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La’auli, how dare you steal Tuilaepa’s thunder?

And so La’aulialemalietoa Leuatea Schmidt has offered his resignation verbally from Parliament. It’s the latest development in what has quickly become the battle of the titans between Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and one of the most senior politicians in Samoa, someone who was once an integral part of the all powerful Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) machinery.The resignation on Tuesday provided an interesting, let alone unexpected twist, during an emotionally charged day of drama and division at the Maota Fono, Mulinu’u. Keep in mind all this was happening only three days after La’auli was declared a free man by the Supreme Court, after a seven year battle to clear his name of more than a hundred charges, including forgery and fraud.If La’auli appeared cranky on Tuesday, we can’t blame him. The poor guy barely had time to catch his breath after all those sleepless nights during his Court case when that charming Chairman of the Privileges and Ethics Committee, Nafoitoa Keti Talaimanu, slapped him with their report on an investigation into a claim he made in Parliament, for which he was accused of breaching Parliamentary privilege.For the uninitiated, in January this year, La’auli, when he was still a member of the H.R.P.P., queried the amount of $300,000 allocated by Parliament's Finance and Expenditure Committee for a 200kva generator for the Prisons. The Member of Parliament claimed that he bought a similar 200KVA generator for personal use in 2019, costing only $100,000. Based on this, he questioned whether the Committee had even looked at alternatives, which would save the country a lot of money.Prime Minister Tuilaepa did not take La’auli’s claim lightly. He immediately moved a motion for La’auli to provide proof of his claims. La’auli did and his documents were referred to Parliament’s Finance Committee, which found them “not to be factually correct.” Later on, Parliament resolved to appoint a Privileges and Ethics Committee to “consider in detail” the findings of the investigation by the Finance Committee and to determine if La’auli had made misleading a claim in Parliament. On Tuesday, Nafoitoa tabled their report and delivered their verdict. “[The] Committee believes that the onus is on the member to provide evidence that would support his statements,” the report concluded.  “He continued to provide incorrect documents to support his argument. Therefore the Committee is of the opinion that the Member deliberately attempted to mislead Parliament by way of evidence in which the Member tabled on 27 January 2020.”With that established, the Committee recommended that La’auli be suspended for three months without pay.What happened next is a development everybody is now aware of. While the report was being debated, where Members of Parliament were given free rein to insult and attack the hapless Member of Parliament from Gagaifomauga No. 3, La’auli had other ideas. He verbally resigned and exited the chamber.Emotions aside - and yes we admit that the past few days have been an emotional rollercoaster for many people – we need to judge these developments on facts and what they really are.We do not question Parliament’s intention to establish the truth about statements that are made in the chamber. We believe the truth is important, especially coming from Members of Parliament, and Prime Minister Tuilaepa had every right to seek proof and substantiate La’auli’s claim for the sake of the integrity of Parliament and it’s Committees, including the Finance Committee.The question is who is investigated and who is not? Everyday in Parliament there are claims being made left, right and centre and many of them are politically motivated. They absolutely lack basis and truth. We do not see these claims being investigated. None whatsoever.With regards to La’auli, as misleading as the Parliamentary Privilege Committee has found him, he merely raised a question based on his desire to save the country’s money. This is part of their job description; Members of Parliament are there to ask these questions.After all, don’t you think that $300,000 for a diesel generator is a bit too pricey? For the prisons of all places? Many of the district hospitals throughout Samoa don’t even have a generator. Why spend that much money on a facility where they don’t necessarily need electricity, unless it’s required to ensure the gate is locked? Are they afraid that the freezer keeping the meat supply for prisoners could be damaged and the food for their five star dinner, spoiled?Think of the trouble, the time and the monies Parliament had invested to investigate a very simple point of contention that could have easily been corrected. Not one but two Parliamentary Committees, full of laui’a, were tasked to ensure La’auli is held accountable for what he said.Which gives us an idea. Imagine if that sort of scrutiny, commitment and dedication to the truth was applied by Parliament to the countless claims and reports of abuse, mismanagement, collusion and corruption in the public service, highlighted by the Auditor General and the Audit Office year after year?Imagine if those laui’a were used to follow up reports and instances of abuse of people’s freedoms and rights often exposed and highlighted by the Ombudsman’s Office and the Police?What a wonderful place Samoa would be if that were the case. Think of the 83 lives lost to the measles crisis last year, after the Government clearly ignored warnings from the international community about Samoa’s low immunisation rates. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if even half a Parliament Committee were allocated to establish the “truth” about what happened and make a recommendation about the people responsible and how we can move forward as a country?Alas, nothing has been done. Not even a word.The point is that while La’auli failed to substantiate his claim in Parliament, for which he has been held rightly held to account, was it really necessary for the Prime Minister and Parliament to spend all that time, resources and money to investigate such a “petty” matter? Was it really worth the time and energy by not one but two Parliamentary Committees to check out a simple point raised during the heat of Parliamentary debate, where so many similar claims are made, and yet they remain unchecked?Or is there something far more sinister at play we are not seeing? Tell us there was no witch-hunt against La’auli for questioning and turning his back on the establishment?But then again, come to think of it, it’s funny how things had unfolded on Tuesday. How dare La’auli steal Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s thunder, pulling the fala from underneath him while he was preparing for his grand speech to “pardon the prisoner”? Indeed, just when they all thought La’auli had his back against the wall, and was going to kneel, crawl and beg them for mercy for a political lifeline, La’auli did the unthinkable. He walked away and kept his integrity intact. Think about that very, very carefully.And do stay tuned, this story is only beginning; it is far from over.       

