New Govt. momentum chance to unite

By The Editorial Board 24 July 2021, 12:00AM

And so it goes.

The more than 100 days between when we went to the polls in April and when the result was declared on Friday felt like an era all its own. 

But this morning the nation already seems to have shifted the time scale on which it is running significantly as the business of forming a new Government gets underway.

There is no better proof of political relativity than the lull of post-election uncertainty, especially after a contested poll with so many prolonged and conflicting legal challenges when contrasted with the period just after a new Government has formed.

This morning we saw the new Fa'atuatua i Le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party getting underway with the business of a new Government: holding their first meetings with Ministry C.E.O.s on a Saturday, taking questions from the press and preparing to move out of office. 

Now as is custom in the sped-up world with modern politics attention will probably turn to the new cliche of political journalism: the leader’s first 100 days of office, a metric against which all new incoming reforming leaders are now judged by.

But despite all that we have been through since the election - and many would say much longer than that - we should be careful of not going too quickly so as to jeopardise a smooth transition.

For one thing, we do not know how the former Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi will formally respond to this move.

On Friday night he decried as “bizarre” a Court of Appeal ruling that found that Tuilaepa had been unlawfully presenting himself as the holder of the title of the “caretaker” Prime Minister for the past two months.

“The courts have committed treason against the nation,” he said.

His was striking notes as discordant as possible with the typically gracious speech leaders give after they have lost power. 

He suggested that the judiciary was openly biased in favour of his opponents, made reference to “dirty plays” having been made and called upon his supporters to pray that justice would prevail. 

At no stage did he formally concede power and he made some ominous sounding remarks about the judiciary’s conduct.

But actions speak louder than words. 

On Saturday  morning, we saw Tuilaepa and family members at the Government offices unpacking a Prime Ministerial office with which he has become synonymous over the past more than two decades in which he has been in power.

That stands in stark contrast to Tuilaepa’s response to previous court rulings, even suggestions that he face penalties for failure to comply with court orders, such as videos on which he has disparaged the judiciary, played a ukulele and offered his own constitutional analysis about which parts of court rulings are applicable and which are not. 

Our greatest hope is for a smooth transition of power. After 22 years with one Prime Minister at helm the mechanisms of Government machinery responsible for overseeing transitions may well be rusty.

But F.A.S.T. has so far done its part to start by creating an inclusive atmosphere among the Government Ministries.

Well, for Tuilaepa, if he cannot stand to congratulate Fiame Naomi Mataafa on becoming this nation’s first woman Prime Minister and wish the Government she leads every success then at least we welcome his call for peaceful reactions to the election.

Half the country voted for Tuilaepa to continue another term in Parliament. He is a hugely significant figure in Samoa’s modern history and a significant amount was achieved under his administration. 

During his time in power the wealth of the average Samoan household doubled, according to World Bank Data.

We became one of just a handful of nations in history to graduate from ‘Least Developed Country’ status at the United Nations.

He provided leadership during moments of national crisis and mourning and commanded respect on the regional stage as a statesman.

That is not to say that the man nor his Government were without their faults. This newspaper has dedicated itself to chronicling them over the past two decades, 

But at a time like this many of his strongest critics - and, whatever else might be said about Tuilaepa he is a man with a genius for attracting them - will be calling for Fiame’s new Government to dedicate its post-transition energy to investigating her predecessors’ Governments and punishing them where needed.

But we say that would be a misdirection of the power that comes with momentum and novelty.

The best thing for Samoa right now is to focus on a peaceful transition of Government.

That there may have been instances, widespread instances, of standards of governance that were not entirely above board would not be a revelation that would come as a surprise to us.

But with the exception of the truly egregious cases, our focus on a nation should be on moving forward and making progress not giving into the base and tribal instincts of politics.

The best answer to her critics will be for Fiame to govern well. 

And if her administration is able to identify past instances of money lost through improper or negligent practices then imposing new standards will significantly boost her progress. 

The court’s surprise retrospective installation of a new Government is a fittingly unexpected end to the highly convoluted story of Samoa’s April election of 2021.

Having Samoans unite and come together in spite of everything that has brought us to this point would be the ultimate conclusion.

By The Editorial Board 24 July 2021, 12:00AM
Samoa Observer

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