Principles more powerful than currency
One day the Prime Minister is professing he loves this newspaper “so much” and doffing his hat off to us for all that we do for this country.
The next he is accusing us of criminal acts punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment.
Only affairs of the heart could be so fickle as this, could they not?
On today’s front page we learn that the Prime Minister has accused this newspaper and its reporters of the crime of bribery; of obtaining public information by illegal means.
“I know very well [the Samoa Observer] will bribe people to get [my letters]. And I am looking for who is leaking [out my letters],” he says in today’s story (titled “XXXX”).
The Prime Minister makes quite a serious charge here.
We have had lawsuits brought against us - by Prime Ministers even - for lesser allegations.
We believe in the philosophy that the truth always eventually wins out, not seeking recourse through the courts.
This newspaper does not pay its sources for information and it never has.
When we challenged him to substantiate these heavy accusations the Prime Minister appeared to adopt a lighthearted tone.
“The allegation is true,” he said.
When asked if he had proof, the Prime Minister laughed and said: “I have evidence.”
If he does, we invite the Prime Minister to present the evidence publicly and hastily.
But we might advise Tuilaepa that allegations usually follow the production of evidence, not the other way around - for newspapers and statesmen alike.
In any case, truth be told, Tuilaepa’s more recent announcement was, for us, much less surprising than his declaration of affection.
The leaking of criminal documents has been a preoccupation of our secret admirer’s for some time now.
After all, it was only last year that he was taking aim at public servants who leak official documents, drafting a law that would have punished them with up to seven years’ imprisonment.
On that occasion what had set the Prime Minister off was our publication of a report into the finances of Samoa Airways (a sensitive topic if ever there was one) showing it had incurred a $6.6 million quarterly loss.
"Their notion is that they have the right to publish these figures and they forget the impact it has on the airline,” the Prime Minister said at the time.
With this, we can make only two quibbles.
As journalists, we are asked often about the sources of our stories or how we obtained documents.
Most often these questions come from the subjects of our stories, especially when it portrays them in an unflattering light.
Naturally, we don’t go in for such conversations and find stock and trade answers such as “they were waiting for us under our doors in the morning” are the easiest and quickest detour out of awkward conversations.
But in this case, the Prime Minister’s ire had been provoked by a document that was not, in fact, leaked.
The report to which the Prime Minister referred had actually been published on the Ministry of Public Enterprises’ own website, before being swiftly taken down.
But it is soothing nonetheless pleasing to think back on these more innocent, pre-pandemic times; when a -$6.6 million operating result for the national carrier would have been hailed as a welcome turnaround in its fortunes.
In the intervening period, though, we can think of no shortage of documents that have been legitimately leaked to this newspaper.
It was only by that method that we learned that the nation’s judiciary considered the Prime Minister’s signature reform of the nation’s judiciary posed an existential threat to the rule of law itself in Samoa.
Similarly, we learned that Tuilaepa had sought to personally intervene in a court case involving two men accused of murdering him.
In a March letter to Judges and the head of the justice department the Prime Minister queried a decision made by the courts to grant bail to two accused plotters, Malele Paulo, also known as King Faipopo, and Lemai Faioso Sione, as “comical”.
But the leaking of documents has infuriated our Prime Minister for much longer than that.
He has previously lamented that the Samoa Observer regularly obtains information before his Cabinet does.
Curiously what appears to have set the Prime Minister off on this occasion is a mundane piece of correspondence.
Tuilaepa’s habit of offering unsolicited and forcefully phrased advice is well known across Samoa. No shortage of people have received a Prime Ministerial missive.
In this case, the Prime Minister fancied himself a chocolate taster, in a letter sent to the Managing Director of the Wilex Samoa company, Tagaloa Eddie Wilson.
The Prime Minister addressed Tagaloa as the “Managing Director of the yet to improve chocolate [producers] in Lelata.”
This was hardly a confidential affair of state.
But that is perhaps beside the point.
We have long pushed for access to copies of legislation before Parliament; the tabling of timely annual reports by Government Ministries; a freedom-of-information law; and even the right to ask him questions. But none of it has been to any avail.
It might be difficult for the Prime Minister to believe.
But in the 43 years of this newspaper’s existence, we have had no trouble subsisting on help from principled people willing to take risks to expose truths they believe the public deserves to know. And we salute them.
It might perhaps be telling that a person cannot fathom that the flow of such information could occur without the greasing of palms.
But it is a method that served us well decades before Tuilaepa was sworn in - and one that will continue to do so after he steps down.