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Samoan sailors abroad must not be forgotten

We have seen two recent contrasting cases of Governments acting when their citizens are abandoned at sea.In late March this year, an Indonesian fisherman found himself stranded in between the two Samoas with officials refusing to allow him on-land as his wounds worsened and quarantine protocols toughened. But as the man’s injuries grew particularly grave his Government picked up the phone and called the United States of America. They secured his entry and his treatment to the nearest port, Pago Pago, for what was potentially life saving medical treatment.We cannot begin to imagine what Falepau Niu Tulia of Nofoali’i and Vaipua and his eleven compatriots currently on board the MSC Armonia cruise ship in the Bahamas are going through. They are in the no doubt the most grinding conditions against an ironically soothing backdrop.Falepau’s wife and mother-of-five, Vaifou Falepau Tulia, urged the Government to spare some money for their rescue. “We are fasting every day for our relatives at sea and our only plea to Government is please don’t forget about our loved ones out there,” said the mother from Nofoali’i. “I hear about the funds from overseas for COVID-19 and we hope that the Government can spare some of those funds to pay for a charter flight or even a vessel to get the sailors here.”And indeed she has a point. The World Bank has so far provided more than US$8 million in funding to support Samoa’s coronavirus efforts. It is unclear what we have seen for this, particularly a recently unspecified US$5 million catastrophe drawdown response.“This support from the World Bank will be an essential part of these preparations and will ensure we can respond swiftly in the event of a confirmed case,” the Finance Minister Sili Epa Tuioti said. The country remains one of the handful in the world free of the virus. So far the only issues we have seen locally have related to the proper maintenance of quarantine facilities.The largest logistical task to begin so far - the repatriation of our citizens from New Zealand - will be done on commercial terms by Air New Zealand.Meanwhile ship workers tell stories of crushing confinement. Of the twelve Samoan sailors stranded on the ship, all but three are reported to have been furloughed. Onshore a public curfew prevails in the country which still has more than 50 active cases, despite some international flights continuing.What is most concerning, though, is how many cases such as Falepau’s are on the high seas there are right now and what our Government is doing to ensure their welfare. According to the Samoa Shipping Services update in April, there were 321 Samoan sailors on cruise ships and working container vessels overseas.Since the utter devastation of the cruise industry that has followed the virus’ outbreak, we have received an accounting of their welfare or repatriation plans that is neither adequately frequent or public. Taulapapa told the Sunday Samoan the sailors are calling on Samoa Shipping Services to work with the Mediterranean Shipping Company to bring them home. We need to know more about what representations are being made on these Samoans' behalves and with whom. He said he was concerned about post-traumatic-stress due to being locked onboard with no work, but only to eat and sleep.The answer from Samoa Shipping Services has, frankly, been inadequate. The General Manager of the Samoa Shipping Services, Lautimuia Afoa Vaai, has confirmed that three Samoan sailors previously working overseas, who were tested positive with the coronavirus, have all recovered.But for the remaining 300 we have received only vague assurances that their needs will be taken care of once restrictions on the international skies are lifted. “Our [advice] to our sailors is to be patient and to pray that the pandemic will go away soon,” said the General Manager of the Samoa Shipping Services, Lautimuia Afoa Vaai.But we have branches of the Government such as the Samoa Shipping Services because we don’t believe it right to simply hope for the best when the wellbeing of our fellow citizens is concerned. We have seen the best efforts of countries to bring home their compatriots, with charter flights being arranged for Japanese, American and European nationals out of the difficult to navigate corners of the Pacific in which we reside. We have seen no similar urgency from Samoa Shipping, or any other branch of our Government so far.

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Samoa doesn’t operate in a vacuum, standing in the international community matters

