Deafening silence, Facebook gaffes and absent leadership

By The Editorial Board 14 April 2022, 6:00AM

It is said that times of adversity can make or break leaders and for Samoa the time is nigh with the COVID-19 pandemic now in full throttle.

Having gone without community cases of COVID-19 for the best part of two years, citizens and residents in the islands now wake up to a daily diet of news and information on rising infections and fatalities, most of it based on outdated data supplied by a Ministry whose staff are already overwhelmed by infection.

At the last count, courtesy of a Situational Report distributed by the Government’s Press Secretariat at 4.06pm on Tuesday sourced from the Ministry of Health (M.O.H.) data, the country’s death toll stands at nine (9) with over 400 new community cases and a 4,000-plus cumulative total.

Samoa’s growing coronavirus death toll has become a horror movie, leaving families with vulnerable loved ones with underlying conditions anxious and full of fear, unsure of what tomorrow brings. All these just two years after the nation mourned the deaths of 83 mostly child victims of the 2019/2020 measles epidemic.

In this country’s darkest hour, where are our leaders to assure the people that we will overcome this virus, and our health apparatus remains steadfast despite the odds stacked against us and our hardworking frontline workers?

We are baffled at the absence of regular press conferences to update citizens and residents on the Government’s response to COVID-19 amid increasing infection rates, hospitalisation and fatalities.

The fact that the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern – fronted up before the media on a daily basis at the height of the pandemic to give Kiwis an update on her Administration’s response – raises a lot of questions about the commitment of our own leaders to the health and wellbeing of our citizens.

Why is there so much silence from Samoa’s leaders on the status of the Government’s efforts to contain the spread of the virus? If Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa cannot convene daily press conferences, surely she can delegate the responsibility to her Health Minister, Valasi Tafito Selesele or the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) Chairman Agafili Shem Leo?

We note with interest the public backlash that the M.P. for Faleata No.3 and Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) Secretary, Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi received in recent days for questioning the “absence” of Government leadership. For the record, the H.R.P.P. Administration was no different during the 2019/2020 measles epidemic, in how it managed and disseminated official information on the epidemic. But this is not the time or place for political point scoring, when lives are at stake, and we concur with the concerns raised by the Faleata No.3 Member.

So, again, where are Samoa’s knights of shining armour who swore oaths of office to represent the people’s interest and wellbeing upon being given the mandate after last year’s general election?

Perhaps, our Honourable Members of Parliament and Cabinet Ministers need a crash course in crisis communication, to bring them up to speed on the essentials of disseminating clear and trustworthy information during a time of national disaster, and the roles that they can play to boost public morale and restore confidence.

But then looking at the social media activities of a number of Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) Cabinet Ministers in recent days, Facebook has literally become a playground for a number of them. Ironically, their public offices are at risk of falling victim to social media gaffes, that can cause irreparable damage to their reputation and offices.

Posting images of yourself winning and dining on a private jet – in the company of a billionaire businessman and philanthropist – leaves you at the mercy of the court of public opinion, and overshadows your mission as the delegation head representing the Samoa Government and its people.

Right now, amid a worsening public health crisis, the people yearn for leadership, transparency and accountability in relation to the Government’s COVID-19 mitigation strategies.

And a consistent flow of information through various platforms including daily virtual press conferences for the local media will go a long way in restoring that trust. Even if it is bad news, the public deserves to know, after all it is their lives and that of their loved ones that are currently being impacted by the virus.

We hope our leaders in Government as well as the Legislative Assembly use the upcoming Easter long-week to reflect on how far we’ve come over the last 4 weeks, since the detection of the country’s first community case, and start to make amends to address the bottlenecks in the system while keeping the community up to date on the country’s overall response to COVID-19.


By The Editorial Board 14 April 2022, 6:00AM
Samoa Observer

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