Police Service in a class of their own

Members of Samoa Police Service have been at the forefront of Samoa’s prolonged political crisis, getting sandwiched between the supporters and leaders of both political parties, while trying to maintain peace and good order at every step of the way.

It has been tough starting with the aborted 24 May 2021 sitting of the House, when then Police Commissioner Fuiavaili'ili Egon Keil escorted the Chief Justice and his judges to the Parliament precinct, in anticipation of the new House sitting that day to swear-in the new Members.

Then the Human Rights Protection Party-organised Police-approved marches to Mulinu’u, as well as the vehicle convoy around Upolu with the leaders and supporters of the former ruling party questioning the Court of Appeal ruling, which legitimised the 24 March 2021 impromptu swearing-in by the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) and installed the party as the new Government.

But it was this week’s protests at Mulinu’u, when unsworn H.R.P.P. Members-elect unsuccessfully tried to force their way over three consecutive days into the Legislative Assembly, which saw the law enforcement officers face off with disgruntled politicians as they enforced the orders of the Parliament Speaker Papalii Lio Ta’eu-Masipau that declared the fono off-limits to the public.

As a case in point was the exchange on Wednesday (Tensions flare as HRPP given evacuation order), when the H.R.P.P. leader Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi asked the Police while standing outside the fono, that they wanted to speak to the Speaker.

“Your job is to act when there are threats, yet there are no threats. All we want is to speak to the Speaker of the House [Papalii Lio Masipa’u],” Tuilaepa said in a message directed at all the police officers present.

“This is our culture, we are here to negotiate.” 

In response, Inspector Lio Faataumalama Auava told the former Prime Minister and his party members that they would not be allowed to have breakfast, or even negotiate with the new Government. 

But Tuilaepa was unfazed by the reply and said: “Inform the [Speaker] that we are here and we want to negotiate.”

"But all we want is to speak with the Speaker to ensure he gets our message.”

This was one of many heated conversations over those three days last week between Police officers and the party’s members. 

At one point a police officer reminded the H.R.P.P. leadership that as legislators they created the laws and he as a policeman together with his colleagues are charged with the responsibility to enforce them.

The power dynamics on display in this exchange, between a former Prime Minister and a senior police officer following the orders of the Speaker, would fascinate social anthropologists especially when you throw in its cultural aspects.

But questions remain on public perception and how ordinary citizens in Samoa will view the exchange, amidst concerns of rising tension as the law enforcement officers strive to uphold the rule of law.

Therefore, there must have been reverberations within the Ministry of Police and Prisons rank-and-file, when video footage of the former and current Prime Minister embracing in the parliamentary chamber on Friday morning emerged.

On the last day of the working week and with the Supreme Court ordering the Speaker the previous day to oversee the swearing-in of the H.R.P.P. Members-elect, there were fears the situation could escalate, until the Speaker decided to bring forward the swearing-in ceremony to Friday to break the political deadlock in what was a watershed moment for the country.

The decision by the Speaker to bring forward the swearing-in ceremony to Friday from Monday was in itself a masterstroke. By bringing forward the ceremony to Friday, it enabled one-time Opposition strongman-turned-Government Minister Olo Fiti Vaai to become the first F.A.S.T. M.P. to offer an olive branch to their rivals, opening the door for Tuilaepa to bury the hatchet with his successor Fiame Naomi Mata’afa and for the others to follow suit, in the process restoring the decorum of the Parliament.

In times of adversity the members of the Samoa Police Service continue to hold themselves to the highest standards in keeping with their constitutional mandate to uphold the rule of law and maintain peace and good order. 

And their class was on display again for all to see over the last couple of days as the country witnessed another bout of the four-month-long political crisis. 

Nonetheless both the F.A.S.T. and H.R.P.P. leaders spoke of the historical significance of the events of last Friday which saw the swearing-in of the H.R.P.P. Members and how it augured well for the future success of the new XVII Parliament.

We look forward to the wheels of democracy in Samoa turning again for the benefit of the people and with a Police Service cognisant of its role in the community, the seeds of prosperity and success can surely be sowed.

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