The perils of three highly controversial bills currently before Parliament, threatening to redefine the Judiciary and democracy in Samoa, have been well chronicled on the pages of this newspaper and other media organisations.Since the Government and Parliament pulled this latest stunt on the nation a day before Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi declared a State of Emergency lockdown, the negative impacts of these bills on Samoans have become the topic of much debate and discussion. Not many issues have galvanized such outrage and negative reactions from Samoans, who are otherwise usually submissive with a higher threshold to absorb rubbish from the authorities.But times have changed and perhaps people have had enough. And rightly so.These bills threaten the core of our measina we have inherited from our forefathers including lands, titles, families, language, fundamental rights and freedoms, Constitutional rights, concept of separation of powers and a lot, lot more.These issues are bigger than you, us, Government or anyone else. This is why so many brave individuals and organisations have stepped up to vocalise their opposition and they continue to do so with the faint hope that the Government would reconsider.What has not been talked about enough, however, is what implications the passing of the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, the Lands and Titles Bill 2020 and the Judicature Bill 2020, will have on Samoa in the eyes of the international community.It’s true that Samoa is a sovereign country, and having been politically independent since 1962, it has every right to decide its own destiny or fate. But like our reliance on foreign aid and remittances, this country does not operate in a vacuum. In the words of John Donne, ‘no man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent…”Which means that what is happening in Samoa is being monitored closely not just by our brothers, sisters and cousins in the Pacific region but also by interested observers from around the world. They must be wondering what on earth is going on.The open letter from the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (I.B.A.H.R.I.) to Prime Minister Tuilaepa urging the Government to reconsider the proposed legislations is a classic example. Signed by the highly decorated former Justice of the High Court of Australia, Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, and the Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Jur dr hc, the letter comes with the endorsement of the “world’s leading organisation of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies” which has 80,000 individual lawyers, and 190 bar associations and law societies, spanning over 160 countries.The message is quite implicit with regards to the implications of the bills on the Judiciary.“This would undermine the primacy of the Supreme Court by removing the Land and Titles Court from its scrutiny,” the letter reads. “The I.B.A.H.R.I. maintains that every court, government department, officeholder and person exercising governmental power must be subject to the scrutiny of the general court system - ultimately the Supreme Court - so that governmental power can be constantly checked and scrutinised against the Constitution and other laws of the land.“The I.B.A.H.R.I. is concerned that such a move away from the rule of law could pave the way for further serious derogations from international human rights law in the future; it is a dangerous and undesirable precedent.”But the L.T.C. bills have implications that go far beyond the Judiciary and legal minds, I.B.A.H.R.I. has warned.“As a member of the Commonwealth, Samoa is committed to upholding the shared values in the Commonwealth Charter,” the letter continues. “Paragraph VI secures nations’ commitment to guaranteeing the separation of powers and paragraph VII secures their commitment to upholding the rule of law as ‘an essential protection for the people of the Commonwealth’.“A failure to uphold the values of this Charter could imperil Samoa’s reputation and its 50-year membership of the Commonwealth. Further to this, the I.B.A.H.R.I. would like to remind you of Your Excellency’s duty to defend judicial independence in Samoa.”Now what will Prime Minister Tuilaepa say about this? We ask this because the thought of Samoa being ousted from the Commonwealth for failing to uphold the rule of law is quite disturbing. Should this happen, Samoa will join a group of countries - including our neighbour Fiji – whom Tuilaepa often enjoys poking fun at for violating democratic freedoms.The point is that as part of the international community, what is happening cannot be good for Samoa’s standing. Which is a pity, isn’t it? Think of all the hard work done by Tuilaepa, the H.R.P.P. Government and Samoans over the years to build Samoa’s reputation as a respectable member of the international community?Think of how far this nation has come in its journey as a nation and a democracy, all that now on the verge of being thrown away by such recklessly written and flawed pieces of legislations?But then we hardly needed the I.B.A.H.R.I. to remind us about Samoa’s commitment to these international treaties and conventions.Among other highly qualified Samoans, Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma, has already condemned the bills saying they violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which as a member, Samoa has an obligation to enforce.Did the Government even consider this when they came up with these laws? We doubt it. But that’s what happens when you don’t consult members of the public and the relevant stakeholders, especially the legal fraternity.At best the Government risks attracting such a strong wave of opposition from Samoa and abroad pointing out its flaws. At worst, Samoa becomes an embarrassment in the eyes of the international community.Let’s hope Tuilaepa doesn’t respond to I.B.A.H.R.I, using the same childish and unprofessional tactic he deployed when a proud Samoan woman, Tiana Epati, raised similar concerns in her capacity as the President of the New Zealand Law Society. Stay tuned!            

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What’s there to brainstorm for a barnstorming Politician?

