La’auli, how dare you steal Tuilaepa’s thunder?
And so La’aulialemalietoa Leuatea Schmidt has offered his resignation verbally from Parliament. It’s the latest development in what has quickly become the battle of the titans between Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and one of the most senior politicians in Samoa, someone who was once an integral part of the all powerful Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) machinery.
The resignation on Tuesday provided an interesting, let alone unexpected twist, during an emotionally charged day of drama and division at the Maota Fono, Mulinu’u. Keep in mind all this was happening only three days after La’auli was declared a free man by the Supreme Court, after a seven year battle to clear his name of more than a hundred charges, including forgery and fraud.
If La’auli appeared cranky on Tuesday, we can’t blame him. The poor guy barely had time to catch his breath after all those sleepless nights during his Court case when that charming Chairman of the Privileges and Ethics Committee, Nafoitoa Keti Talaimanu, slapped him with their report on an investigation into a claim he made in Parliament, for which he was accused of breaching Parliamentary privilege.
For the uninitiated, in January this year, La’auli, when he was still a member of the H.R.P.P., queried the amount of $300,000 allocated by Parliament's Finance and Expenditure Committee for a 200kva generator for the Prisons. The Member of Parliament claimed that he bought a similar 200KVA generator for personal use in 2019, costing only $100,000. Based on this, he questioned whether the Committee had even looked at alternatives, which would save the country a lot of money.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa did not take La’auli’s claim lightly. He immediately moved a motion for La’auli to provide proof of his claims. La’auli did and his documents were referred to Parliament’s Finance Committee, which found them “not to be factually correct.” Later on, Parliament resolved to appoint a Privileges and Ethics Committee to “consider in detail” the findings of the investigation by the Finance Committee and to determine if La’auli had made misleading a claim in Parliament. On Tuesday, Nafoitoa tabled their report and delivered their verdict.
“[The] Committee believes that the onus is on the member to provide evidence that would support his statements,” the report concluded. “He continued to provide incorrect documents to support his argument. Therefore the Committee is of the opinion that the Member deliberately attempted to mislead Parliament by way of evidence in which the Member tabled on 27 January 2020.”
With that established, the Committee recommended that La’auli be suspended for three months without pay.
What happened next is a development everybody is now aware of. While the report was being debated, where Members of Parliament were given free rein to insult and attack the hapless Member of Parliament from Gagaifomauga No. 3, La’auli had other ideas. He verbally resigned and exited the chamber.
Emotions aside - and yes we admit that the past few days have been an emotional rollercoaster for many people – we need to judge these developments on facts and what they really are.
We do not question Parliament’s intention to establish the truth about statements that are made in the chamber. We believe the truth is important, especially coming from Members of Parliament, and Prime Minister Tuilaepa had every right to seek proof and substantiate La’auli’s claim for the sake of the integrity of Parliament and it’s Committees, including the Finance Committee.
The question is who is investigated and who is not? Everyday in Parliament there are claims being made left, right and centre and many of them are politically motivated. They absolutely lack basis and truth. We do not see these claims being investigated. None whatsoever.
With regards to La’auli, as misleading as the Parliamentary Privilege Committee has found him, he merely raised a question based on his desire to save the country’s money. This is part of their job description; Members of Parliament are there to ask these questions.
After all, don’t you think that $300,000 for a diesel generator is a bit too pricey? For the prisons of all places? Many of the district hospitals throughout Samoa don’t even have a generator. Why spend that much money on a facility where they don’t necessarily need electricity, unless it’s required to ensure the gate is locked? Are they afraid that the freezer keeping the meat supply for prisoners could be damaged and the food for their five star dinner, spoiled?
Think of the trouble, the time and the monies Parliament had invested to investigate a very simple point of contention that could have easily been corrected. Not one but two Parliamentary Committees, full of laui’a, were tasked to ensure La’auli is held accountable for what he said.
Which gives us an idea. Imagine if that sort of scrutiny, commitment and dedication to the truth was applied by Parliament to the countless claims and reports of abuse, mismanagement, collusion and corruption in the public service, highlighted by the Auditor General and the Audit Office year after year?
Imagine if those laui’a were used to follow up reports and instances of abuse of people’s freedoms and rights often exposed and highlighted by the Ombudsman’s Office and the Police?
What a wonderful place Samoa would be if that were the case.
Think of the 83 lives lost to the measles crisis last year, after the Government clearly ignored warnings from the international community about Samoa’s low immunisation rates. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if even half a Parliament Committee were allocated to establish the “truth” about what happened and make a recommendation about the people responsible and how we can move forward as a country?
Alas, nothing has been done. Not even a word.
The point is that while La’auli failed to substantiate his claim in Parliament, for which he has been held rightly held to account, was it really necessary for the Prime Minister and Parliament to spend all that time, resources and money to investigate such a “petty” matter? Was it really worth the time and energy by not one but two Parliamentary Committees to check out a simple point raised during the heat of Parliamentary debate, where so many similar claims are made, and yet they remain unchecked?
Or is there something far more sinister at play we are not seeing? Tell us there was no witch-hunt against La’auli for questioning and turning his back on the establishment?
But then again, come to think of it, it’s funny how things had unfolded on Tuesday. How dare La’auli steal Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s thunder, pulling the fala from underneath him while he was preparing for his grand speech to “pardon the prisoner”? Indeed, just when they all thought La’auli had his back against the wall, and was going to kneel, crawl and beg them for mercy for a political lifeline, La’auli did the unthinkable. He walked away and kept his integrity intact. Think about that very, very carefully.
And do stay tuned, this story is only beginning; it is far from over.