Maintaining the peace: Fuiavaili'ili Egon Keil

By Sialai Sarafina Sanerivi 30 December 2021, 11:52PM

It has been quite a year for Samoa with a change in the political landscape following the April 9 General Election, but not before a prolonged four-months running constitutional crisis that divided the community and the nation.

And sandwiched in between the opposing political forces was the Samoa Police Service working tirelessly to maintain the peace under the leadership of the then Police Commissioner, Fuiavaili'ili Egon Keil.

The S.P.S. played a key role in ensuring the smooth conduct of both pre-polling and the general election proper on 9 April this year, and it was smooth sailing for Fuiavaili'ili and his men and women for the duration of the democratic process. 

That is until the electoral phase shifted to the government formation period after the counting of the ballots, with the former police commissioner telling the Samoa Observer in a recent interview, that he was honoured to have led the police force during one of Samoa’s darkest chapters as a nation. 

“I’m so honoured that I actually participated in all that,” Fuiavaili'ili said. “I think all of our training and all of our thinking and hard work came together at that point and time and the team did so well. 

“So I’m so honoured to be a part of that experience and also to be at that time leading Samoa Police.

“I am so proud of our men and women in the police force for keeping their calm and doing the right thing during that period of elections and transition (of government).”

According to Fuiavaili'ili, it was not easy for the men and women in the S.P.S. and they had to depend on their years of training to “maintain the balance” at critical times during the constitutional crisis.

“But we did a lot of work; it wasn’t easy. Its years of bringing the force up to that level and maintaining the balance which was very crucial during those uncertain times,” he said.

“It was not easy as we had to remain neutral and not become politically affiliated with what was happening in the country and just do our job in maintaining peace and order.”

Reflecting back to the events of the post-election period, Fuiavaili'ili said it was not an easy time for him and his team.

“We were criticised by both sides,” he said. “I got criticised because I walked with the Chief Justice when the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party was locked out of Parliament House where they had that swearing-in ceremony.

“I mean there was nothing wrong with what I did. I was there to make sure and to protect the members of the judiciary. 

“I had to make sure that peace was maintained and that no one got hurt.

“But I also got criticised for not allowing the F.A.S.T. party inside the House of Parliament that day. 

“I did not have the legal authority to open up the House that day, I did not have the right to hold on to the key of Parliament House that day, that’s not my function.

Accompanying the Chief Justice, His Honour Satiu Sativa Perese to the entrance of the Parliament, Fuiavaili'ili said the Parliament’s locked door “would’ve come down” if the head of the Judiciary gave him authority to open it.

“As a matter of fact, I had the Chief Justice there with me walking up to the door of Parliament that day,” he said.

“If he (Chief Justice) had given the authorisation and ordered me to open the doors, it would’ve come down. 

“But the Chief Justice himself did not give me the authorisation so he knew that he didn’t have the authority to tell me to open the doors.

“So if he does not have that authority, I was just a Commissioner of Police and I was just following the law; I don’t break the law. 

“So if I had ordered the police to open up the House, we would’ve been seen as violating the rule of law of this country.

“I was content knowing that I did the right thing by not opening the House because I was not legally authorised to do something like that. 

“Then I was criticised for not dispersing the swearing-in of the F.A.S.T. party and we were told to do that but I didn’t do it because I knew what the F.A.S.T. party was doing was not against the law, I knew that.”

And when the F.A.S.T. Members-elect and their supporters congregated on the lawn in front of the Parliament on 24 May this year, ready to be sworn-in in line with the orders of the Court, Fuiavaili'ili said none of them engaged in illegal conduct so the Police could not act.

“And being there on that field, there were no protests, there was no violence and they were not breaking any law with what they were doing,” he said.

“Therefore, the Police could not act or do anything about it. As a matter of fact, I thought I was going to get fired – that was the word that went around at the time.

“I even talked to my team and said that there is a possibility that I might get fired, we were ready for it, despite feeling unease about that possibility.

“But I knew I was doing the right thing and that we were just doing our duty of upholding the rule of law which goes to show that the police remained neutral during those challenging times. 

“We were there to merely uphold the rule of law and making sure that Samoa remained a peaceful country but those were very challenging times for us.”

And despite being caught in the middle during Samoa’s constitutional crisis, Fuiavaili'ili today strongly believes that all the years of training and hard work reflected by his men and women materialised during that critical juncture of the country’s history.

While Fuiavaili'ili is no longer in the police force, he admits that his heart is for Samoa and will always be willing to assist whenever his help is needed.

Last month the former police commissioner was recognised when he was named this year's Policing Champion of Change, a historic recognition of his legacy within the S.P.S. of promoting women in Samoan policing.

The recognition is a historic moment for Samoan policing as it is the first time a police leader in the Pacific islands has received the award, which has always been claimed by honourees from Australia and New Zealand.

The prestigious award recognises men who have played particularly significant roles in improving the culture of law enforcement for women officers in Australia, New Zealand and the broader Pacific. It acknowledges the unique individual contribution of men in positions of influence who have used their power to make law enforcement more inclusive for women. 

The presentation was part of the 22nd annual Australasian Council of Women and Policing Awards and was presented to Fuiavaili'ili by Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa.

Fuiavaili’ili resigned as police commissioner in August this year after working for more than six years as the country’s top policeman. He previously served as a Sergeant in the Los Angeles Police Department (L.A.P.D.) in the United States, a role from which he was discharged honourably. He was also the first police commissioner to be appointed from outside the existing ranks of the S.P.S.

By Sialai Sarafina Sanerivi 30 December 2021, 11:52PM

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