With all the uncertainty hanging in the air over the Government’s proposal to restructure the Judiciary, you would have to sympathise with Government lawyers, who are torn between their “signed and sealed employment oath” to their employer and their loyalty to the community and the nation.The lawyers have come under scrutiny since the Samoa Law Society announced its intention to oppose the Government’s proposed reforms of the Judiciary, which would come courtesy of Parliament’s passing of the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, the Land and Titles Bill 2020 and the Judicature Bill 2020.Early this month, the Samoa Observer reported that lawyers in the Attorney General’s Office were warned against opposing the three Bills, with Acting Attorney General Galumalemana Noumea Loretta Teueli later saying details of the meeting – where the threats were allegedly made – remain confidential.A number of lawyers also told this newspaper that their online activities were being monitored.And the scrutiny has not ended, it appears, as the Government-owned Savali newspaper on Wednesday published an article with the headline “PM brainstorms with Government Attorney”. The article had brief details of a meeting this week between Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, and lawyers from the Attorney General’s Office and the Samoa Law Reform Commission.Tuilaepa reportedly reminded the lawyers of “their signed and sealed employment oath as loyal public servants to the Government and people of Samoa”. He also used the occasion to advise that the Government is not circumventing their rights as attorneys or individuals, but if they feel strongly that their freedom and rights are compromised by the Government’s Judicial reforms then they “should do the most honourable thing”.This was obviously not a “brainstorming” meeting as the Savali newspaper’s headline suggested, but an opportunity for the Prime Minister to barnstorm to the lawyers to show who is in charge, and the lengths he is willing to go to ensure the three Bills are passed despite local and international condemnation.According to the Savali newspaper, there were close to 50 lawyers in attendance at that meeting that day, and we can only imagine what must have been going through their minds as they listened to Tuilaepa. Somewhere, in their minds, they would have thought about their oaths that the P.M. made reference to, and then juxtaposed that to the mission statement and vision of the Attorney General’s Office whom they work for.What is the mission statement of the Attorney General’s Office? To serve the people of Samoa by upholding the Constitution and providing the highest quality legal services to the Government.And what is the vision of the Attorney General’s Office? To ensure a safe and just society through the provision of quality and effective legal services.Legal experts including sitting Judges of Samoa’s Supreme Court, a former Judge, local and international jurisprudence bodies, and international human rights organisations have condemned the Government’s proposed reforms of the Judiciary over the last four weeks, warning that the altering of Samoa’s Constitution threatens citizens’ fundamental rights and would have an adverse effect on the rule of law.And with all the arguments that have been made thus far against the Government’s proposed Judicial reforms, we can conclude that the mission statement of the Attorney General’s Office “to serve the people of Samoa by upholding the Constitution” is at the edge of the precipice as the Constitution becomes vulnerable upon the three Bills' enactment.Even the vision of the Attorney General’s Office “to ensure a safe and just society”, has been stomped on and made a mockery of through the proposed Judicial reforms. The three Bills, if enacted by Parliament in August, would have huge ramifications for families and villages and could create an unjust and unsafe society.At the end of the day, the Government should respect the Attorney General’s Office, the role it plays in our country, and the professionalism of the lawyers that it currently employs. Ultimately, the Attorney General’s Office belongs to the people and should its staff feel – in their professional opinion – that the three Bills would impact negatively on citizens and the nation then they are obliged by their oath “to ensure a safe and just society” and advise accordingly.

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Street Talk

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Should financial assistance be given to Samoan seasonal workers and sailors?

Paulo Muagututia, 28, FagaloaHelp should be given to them, especially the sailors. Our Government should give them financial assistance, they should be brought home because they are now spending their own money. They shouldn't pay for their plane ticket if they are going to be brought home. I heard that they are now using their own money to pay for accommodation and for food. I have cousins that are working as seasonal workers and they are going through that situation.Faatoia Faavae, 19, VaiteleI think financial assistance should be given to them because they are working overseas for our country. Our Government should help them because of the lockdown and because they are also helping our country.Pua Pou, 45, FalelauniuMany people are affected by this. The reason why they went there is to earn money for their families, but if they are now using their own money then financial assistance should be given to them. The Government should help them with the problem that they are facing and they should save their money for their families.Toalei Fala, 23, SiufagaI know a few people who are working as seasonal workers who are affected by this. They should be home already but cannot return from New Zealand because of the pandemic. The Government should help these people because the reason why they left Samoa is to earn money for their families.Tausisii Lala, 51, SatauaThese people should be given financial assistance because the reason why they aren't home yet is because of the pandemic. They should save their money because their time of working overseas is over. The Government should help them because they cannot come home yet due to the pandemic.Nuulua Suaesi, 27, VaisalaIf they are spending their savings then people who are in charge of the programme that they are working for should pay back the money the seasonal workers have spent on accommodation.

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STREET TALK: The destruction of Samoan history

Sei Sefosefo, 64, SaleaumuaI think it's nice, for a change. It's great to change the building to make our town area look better. I support having the building being demolished. It is better to keep it in our minds and hearts than just leave the building like that. This building is very important because it plays an important role during the Mau Movement. We must look forward to something better.Tuave Ieti, 52, MutiateleI know that the building is the only building in the Pacific from its era that is still standing and it is a very important building. If they could repair the building to its original structure then that would be very nice. Nothing can be done now because the building is currently being removed. The old courthouse is very important to Samoa's history.Lauvao Kelemete, 60, SatitoaI supported stopping the building from being demolished but I was surprised to hear that the building is being removed. The building should be kept as a souvenir because whatever is related to the Government, this building is always involved. Now it is being demolished so nothing can be done now. The building's importance is that it is where they had records and the beginning of courts in Samoa here. If you take a look at the building, ever since Samoa started to become independent, the building's structure has remained the same so I think the building should remain there and not be demolished. The building should have only been repaired. The building is over one hundred years old, it had the same structure ever since I was little.Tia'i Semau, 54, SaleaulaI don't support the removal of the building because it was built a long time ago and has a lot of history in it. It plays an important part in the history of courts and the Samoan government. When I heard that the building was going to be removed I felt sad and I wondered why it is being removed but I believe they are going to build a new building there.Filipo Ma'atusi, 21, VaiteleI don't support having the building removed because it plays an important role in our history. The building is a symbol of its time and it has survived for a very long time. I think it would have been better if they just repaired it. The building to us the youth is a way we get to see the history of our country and our ancestors.

