. 

The Government has not made an entirely clean break with the culture of secrecy that pervaded every aspect of public life.

We must give the new Prime Minister her due for fronting up to the media with regularity and taking unscripted questions and regularly making herself available for interview including from international outlets.  

The change from the pantomimes of scrutiny orchestrated by her predecessor are a breath of fresh air. 

But these displays of openness from the top do not change an ingrained culture within a Government that is vaster and wider than the Office of the Prime Minister.

This newspaper continues to run into brick walls when seeking comments from public officials and certain Ministers on stories and when making inquiries in the public interest. 

Fiame has been criticised by the opposition leader, perhaps unfairly, of doing all the talking on behalf of her new Government; an ostensibly open figure but one who maintains a central grip on the flow of information from within her Government.

It would not be unexpected for this to be the new Government’s preferred means of operations. The F.A.S.T. party began, as we know, as a tiny nucleus from within the previous Government. Many of its 26 Members of Parliament, and its Ministers, are unknown quantities. Their abilities as public performers are untested.

The Prime Minister should seek to dispel these criticisms and encourage transparency and openness across the entire Government. 

Transparency is also a quality that does not simply boil down to a Government making itself available for questioning. 

In its purest form it is an active quality and culture of disclosure, one that Samoa has been lacking for too long in a Government where releasing annual reports years late - or sometimes not at all - has become routine. 

When she released her party’s manifesto, Fiame was asked by this newspaper about how she expected to fund her ambitious policy agenda, if not through raising taxes or other revenues.

Government waste, she said, figured heavily in the party’s economic plans. Until they took control of the nation’s finances it would be impossible to tell how much taxpayer money was being lost through mismanagement each year but the former Deputy Prime Minister was clearly confident that it was a substantial amount.

So far, we have not heard enough about what, if anything, the Government has discovered about the real state of the nation’s books once it took over office. 

We applaud news reported today of an audit into cyber security across Government following recent and suspiciously timed news of the “hacking” of Ministry of Works, Transport and Infrastructure computers shortly after the change of Government.

But there are other investigations including allegations of mismanagement at customs and inefficiencies in Government spending in general about which we would like to see more. 

We can only expect so many achievements from an administration within 100 days, especially one working in a climate that is so constrained. 

But building a culture of proactive disclosure is one. 

By The Editorial Board 20 October 2021, 8:24PM

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