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Aim for six months of people-focused leadership

Twelve months ago Samoa was counting down to the arrival of over 3,000 athletes and sports officials for the 2019 XVI Pacific Games.

And at the end of July, we were celebrating a historic third placing in the Pacific Games behind sporting powerhouses Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia, not to mention under two years of preparations to host the region’s largest sporting event following the withdrawal of Tonga in 2017.

But the euphoria emanating from our success in the islanders’ version of the Olympic Games was short lived, with the first cases of a deadly measles epidemic reported in September, followed by the declaration of a state of emergency (S.O.E.) in October, and the loss of 83 lives as the country entered the new year.

Sadly, the opportunity for our people to rebuild their lives after a devastating measles outbreak, went out the window with the onset of the coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic. Despite recording zero COVID-19 cases to date, the impact of the pandemic on the world economy suffocated vulnerable small island economies such as ours, which counts tourism and remittances among its top foreign exchange earners.

Fast forward to June and the impact of the pandemic on the lives of citizens is unavoidable everywhere you turn. Restricted business trading hours, shorter school weeks, craft markets devoid of tourists, the closure of lodges and hotels, and a ban on international arrivals in Samoa.

Amid the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, including the loss of over 3,000 jobs in the tourism sector, the Government unwittingly tables three Bills in Parliament this year to amend the Constitution as part of its Judicial reforms agenda. 

The public reaction was instantaneous: lawyers, Supreme Court Judges, a former Judge, non-government organisations, political parties, political and legal experts, members of the public, and villages have condemned the Bills.

Despite the criticism, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi and his Government are determined to push through with the proposed changes through the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, Land and Titles Bill 2020 and the Judicature Bill 2020.

Hence it is tragic that citizens are uncertain with what the future holds for them and their children, as they marked the country’s 58th Independence day celebrations on Monday in the comfort of their own homes.

Independence day celebrations are supposed to unite us as a people and a nation – not divide us at a critical juncture in human history, when we need to be united to overcome a national or international crisis, such as the measles outbreak or COVID-19.

Let’s hope the muted celebrations around the country, in front of our television screens at home and in the company of our families, enabled our leaders to also quietly reflect on Samoa’s highs and lows over the last 12 months and not take our people’s resilience for granted.

As we usher in a new month and work towards getting some sense of normalcy back in the people’s lives, following all the uncertainty associated with the coronavirus and the effects of the S.O.E., citizens would want six months of Government leadership that stays focused on their welfare and is free of name-calling and divide-and-conquer politics.

There’s no doubt the Government’s proposed Bills took the shine off its COVID-19 response, and led to fears among citizens that it is capitalising on the pandemic to push through reforms, which if passed by the Parliament will have long-term ramifications for the rule of law and democracy in Samoa.

Pushing through major changes to the country’s Constitution, 12 months away from the next General Election and along the way bypassing legislative drafting processes, shows disdain for our parliamentary democracy and the systems and processes put in place over the last 58 years.

Right now thousands of men and women are unemployed and are praying for help to feed their families, as they consider alternative forms of income-generation activities, including returning to their land to work in their plantations. 

And women and children are at their most vulnerable due to the head of the family being unemployed for the last two months, as frustrations turn into violence due to weeks of lack of income to pay the bills and put food on the table.

The struggle is real out there and families are hurting. The Government should stay focused for the sake of the people it was given the mandate to govern.

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