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Should the Samoan sailors be brought home?

Maiava Kaiso, 66, SataoaThe Government makes the decisions and they should do something about the sailors abroad. They are overseas asking to come home because they have no work to do. The sailors should be brought home if they have no work to do now. Help should be given to these people.Fa'atiga Fetuli, 51, LotofagaThe Government should help these stranded sailors and bring them home and money should be given to them as a form of assistance.Ti'amalie Seupule Bac, 19, FalealiliSamoa is one of few countries left without a Covid-19 case and I know the Government is protecting us from it so that Samoa won't be affected by the disease. In my opinion, if these guys have been quarantined where they currently are and don't have the disease, then I don't know why they haven't been brought home yet. The Government should give them a chance to come home because their families are waiting for them. They want to come home because they fear that they might get affected by the disease. There are two people from my village who work as sailors abroad, one in New Zealand and another in Africa. We usually talk and they always say they want to come home.Kapeli Ioane, 48, MatatufuThey shouldn't be brought home yet because our country continues to be cautious about the disease. They should wait until the Covid-19 crisis is over then they can come home. I heard that these guys are still receiving money so they are okay on the ships.Fetu Sauiluma, 48, LepaThey should be patient, nothing can be done because we are currently in a state of emergency so the planes can't bring them here from where they are. They should wait until the lockdown finishes so they can come home. The Government should give assistance to the sailors abroad. If they are going to come home then it is best to put them in quarantine and make sure that they don't have the disease. There are a few people in my village who are sailors and they are okay where they are staying.Baha Otto Leaniani, 21, TufuleleThe reason why they aren't being brought home is that Samoa is cautious about the disease. These sailors are with people that are from different countries so they will easily be affected. It is difficult for the Government to bring them back home because they are worried that if they come home and bring the disease with them then it won't be long before a lot of people in Samoa will be affected. They should be patient, I am sure that they are protected if they just stay where they are and not go anywhere. There will be a right time to bring them home. I have a cousin working as a sailor on a ship in Italy and no one on the ship is affected. 

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What can be done to stop gang activities in Apia?

Joe Tomasi, 38, VaimeaThere is a lot of stuff happening right now so we should rely on the matai in the villages to look into these situations, which are currently rising due to many people gathering in the town area. Everyone in the country should stand together, especially to those who are in the town area to put an end to this bad behaviour. We should also assist the Police by reporting any of this sort of gang-related activities that are happening. Ever since I started staying in the town area, I have seen these things happen. People are influenced by what happens overseas and are now imitating this behaviour but it shouldn't be happening in our country.Ioane Pili, 43, SatapualaParents should teach them what is supposed to be done and the police should look into this situation. Many people have been affected by it. This type of behaviour should not be shown here, this is a public place where everyone comes to. I don't know why these people are causing problems here. You should only come to the town area if you have a reason to do so. The other reason is within schools, it seems like schools are starting to have gangs and they come and cause trouble here.Talalelei Talosaga, 49, FaleatiuPeople are being influenced by movies, but you wouldn't get anything out of it. Putting a stop to this will come from within the village. They should find the kids that aren't going to school anymore and tell them not to go around in the town area. I have seen a lot of kids here in the town area going around in gangs but they should be in school. The ones that aren't in school anymore seem to be the ones causing the trouble here.Fa'aloloa Vaa Ah Soon, 46, SaleimoaI feel sad about what is currently happening to the youth in Samoa because I believe that they have been influenced by what is happening overseas. People who are causing this should be investigated and taken to their villages for a decision to be made. Most of the youth causing these problems aren't from the town area, they are from different villages. There has been a lot of them so far. Semi Tusa, 56, FalealiliLife starts from within the family and if we think about it a lot of things are happening. I heard that there has been a rise in gangs here. Each person has their own mind and understanding of this situation, so we start to think about what has caused this? Many years ago there weren't any problems like this. The cause is from within the family, in my opinion, the parents aren't giving them enough advice. Mobile phones and watching movies are also the reason for this. If there aren't any of these things in our country then nothing like this would happen. These influences are leading to gangs being formed in villages, and instead of causing the problems in their own villages, they bring it to the public places and it is not nice to see that. The parents are to be blamed for this. Some are influenced by other people.Muna Taua, 29, Moata'aThe parents should talk to the kids that if they don't work then don't go around to other places because they might cause problems. Parents should look after their kids because they should know what their children are doing and teach them about what should be done and what shouldn't be done. I recently saw this behaviour on social media.

