Tuilaepa's politics of self-preservation

It is simply unthinkable the depths that Samoa’s longest serving Government head and caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi is willing to go in order to maintain his grip on power.

On Thursday morning Samoans woke up to the news that the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) leader met with Government Ministry Chief Executive Officers on Tuesday to give them the heads-up on a looming budget crisis.

The Samoa Observer revealed details of the meeting between Tuilaepa and the Government Ministry Chief Executive Officers in the Thursday, June 10, 2021 edition in a front page article entitled “Govt. braces for budget crisis”.

Public servants, who were in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting, were told to prepare to trim down staffing numbers in the likelihood that the XVII Legislative Assembly would not meet in time to pass a budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

The caretaker Prime Minister also warned the senior bureaucrats against expressing “anti-Government” sentiment on social media.

A Chief Executive Officer, who spoke to this newspaper on the condition of anonymity, interpreted the instructions from the top as a tool that the veteran politician is allegedly using to force the convening of Parliament.

It is amazing that this charade in high office – which started when the Office of Electoral Commission and the Head of State, His Highness Tuimaleali’ifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II tried to unsuccessfully add a sixth woman M.P. as well as revoke the 9 April 2021 general election results – continues with a new chapter.

(The revoking of the 9 April election results and the addition of the sixth woman M.P. by the O.E.C. was successfully appealed in the Supreme Court by the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi [F.A.S.T.] party, only to be overturned a fortnight ago by the Appellate Court which then ruled that only after the conclusion of election petitions and by-elections can the O.E.C. make a determination on whether the constitutional provisions on women representation in the Parliament can be invoked).

Nevertheless, how are Government Ministry Chief Executive Officers supposed to act with this latest twist as bureaucrats continue to become sandwiches in a political crisis that leads back to just one man and his self-serving definitions of the Constitution and the rule of law?

Or have our public servants become inept and complicit in this wholesome attack on the values and principles that bureaucrats in modern democracies around the world are supposed to uphold?

Surely public servants saw the story in the Wednesday June 9, 2021 edition of the Samoa Observer on public officials including the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Tiatia Graeme Tualaulelei and the Attorney-General, Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale being two of four people being cited for contempt of court in relation to the aborted 24 May 2021 convening of the Legislative Assembly.

Perhaps they’ve forgotten Samoa became a sovereign nation and gained independence 59 years ago – the short-term memory loss probably exacerbated by the caretaker Government’s decision to officially celebrate last Tuesday’s Independence Day by broadcasting reruns of celebrations in years gone by – and conveniently using the coronavirus-induced state of emergency as an excuse not to celebrate.

It makes you wonder what Tuilaepa would have said in his ‘Independence Day speech’ last Tuesday had the official celebration gone ahead. Though, on second thoughts, probably he couldn’t stomach the idea of having two podiums at Malae o Tiafau – one for himself and the other for the Prime Minister-elect Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, who on official O.E.C. records has a one-seat majority of 26–25 over his party, and by virtue of those results alone should have had the blessings of the Head of State to form Government.

But the Head of State had other plans, as our history records now sadly show, and the damage that his decisions have made to the O le Ao o le Malo will linger for many years representing a dark age in Samoa’s journey as a democratic state.

So what is it going to be for this beautiful nation of 198,000 people with its coconut palm beaches, fish-teeming waters and talo-loving farmers?

We uphold ourselves as the first Pacific Island nation to gain independence with a governance track record that is the envy of many others. But then do we accept and condone the actions of a caretaker Prime Minister who refuses to accept that he lost a general election, even just by one constituency?

And with the Supreme Court deliberating on the 28 election petitions and counter petitions, surely it should have dawned on Tuilaepa, that the results could swing in his party’s favour after three to four months.

So let the process take its course, accept the outcome of April’s election and respect the decisions of the Courts. Surely our leaders can go about this with some sense of civility and humility, while acknowledging the decision of the voters to give them that mandate through their votes to get into public office.

We have readers who have reached out to us expressing frustration at the turn of events over the last two months, they include longtime H.R.P.P. supporters who have had enough of the charade and vowed to vote F.A.S.T. if polling is held tomorrow.

The F.A.S.T. leadership continue to show humility and patience, despite the Courts ruling in their favour, and those qualities were on display again on Thursday when the party opted to back down from its 48-hour deadline for the caretaker Cabinet to vacate the Fiame Mata'afa Faumuina Mulinuu II building in order to maintain the peace.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta has changed tact of late, in her assessment of the constitutional crisis when she took to Twitter on Wednesday.

“Aotearoa New Zealand is concerned at the ongoing political impasse in Samoa preventing the convening of Parliament,” Ms Mahuta said on Twitter.

“Samoa has a reputation for good governance, we encourage respect for the Courts’ decisions and urge cooperation to ensure the immediate formation of Government.”

There’s no doubt the language from New Zealand’s Foreign Minister is growing stronger.

But why should the niceties of diplomatic language continue to gloss over a crisis that probably warrants a phone call sooner rather than later?

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