Upholding the Constitution is everyone’s business

The headlines over the past fortnight have been mostly election-related following last month’s polling.

The decision by the Head of State, His Highness Tuimaleali’ifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II, to revoke the 9 April general election and declare a fresh election for 21 May has dominated conversations over the dinner table in Samoa in recent weeks.

On Friday the Supreme Court sits to hear submissions from the various parties after Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party filed an application questioning the declaration by the Head of State, as well as the decision of the Office of the Electoral Commission to add another woman Member-elect despite the election of five women legislators to the XVII Legislative Assembly.

And in a show of solidarity with the third arm of the Government in the Judiciary, which is now studying the constitutionality of the Head of State’s recent decisions, the Samoa Law Society released a statement decrying “derogatory statements” that questioned the independence and the integrity of the Courts.

“Recent publications in the news media have contained derogatory statements questioning the independence and integrity of Samoa’s judiciary,” said the President Leiataualesa Komisi Koria.

“The statements in question disparage Samoa’s Superior Court, just as it is being called upon to carry out its Constitutional function of interpreting and applying the law as it relates to the 2021 General Elections. 

“All of these statements share a common thread in that they are devoid of any basis in fact.”

Leiataualesa said whether “it is borne of malice or political mischief or otherwise, this type of public speech is undesirable in our current political climate.” 

“This unsubstantiated rhetoric tends, wholly inappropriately, to lessen public confidence in our Courts at a time when the importance of their function has come into sharp focus.”

This newspaper made a similar appeal in an editorial a week ago (The Attorney General and the question of integrity), which highlighted the role of the Attorney General as the “protector of the Judiciary” and lamented how the office has misfired in terms of performing its functions under the incumbent Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale.

Nevertheless it is good to see the Samoa Law Society making a stand against unwarranted criticisms of the Judiciary, as the esteemed members of the bench preside over matters which would define Samoa’s standing as a democratic nation and ultimately its membership of the Commonwealth of nations.

We would like to think that our 59-year-old democracy continues to evolve and the wishes of the people through the ballot in what was a free and fair election should be respected and upheld.

Therefore the Constitution and the role of the Judiciary within it – as one of the three branches of the government tasked with an inbuilt system of checks and balances to guard against one branch exercising excessive power – should be protected and defended by everyone and not just lawyers, politicians and the media.

When was the last time you read the Constitution of Samoa to appreciate the various provisions of the country’s supreme law, its expression of every citizen’s fundamental rights and how the three arms of government in the Executive, the Parliament and the Judiciary should work in unison while keeping an eye on the other in order to bring out the best of a nation and its people?

One of the benefits of last month’s general election and the developments that followed is that everyone has taken particular interest in the various provisions of the Constitution, which the Head of State invoked that has now become the subject of Supreme Court proceedings.

But voters and the people generally should not wait until the next general election in five years to become interested in politics and the governance pillars that give life to our democratic institutions such as the Parliament and the Supreme Court as the apex of the Judiciary.

Politics and the decisions of our political leaders will affect all of us and shape our future which is why we need to stay engaged and interested if we are to play a part in deciding which direction this country takes into the future.

Thanks to the wisdom of our forefathers, they embraced a Westminster system of parliamentary democracy and incorporated into the Constitution explicit provisions that emphasised the principle of the separation of powers.

As a nation we must continue that journey of having confidence in our three arms of government as set out in Samoa’s Constitution and performing their functions without fear or favour with respect to the rule of law. 

It is along the same vein that the Supreme Court continues to perform its functions and vitriol of any form directed at the Court should be condemned for undermining the rule of law in Samoa.

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