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Letter to Editor

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Samoa, aid from China and colonialism

I read with interest the Letter to the Editor from from Afamasaga F. Toleafoa addressing China and Developments at Mulifanua. The letter was replying to earlier correspondence from a Mr Kevin Hart which I’ve not seen. It is sad to see an educated Samoan trot out old bogeymen in his quest for Aid hand outs. Yes, Samoa did suffer colonialism. But surely with independence already 60 years in the past, Samoans have grown up.  I would have thought “growing up” means aid money is a thing of the past. Mr. Toleafoa expresses a distaste for regional Pacific governments and their hypocrisy in regard to trading with mainland China. Mr. Toleafoa is surely 100% correct in his views on this. I would be hard pressed myself to find a more unpalatable politician than the current Australian prime minister - and his predecessors. I would ask however, that before he would commit Samoa to an alliance with the Chinese Communist Party he do some research into the loss of political autonomy in Australia that has come about with the rush to market and profit in mainland China. I suggest he start with surveying the citizenry of Tibet and Xinjiang. How do Tibetans and Uighurs feel they are doing under the Chinese Communist Party’s dictatorship? I suggest that he visit Cambodia and see for himself the corruption entailed in taking hand-outs from a police state. I suggest he discuss with other Pacific country leaders what they think of the Chinese Communist Party’s preparations for war – with especial reference to the militarisation by desecration of reefs in the South China Sea.  I note on this point, that the Communist Party of China spurned the International Court’s rulings. As part of this research, I suggest that Mr. Toleafoa also visit Taiwan. Recently Taiwan has shown it is open for business. I’m not sure how open Mme President Tsai Ying-wen and her Government are in term of approaches for aid money; but at least in Taiwan you can find a free press, freedom of association, freedom of speech; you can find free and fair elections, rule of law and transparency. Levels of corruption are probably (by Chinese Communist Party standards) almost non-existent in Taiwan. No survey on such an important question could be complete without meeting and seeking the views of jailed professionals who have dared to champion human rights. I am thinking of Mrs. Wang Yu of Beijing; Mr. Li Wenzu; the list is a long one. As in ages past, the jails of China are full of the tortured and illegally detained. I urge Mr. Toleafoa to think hard about his preferences for international relations – and his own motivations for these preferences.Yours sincerely, Robert Travers

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China and developments at Mulifanua

Kevin Hart’s letter of 03 September complained about the Chinese being a likely buyer of Government’s shareholding in the Sheraton Samoa Resort at Mulifanua. Which raises the question; what is wrong with Chinese investors getting involved in tourism development in Samoa anyway especially when there isn’t much interest from elsewhere? Virtually every other country in the Pacific and the world including the US and Australia, China’s foremost critics have been enjoying the benefits of Chinese trade, investment, and tourism. So why not Samoa?Whether people like it or not, China will be a major player in the region, and it will only get worse with time for those who wish it otherwise. And in any case, one can’t do business with China as China’s critics do, and then seek to deny the Pacific Islands the same privilege by engaging in fearmongering about China’s intentions.  Samoa’s deputy prime minister called this bahaviour recently, patronizing and offensive. It is also dishonest. One would have thought that with colonialism still fresh in people’s minds, China’s detractors might have tried some more subtle way to make their case about China being a threat to Island nations. After all, these are nations that have only recently won back their own sovereignty from countries that are accusing China, a victim of colonialism itself, of malevolent intent in the Pacific.  Samoa’s prime minister made the point at the Pacific Island Forum that China is not an enemy of Samoa, which adheres to a “friend to all and enemy to none” approach to old and new comers alike to the region. The Pacific islands have legitimate economic needs and environmental interests that the former colonial powers in the Pacific have been unable to meet or in some cases totally ignored. Over the years, the Pacific Island nations have even been blamed for supposedly lagging in economic growth behind other parts of the world that receive similar levels of aid. But more recent work on the subject has confirmed what the Pacific Islands have known all along. And that is when you are small, highly fragmented and horribly isolated, your costs of attempting any form of economic activity are always going to be high no matter what you do.  China’s willingness and ability to help bridge this aid gap is welcomed therefore. It also helps that China has a different approach in its relations with the tiny and insignificant Pacific Island states and peoples. And it happens it’s an approach that the Pacific peoples themselves understand all too well and appreciate. Its an approach that recognizes the inherent dignity of peoples irrespective of colour, money and level of development. The result is that in spite of the fear mongering about China’s supposedly hidden agenda even in the face of evidence to the contrary, the Pacific Islands have seen no reason to believe this crude and offensive propaganda.  There appears to have been a notable increase lately in the number of visits by navy vessels and personnel from the US and Australia doing the usual public relations soft sell with various groups including school children. The visit on board these war machines and the helicopter rides for the children will have been the thrill of a lifetime for many. One suspects that we will be seeing more of these as the West sets out to contain the rise of Chinese influence in the region. The visits bring back to mind the colonial days of gun boat diplomacy in the Pacific when control of native populations was exercised mainly through the firepower of visiting warships when turned on native communities that failed to toe the line   Samoa’s prime minister is reported to have said recently in relation to the stepped-up competition that Samoa’s main interest and focus of diplomacy is to raise standards of living and provide for its people’s needs. In the circumstances, public relations and making friends with young people will only go so far in winning influence especially in the face of China’s hard cash. Airy catch phrases such as Step Up, (Australia), Pacific Uplift, (UK), something about Family? (US), can easily backfire. A meeting between Chinese leaders and Pacific Island leaders being hosted by Samoa in October this year should be quite an event especially at this time. It will most likely see among other things the unveiling of some new aid and trade initiative by China.   And as for Chinese interests possibly helping to bring more air services to Samoa, that too would be a welcome relief from the monopolistic practices of Air New Zealand, Virgin Airways and Fiji Airways, the three carriers that operate services in Samoa today. After being badly burnt in yet another one-sided partnership with an Australian carrier, the Samoan government did the right thing for Samoa in starting up Samoa Airways in spite of the risks and poor timing. When Polynesian Airlines started international services to New Zealand in the late 1970s, it did so mainly on the strength of Samoa’s own ethnic traffic between the two countries. The airline did well even then, until gross mismanagement grounded it with heavy losses. In spite of its inauspicious beginnings, Samoa Airways if properly managed and run, (by professionals preferably), has every chance of being the catalyst for Samoa to have the airline services it so badly needs. But it is helpful as government embarks on this to be reminded that we have been down this very road before. The lessons of history are there and must be learnt and heeded, if their repetition is to be avoided. Incidentally, as for a possible flooding of the To-Sua with tourists from China if direct charter flights were to start between China and Samoa, I have a suggestion. Make the climb down to the water even more challenging than it is now. That should encourage only the young and the brave to take the plunge. Afamasaga F ToleafoaLetava

