Do not make promises you cannot fulfil

By The Editorial Board 20 November 2023, 10:00AM

Election candidates will make promises and every Samoan knows that not many of these will be fulfilled. Those politicians who do not follow up on their promises should be investigated and held accountable for their lies.

Sogi residents who agreed to relocate to Tafaigata three years ago say they are still waiting for government leaders to fulfil their election promises.

Vaigalepa Fepuleai, 73, who currently resides on land in Tafaigata as part of a deal negotiated by the Samoa Land Corporation (SLC) in 2020, told the Samoa Observer in an interview last week that they are still waiting for the former and current government to fulfil their promises in relation to their new settlement.

She said that they feel they do not have the freedom to do what they want in their own homes in Tafaigata because of strict conditions set by the SLC.

According to the former Sogi resident, the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) administration, upon entering office after the 2021 General Election also made promises to them, which the grandmother says are yet to be fulfilled two years on.

"The word we're holding onto was during the campaign period in 2021 when they said we will live free [on the land] without having to pay once they came into power. That was our hope to overcome these challenges but nothing has happened since.”

Similar to this promise, there were others made which included major improvements to the health and education sector. Samoa is still short-staffed in hospitals all around the country and just last week a cabinet minister raised concerns about the shortage of teachers in his constituency.

Politicians knowingly making promises during elections campaigns that are pie-in-the-sky, should be investigated by authorities for undermining voters’ ability to make informed choices.

Knowingly making false, unachievable and illegal campaign promises amounts to a political lie, breaches ethics and honesty. 

It is intended to deliberately deceive voters – many of whom are desperate, illiterate and do not know better. It now appears that even political campaign speeches have been “captured”.

Outrageously false campaign promises undermine the credibility, legitimacy and trust in the country’s electoral system – and also in politics broadly.

Increasingly ahead of elections political leaders and parties are making false, unrealistic and unattainable promises in order to get the votes. Making false and unrealistic promises are unethical, immoral and irresponsible. 

It shows a shocking disregard for the truth. Leaders and parties show their disrespect for poor, desperate and illiterate voters by promising them things that are patently undeliverable. Making such promises are not in the best interests of the constituencies they purport to serve, neither is it in the best interests of the country.

False promises also undermine the credibility of information given to voters to base their voting decisions on. False campaign information, particularly in a society such as Samoa with high levels of illiteracy about governance, with citizens who often do not have access to credible information, undermines the credibility of truthful, fact-based and evidence-based information, as unknowing ordinary citizens believe the false information they receive from cynical politicians and political parties.

Voters cannot make informed voting decisions based on false election campaign promises. False campaign promises undermine the sacred power of the vote itself.

It also undermines open public debate over policy choices to be decided on because campaign promises are based on untruths.

It also shows the hunger for power for its own sake that many political leaders and parties that would say anything to be elected to be part of the gravy train of high salaries, perks and access to patronage.

Of course, it is very difficult for ordinary citizens to seek legal recourse to hold politicians to account who make wild promises – beyond not voting for such leaders and parties. However, there has to be a way to hold politicians and parties accountable for making false campaign promises.

In 1964, the US Supreme Court, pronounced that deliberate false speech by politicians would not enjoy constitutional protection in the US. The US Supreme Court said: “For the use of the known lie as a tool is at once at odds with the premises of democratic government and with the orderly manner in which economic, social, or political change is to be effected. Calculated falsehood falls into that class of utterances which ‘are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality ....’ Hence the knowingly false statement and the false statement made with reckless disregard of the truth, do not enjoy constitutional protection”.

Let’s do this in Samoa too. Politicians who make false promises must be held accountable or give up their posts because those votes have been garnered through false promises and lies.

By The Editorial Board 20 November 2023, 10:00AM
Samoa Observer

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