Tuilaepa’s castle, Brian Deer and response in a time of crisis
The Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, is a man of many talents.
An expert in politics, a master of words and, in his castle called Samoa; he is Mr. Fix It. Don’t rush over that, folks.
Which is why it is hardly surprising that in the middle of a health crisis that continues to kill innocent children every day, the Prime Minister has already gone into battle to defend his kingdom.
How else can you explain what he has been saying publically lately?
To be fair to Tuilaepa, you’ve got to feel for him. The poor Prime Minister is only human and he has been at it for a while now. Twenty years of lording over this country’s decision making, from rugby, church matters to politics, could sure make someone very cranky.
The truth is he could do with some help. You see as Mr. Fix It, he must be getting tired of having to answer and being held to account for every detail in his administration – the latest being the health sector.
Where are all the so-called laui’a* in his administration he continues to gloat about every day? What are they doing? Do they not have a role in this too?
Amidst the mass vaccination drive, which we emphasise should be the priority at this time, the Prime Minister has been baited - and as someone who has become so used to getting his way, he just couldn’t help himself.
“Some people have said that poverty is the cause of measles and it is because people don’t live in nice houses,” he declared at the beginning of the week.
“That is not the reason why we have measles. It was carried to Samoa by a person from New Zealand that came to Samoa.”
Asked about the children who have died as a result of the epidemic, Tuilaepa said the parents, especially mothers, are to blame for not vaccinating them.
To put things in perspective, this is the sort of hogwash that is fed to Samoans in Samoa every other day. The Prime Minister would get unlimited airtime on TV, radio stations and even Samoa-operated social media pages to crack his jokes, tell fairytales and speak to his heart’s delight for however long he wants. It’s crazy.
Enter a London Daily Telegraph journalist, Brian Deer, who has just landed in Samoa and is not used to the status quo.
“You seem to be blaming your own people for this epidemic?” Mr. Deer asked.
You didn’t need to be a hard-nosed investigative reporter like Mr. Deer to draw that conclusion. Even all “idiots,” “fools” and “kids” with a pea-sized brain would have drawn that conclusion, listening to what the Government has been saying since the measles outbreak started.
But being the defender of the castle; Mr. Fix It cannot fathom the idea that not everyone is spellbound by this Government’s fairytales.
With that mindset, Tuilaepa snapped back at Mr. Deer: “We are not blaming, we were educating them. Understanding the problem is a big thing. You do not know because you are not a Samoan."
Well that is a bit rich, isn’t it? With 65 people dead and possibly more before this measles crisis is over, you don’t have to be Samoan to understand.
Besides, Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his administration cannot avoid the question of responsibility and accountability. It is inevitable especially in light of a tragedy of this magnitude.
In any case, when Mr. Deer persisted on asking questions, as real journalists do, one of Tuilaepa’s laui’a in the form of the Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Afamasaga Rico Tupa’i, stepped in.
He asked that the media respect “the laws of the land."
Now what “laws of the land” was the good Minister referring to by the way?
“He is not in London,” Afamasaga said of Mr. Deer. “While he is here he needs to behave accordingly. We are in the Pacific ask your questions in the Pacific way, you are not in the U.K.”
Pacific way? Really? Maybe the Minister should look around.
In Samoa today, the local and international community have responded in an unprecedented manner to help our country. That includes funding and volunteers who are risking their lives and have come from as far as England, France, United States, Israel, China, Japan, Norway, United States, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, French Polynesia and many other places far and wide.
The eyes of the world are on this nation today because grief, tragedy and pain are global themes. International assistance and humanitarian aid comes with responsibilities and expectations. That includes media coverage where the Government is bound to be asked tough, uncompromising, hard and sometimes questions they would deem unfair. It's par for the course.
This is no longer just a Samoan matter where you have to be “Samoan” to understand.
On any other day in his castle, Tuilaepa is an expert in politics and he is undoubtedly Samoa‘s most clever politician who has surrounded himself with whom he claims to be Samoa's biggest laui’a. Perhaps he should draw more on them for advice and wisdom.
Keep in mind there are horses for courses, just as we have different hats for different occasions. And for those occasions, there is always a song designed to suit the mood. We don’t sing the same song for all occasions.
Samoa is a nation in mourning today. If you understand Samoa, you will know that we are a family. When one hurts everybody hurts.
Therefore, this country (or this aiga), does not need a politician to defend the indefensible. The parents of the kids who have died are not interested in Mr. Fix It nor do they care about the “Pacific way” and being “Samoan.”
What this nation needs today is a father who is compassionate, caring and humble to understand grief, despair, sorrow and accept that everything in life happens for a reason.
Why is there a measles crisis? Could it have been prevented? And looking at the bigger picture with everything that has been happening in Samoa lately, what message is this tragedy trying to convey to the leadership of this country today?
Lastly, as a master of words, Prime Minister Tuilaepa, whose contribution to the development of this country cannot be questioned, knows the one word that would go a long way to help ease the pain of thousands of Samoans affected by what is happening. But it will take courage, bravery and humility for it to be uttered meaningfully.
On this Sunday, let us pray for peace and comfort for the families of the victims of this deadly epidemic. Let us also not cease praying for our leaders so they are strengthened to do what they need to do.
Have a restful Sunday Samoa, God bless!
*laui’a is a Samoan word used to describe a big fish