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Ten years on: Tsunami reflections from a health worker

I had just finished morning devotion when the earthquake happened. I sat there and listened to the neighbours’ dogs barking and the dishes falling off shelves. After the earthquake, I got ready to go to work as usual. I was told that all the taxis were being advised not to go into town area, and it took almost an hour for my taxi to arrive. How insignificant it seems now, but I remember feeling annoyed and impatient with the driver for driving so slow, I did not want to be late for work! The driver was the first person who told me that a tsunami had hit Lalomanu and that people died. I remember thinking “That’s ridiculous, we don’t get tsunamis, and people need to stop spreading these fake news!” When I got to the lab, someone confirmed the driver’s story and told us to be prepared because they were bringing in bodies from Poutasi. That first hour at the lab is a bit of a blur, but I remember the hospital chapel vividly, the sounds of lamentations, the smells and the faces of the living and the deceased.  I was one of the laboratory staff that assisted Dr. Sonal, Dr. Rahman and our then mortician Ene Reupena in the Hospital Chapel. We were asked to document the injuries on the deceased bodies.  The first four bodies had already arrived when I got there. They were labelled 1 to 4 because we did not know their identities at the time. Peone was writing out more numbers in anticipation of more bodies. She had written up to “14”, and I remember asking her “Are we gonna need that many numbers?”. I found out soon enough. When the numbers reached 18, I thought surely there can’t be more! But the cars kept coming. I remember the workers standing there transfixed by the reversing cars, for those few seconds we all watched. If they reversed towards the emergency entrance, that means the person is alive and needs medical attention, but if they reversed towards the chapel entrance, then that meant we needed a new number for the new body. Part of the job delegated to us was to find relatives to identify the bodies. Once someone identified the deceased, we would write their names next to the assigned number. I was ok with the dead, it was the ashen look of shock and hopelessness on the faces of the living relatives that broke me. I tried my best to comfort the family members, but one man identified his brother-in-law, turned to the bodies next to him and identified his mother, and then his son. I could not help the tears, it was just too heart-breaking, I did not know what to say, so I hugged him and we cried together. The second time I cried was when they brought in a baby, about 6-8months old, I carried her while they tried to make space to put her.  She looked so peaceful and so beautiful with her white stud earrings. I remember the gruesome injuries on some of the bodies, the things people should only see in movies and TV series. Some of the bodies came wrapped in the same floral material. We were later told that they were window curtains of the Poutasi/Lalomanu hospital. I know it sounds undignified, but that was the disturbing reality of that day; they used whatever they had at the moment to wrap the bodies. I remember the two kids that were dressed in their white Sunday clothes. The relatives told me they wanted them to wear their White Sunday clothes since they already bought it! I kept trying to reach my Mom at Faleasiu, but the phone network was understandably overwhelmed that day. Our family house at Faleasiu is right on the ocean. When they told me that more than one wave had hit, I thought it possible that another could come any minute now and hit the other side of the island. After all, a tsunami had just happened in Samoa, and the bodies of the deceased were being brought in on the back of trucks. Anything was possible in the worst possible sense! I’d be lying if I said my faith never wavered that day. Amongst so many emotions, I also felt fear. I remember the fear of not knowing if my mom was safe. I feared that one of the bodies they brought in would be my mom or a relative. My uncle was the faifeau at the Lalomanu EFKS at the time. But they were lucky, I was lucky. I was spared the ordeal of having to identify a loved one. But the others… I could only look on and pray that God give them comfort and peace. I remember Moeumu Uili, the father of the beautiful baby, the wailing mothers, the weeping men, and all the while in the background, the constant beeping sounds of the reversing cars bringing in more bodies. These are sounds you don’t just forget.  