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La’auli, Fiame, Faumuina… soon everyone in the H.R.P.P. might be asked to resign

It’s quite ironic. For a political party with a name that is suppose to be a flag carrier for fundamental freedoms and human rights, some of the most recent developments within the party appear quite contradictory of its name, the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.).

Take the basic freedom of opinion for it’s very own members in Parliament for instance. Three weeks ago, the nation witnessed how Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and the Speaker of Parliament, Leaupepe Tole’afoa Faafisi, shut down the Deputy Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, for merely expressing an opinion.  

It happened when Fiame had raised questions about amendments in the Electoral Bill 2020, which was later passed into law. She was particularly concerned about the definition of “permanent residency” which would require voters to cast ballots in the electorate. The Deputy Prime Minister cautioned that the requirement had implications for Samoan culture.

“The amendment is clear and after listening to the Prime Minister’s Ministerial statement in which he highlights the prominence of our Samoan culture and traditions [...this] bill before Parliament, this one touches the core of culture and traditions,” Fiame said.

She had a point. Apart from the fact that she is the Deputy Prime Minister and she was speaking in Parliament where opinions should be encouraged, Fiame is also the Member of Parliament for her constituency, which means she had every right to raise matters she feels could negatively impact on the people she represents.

 But Prime Minister was clearly not impressed. In response, he said every time the Government proposes a reform, “the devil acts quickly to break it…”

While he did not say whom he was referring to as the “devil,” it was quite obvious. Fiame could have well offered herself as the sacrificial lamb given she was the only one who dared to voice an objection. And when she objected to the Prime Minister’s “devil” reference, Tuilaepa threatened her, citing Cabinet’s so-called “collective responsibility.”

“Any [Cabinet] Minister that does not agree with us, you have the opportunity to tender your resignation,” Tuilaepa fired back.  “The decision that I rule on [...] all of you Cabinet Ministers if you disagree you know what to do. I speak as a leader of this Government.”

But Fiame would not budge.

“I strongly believe that when one expresses views it shouldn’t be discouraged in here (Parliament),” she said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean I am against the Bill. In here we can freely express our views.”

Again, it’s hard to disagree with the Deputy Prime Minister. Whatever “collective responsibility” Tuilaepa was talking about, the only “collective responsibility” all Members of Parliament should be concerned about is ensuring that the best interest of the people they represent becomes their priority. Period.

In other words, if Fiame felt that the people she represents could be disadvantaged by the law in question, it is her job to speak up. That is why she is in Parliament. For the Prime Minister to threaten the Deputy Prime Minister, let alone one of the most senior Members of Parliament, over a small matter speaks volumes about the atmosphere and the control he has over the party and its members.

It’s hardly surprising though. A suite of bills before Parliament threaten to remove the option for citizens to appeal decisions by the Lands and Titles Court in the Supreme Court, which is a major violation of human rights. Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma has condemned the proposal saying the violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights as well as Samoa’s Constitution where fundamental rights are supposed to be protected.

Come to think of it, the treatment of Fiame and the Govenment’s attitude towards human rights is not surprising at all. This is merely a continuation of a shameful trend we have been seeing in this one-party state nation.

When another veteran Member of Parliament and a long-time member of the H.R.P.P., La’aulialemalietoa Leuatea Schimidt, spoke up against the redefining of electoral boundaries, among other things, he suddenly found himself forced from the party. Tuilaepa branded him all sorts of names before booting La’auli from a party he and his forefathers had played a critical role in developing.

Last week, another member of the H.R.P.P. and Member of Parliament for Urban West, Faumuina Wayne Fong, was told to resign. The demand from Prime Minister Tuilaepa was apparently made after someone reported the discussion involving Faumuina and his village of Gagaifo Lefaga concerning three highly controversial bills currently before Parliament.

 “Opinions and views that were expressed in the meeting was for the purpose of village discussions and to inform the village about the legislations,” Faumuina said. “My opinion was also sought on the legislations and I made it very clear there are amendments in the law I don’t agree with.”

Tuilaepa obviously took exception to Faumuina’s views and asked him to resign. But Faumuina remains defiant saying the Prime Minister and the Government should not meddle with village affairs.

“The villages have their rights to express views on their position to be presented before the Parliamentary Committee on the bills,” Faumuina said. “If the Prime Minister does not agree with our views, I apologise but not all views are the same.”

Well there really is no need for Faumuina to apologise to anyone, let alone the Prime Minister. As the leader of the H.R.P.P. which is a party that is suppose to champion human rights, Tuilaepa should encourage the free expression of views instead of behaving like an authoritarian ruler and shooting everyone down with threats of resignation.

Speaking of which, what is it with Tuilaepa’s knack to threaten everyone with resignations? Looking at the H.R.P.P., the list of senior members threatened is impressive. There is La’auli, Deputy Prime Minister Fiame and Faumuina, who is next? The tea lady?

So much for the Human Rights Protection Party. It might as well be called the Human Rights Prohibitive Party.

 

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