What is the Pacific Games theme “One in Spirit” trying to tell Samoa today?

This much we know. During recent weeks and months, the phrase “one in spirit” has been thrown around a lot. In Samoa, it is possibly the most popular phrase with the Pacific Games opening at the Apia Park tonight.

Make no mistake about it, whoever coined the phrase, as a rallying call for Samoa to come together to host this most wonderful event, is a genius.

We say this knowing that it is only in unity and oneness where anything can be done. We also know that mountains can be conquered, oceans moved and anything is possible when we are united. One in spirit.

Sadly, from our standpoint, this is a nation that is anything but “one in spirit” considering some of the biggest developments during the past few days. There is no doubt that many of us are trying to put on a united front for the sake of our visitors but deep down inside we know the bitter truth.

Looking around this country today, we are anything but.  Firstly the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (C.C.C.S.) stopped five hundred students from taking part in tonight’s opening ceremony, blaming the fact the event is held on a Sunday.

Asked if this was the C.C.C.S’s way of getting back to the Government over the ongoing tax dispute with the Church, the General Secretary, Reverend Vavatau Taufao, said no.

“If you look at it the church (C.C.C.S.), it is always supportive of government initiatives,” he said. “An example of that is Maluafou (College) was one of the first schools that put up decorations to show our support (for the Games).

“But to answer your question, the church’s support cannot overrule its position about the holy day. We cannot endorse something that will go against our normal practice of respecting Sundays.”  

Now if you have been following the debate in Samoa and on social media during the past few days, the Church’s decision has proven very divisive.

One in spirit? We think not.

That’s not all folks. Speaking of the battle between the Government and C.C.C.S. over taxes, another very divisive development unfolded on Thursday when the District Court dismissed the charges against 20 Ministers accused over failure to pay taxes on the alofa.

But this matter, again an extremely divisive issue involving the biggest denomination in Samoa with more than 60,000 members, is far from over. Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, who is a man who does not like to lose, has promised to continue the fight.

In announcing that the Office of the Attorney General would take over the prosecution, he said: "This means this is not the end of this case

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“This is a game,” he said, adding that the Office of the Attorney General is well equipped to ensure what happened on Thursday will not be repeated.

One in spirit? Again we think not.

But perhaps one of the biggest divisive issues this country is talking about today is the reinstatement of the President of the Lands and Titles Court President, Fepulea’i Atilla Ropati. The headline “Vote over President of Land and Titles Court divides Parliament” on the front page of Wednesday’s Samoa Observer was quite apt.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa had moved a motion in Parliament on behalf of the Government to terminate Fepulea’i’s services. The outcome of the vote did not meet the two-thirds majority required under the Constitution for Tuilaepa’s motion to succeed. Twenty-one Members of Parliament voted against returning the President while 18 voted in favour of Fepulea’i continuing in the role. With that, the outcome of the conscience vote means someone with a conviction, in this case the charge being causing actual bodily harm, will preside as the President of the Lands and Titles Court down at Mulinu’u.

Which is a thought that has again deeply divided this nation. Listen to Deputy Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, once more:  “We stand by the law, we are lawmakers, we live, abide and respect the law.

“I want to direct your attention to Article 15 of the Constitution which has to do with individual rights,” she said.

“The report says there is no special treatment. In this case however, Mr Speaker, how can we say that there is no special treatment in the matter of the President of the L.T.C.? You heard the speeches before me; we must be compassionate, he served the Government and he also served Parliament.

"What does that say? Mr. Speaker, this Parliament has violated Article 15 of the Constitution. Why? Because we are giving him special treatment. And this deviates from the standard of what members of the public encounter as convicted criminals.”

The Deputy Prime Minister added that the decision clearly sends out the wrong message. Fiame is correct and again this is why this country is divided over this issue.

How ironic that all these deeply divisive developments have unfolded when everyone has been singing “one in spirit.” Folks, it is one thing to say something, it is quite another to walk it.

The leaders of this nation, from the Government, Churches to the villages, have got a lot of work to do. And they would do very well to swallow their silly pride, humble themselves and sit down to mediate, find a peaceful compromise to some of these disputes and right some of these wrongs.

Let us be reminded again that this is a Christian state, where as Christians, we are meant to be guided by the word and the spirit of God. Where there is division, there is no spirit of God.

But then God also knew we are prone to encounter problems in life. Where we have erred, God is faithful and graceful to give everyone a second, third, fourth and a hundredth chance. The same goes for this nation and all of us. We have all missed it at one point or another.

Remember this? Samoa was not meant to host this Pacific Games.

But maybe the opportunity to host and welcome all these visitors to our shores is a divine moment to help what appears to be a very divisive nation to come together and be in “one spirit?” After all there are no accidents in God. What do you think?

Have a wonderful Sunday Samoa. And welcome to all the visitors who are in our country for the 2019 XVI Pacific Games, God bless!

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