The XVI Parliament: mixed bag of highs and lows
On Wednesday the curtain was brought down on the XVI Legislative Assembly with its dissolution following a marathon six-week final session.
The Members of Parliament with their families and supporters, leaders of the Human Rights Protection Party-led Government and the diplomatic corp were on hand to witness the historic occasion.
The true measure of the performance of the country’s 2016–2021 Legislative Assembly was in the details of a speech that Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi gave at the launching of the Samoa Parliament History Book on Wednesday.
The Prime Minister gave a summary of the legislative work that the recent term of the Parliament had undertaken over the last five years. (Parliament history book launched)
When the Parliament rose on Wednesday, Tuilaepa indicated that a total of 382 committee reports were tabled and 416 annual reports were considered, which translated to a total of 798 committee reports.
A total of 124 legislation was also passed which meant a total of 922 legislation and papers being considered and passed by the Parliament.
Congratulations to the Speaker of the Parliament, Leaupepe Tole’afoa Fa’afisi and the Clerk of the Office of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Tiatia Graeme Tualaulelei on the large number of bills that were enacted to become law.
Not forgetting the H.R.P.P. Government which sponsored all these bills and used their majority in the House to pass them.
But the jury is still out on the intentions of some of these laws that were passed in the last term of the Parliament.
Let’s look at some of the highs and lows in terms of the legislative work of the last Legislative Assembly: the addition of a woman MP in the House – which came courtesy of special measures constitutional amendment (which was passed in 2013 and went into force in 2016) for a 10 per cent quota for women representatives to be activated – is right up there.
The entry of Fa'aulusau Rosa Duffy-Stowers of Gagaifomauga no3 using that constitutional provision, which ultimately increased women representation in the last Parliament to five, was unprecedented in Samoa’s history and should be celebrated.
In January 2018 the Sex Offenders Registration Act 2017 was signed into law by the Head of State, opening the way for the establishment of a Sex Offenders Registry seven months later in what Supreme Court Justice Vui Clarence Nelson said is protection for Samoa’s women and children.
A year later the Parliament passed a bill that merged the National Health Services with the Ministry of Health to begin the transition period for the transfer of powers and functions at the start of a new year, which some say became a catalyst for an unprepared health sector that was overwhelmed by a measles outbreak six months later that went on to claim 83 innocent lives.
And in January this year the Parliament passed the Alcohol Control Bill 2020 which included new regulations pertaining to alcohol sales, production and advertising in a bid to address what the Supreme Court Justice Vui has described as an “alcohol epidemic” that is contributing to a rise in crime in Samoa.
The performance of the last Legislative Assembly under the HRPP Government had been mixed – in terms of enacting laws that addressed and provided solutions to the challenges that the community faces.
The Parliament's decision in 2019 to reinstate the then suspended Lands and Titles Court President, Fepuela’i Atilla Ropati to his position after the Court of Appeal convicted and fined him for assault will remain a blight on the record of the last Parliament.
Even Speaker Leaupepe's decision to declare the seats of Salega East and Urban West vacant late last year – following the decision by the then Independent Members Olo Fiti Vaai and Faumuina Wayne to indicate their membership of Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party as part of the 2021 General Election candidates requirements – made a mockery of the impartiality of the Speaker's chair.
But it was the tabling of the Land and Titles (L.T.C.) Bills in March last year and their passing in December which confirmed how vulnerable the country's Parliament is in a one-party state under the H.R.P.P.
Parliamentary Standing Orders were hijacked, pleas by Members of Parliament for proper debate disregarded, and the opportunity to peruse a Parliamentary Committee report that collected views from the public on the L.T.C. Bills refused appeared to be the modus operandi of the Government that time.
Tuilaepa’s announcement of a Commission of Inquiry into his political rivals early this week, using the parliamentary privileges accorded to him as the head of the executive arm of the Government, might well be the last nail in the coffin of our parliamentary democracy which this nation has thrived on for close to 60 years.
Samoan historian and governance expert Leasiolagi Dr. Malama Meleisea is correct in that the H.R.R.P. Government’s use of a C.O.I. is unprecedented and dangerous.
Ultimately the last throw of the dice in these high stakes game lies with the people and who they choose to represent them at the ballot on April 9.