It was amazing how everyone functioned, I think everyone was just on autopilot, not fully registering the magnitude of the situation. We all kept a brave face for each other. I remember being told to move the bodies closer together to make space for more. Eventually, the whole chapel was covered with the bodies of the deceased, and the hospital had to bring in freezer containers to store the other bodies. Most of us only stopped to rest in the evening, when most of the victims’ bodies had been documented and processed.I do not have any photos of that day. I remember we took a photo in the chapel, but it felt irreverent to those lying there, so I promptly deleted that. I remember a very nice photo of Ene (RIP) carrying a child, I think it was taken by NZ reporters. As you may know, some of the bodies were only discovered much later in the week. Dr Rahman (RIP) allowed me to accompany him on one of his visits to the mortuary to examine those bodies. Seeing is not always believing. I saw the mangled bodies, the bloated bodies, the dismembered bodies, but it was still hard to believe that all this had happened in Samoa! Anyone who was there and worked at the hospital will remember the smell that lingered for days in the hospital grounds.   Upstairs in the pathology lab, that song kept playing, I don’t remember the name of the song but ever since then, I refer to it as the “Tsunami song by Johnny”. It always makes me think of that fateful day. The laboratory staff were overwhelmed with not just performing tests for the injured, but seeing to so many volunteers who came to donate blood. Other people came with food, and they kept coming even after midnight. Amongst the pain and devastation, there was so much goodness too. I am always grateful for the Samoans’ sense of humour. Throughout that week, some lab members made it their mission to scare everyone with ghost stories, wet footprints with strategically placed blood drops along the corridors, running tap water late at night, looking in from the outside and whispering the names of the lab people inside.  I admit I was one of those pranksters that preyed on the “makafefes”, it was after all, free and much needed comedy! I also learnt that some of the boys are really just big soft teddy bears who are afraid of the dark! I was gant blivit. I’m always amazed at the resilience of the Samoan people. Usually in the western world, people who are affected by such events often need to have therapy sessions. Not us. The staff tearoom served as our therapist’s couch. I remember that night after the tsunami, we just sat there and listened to the tsunami song, not really talking. As the week progressed, people started opening up about their emotions and how they felt. It took me weeks to be able to talk about the tsunami and what happened in the chapel without tearing up. Some of our staff would tear up whenever they heard the tsunami song, even weeks later. Even now, there is always a catch in my voice when I talk about the tsunami. We will never know why bad things happen to good people, why God would let such a thing happen to anyone. But we are not supposed to know, we are asked to TRUST and keep FAITH that His ways are better, His Plan is for the greater good. Even when it hurts. This is not just my story. This is the story of everyone that was there that day. The hospital management, all the healthcare workers, the drivers, the porters, the administration staff, the random strangers that helped carry the bodies, and especially the families that lost so much that day. These are scenes you don’t just file away. By sharing this, I hope it brings some comfort in shared experiences. In some way, this is me on the therapist’s couch. Some wounds never really heal, but some scars, both mental and physical, I bear with gratitude, as a reminder that every trial reinforces our faith, and that we made it. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” James 1:3In remembrance of those who passed, and those who endured their passing. With love.Lupe Isaia Samoa   

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Samoa, aid from China and colonialism

I read with interest the Letter to the Editor from from Afamasaga F. Toleafoa addressing China and Developments at Mulifanua. The letter was replying to earlier correspondence from a Mr Kevin Hart which I’ve not seen. It is sad to see an educated Samoan trot out old bogeymen in his quest for Aid hand outs. Yes, Samoa did suffer colonialism. But surely with independence already 60 years in the past, Samoans have grown up.  I would have thought “growing up” means aid money is a thing of the past. Mr. Toleafoa expresses a distaste for regional Pacific governments and their hypocrisy in regard to trading with mainland China. Mr. Toleafoa is surely 100% correct in his views on this. I would be hard pressed myself to find a more unpalatable politician than the current Australian prime minister - and his predecessors. I would ask however, that before he would commit Samoa to an alliance with the Chinese Communist Party he do some research into the loss of political autonomy in Australia that has come about with the rush to market and profit in mainland China. I suggest he start with surveying the citizenry of Tibet and Xinjiang. How do Tibetans and Uighurs feel they are doing under the Chinese Communist Party’s dictatorship? I suggest that he visit Cambodia and see for himself the corruption entailed in taking hand-outs from a police state. I suggest he discuss with other Pacific country leaders what they think of the Chinese Communist Party’s preparations for war – with especial reference to the militarisation by desecration of reefs in the South China Sea.  I note on this point, that the Communist Party of China spurned the International Court’s rulings. As part of this research, I suggest that Mr. