A letter from the Cook Islands
Sometimes great good can come out of a great wrong
Following last Anzac Day, in comments I made to one of your reporters, I mentioned that I understood Anzac Day was no longer held in Samoa, and that the Samoa RSA had collapsed.
Those comments were carried in CINews and subsequently reported in Samoa.
In a firm but respectful letter, the President of the Samoa RSA – Tuala Joe Ponifasio – has pointed out to me just how wrong my comments were.
Far from having collapsed, the RSA and its supporters in Samoa have commemorated the great sacrifice and service the ANZACs and the soldiers of Australia, New Zealand and our Pacific nations have made since their first service in 1948. On one occasion not even a cyclone prevented the dawn service.
I offer my unreserved apology to President Ponifasio, the Samoa RSA, and its supporters, and to the people of Samoa for my incorrect statements.
But out of my wrongdoing, a greater good may occur.
Having now made contact – albeit in a somewhat negative way – our aim is to form a closer relationship with the RSA in Samoa and other countries too from the Pacific whose soldiers served in the New Zealand and Australian Armed Forces.
Cook Island News Editor’s Note: Two weeks ago, CINews published the story – entitled ‘Pondering relevance of Anzac Day’ – carrying Henry Wichman’s comments as mentioned above. We subsequently received an email from Samoa RSA president Tuala Joe Ponifasio alerting us to our error in not fully verifying Mr Wichman’s comments, and we unresrvedly apologise for that error.
In the interest of completeness, we also include here the letter written to Mr Wichman by Mr Ponifasio, who also provided CINews with a copy. It reads:
‘I reach out to you as an RSA comrade in the spirit of Anzac.
I cannot speak for our forever supportive prime minister and the Samoa government, His Highness our Head of State who attends every Anzac dawn service, our police force and police band, and our diplomatic community that turns out in numbers every Anzac morning to lay wreaths and participate in our Anzac Gunfire breakfast following the parade at our RSA Building.
Samoa has never cancelled an Anzac Commemoration since its inception in 1948, despite rain, sun or cyclone. In 2016, Cyclone Amos passed by Samoa on April 24, bringing strong winds and bad weather, but RSA Samoa carried out its parade and dawn service with pride.
The Returned & Services Association of Samoa continues to go through a rebuilding phase, following the path Australia and New Zealand have taken to reform their RSAs and RSLs to make them less strict and to allow for a wider participation from families and the eligible public to register for membership of the RSA.
Similar to some RSAs around New Zealand, we are always facing challenges to maintain the legacy of Anzac and to respect and remember the ultimate sacrifice made by those who went before us.
For your information, Samoa RSA will continue to commemorate Anzac with its New Zealand and Australia partners because of its relevance and what it stands for – yesterday, today and the future. Your comments are false and undermine Anzac and our efforts to commemorate such an important event.
Unfortunately, your remarks were picked up and published by your local newspaper without verifying the truth and the accuracy of such information.
Therefore, we seek that you kindly retract all your Anzac Day comments referring to Samoa RSA and Anzac, and publish a public apology in the same newspaper to avoid any further repercussion on the parties concerned and to put this matter to rest.’
Tuala Joe Ponifasio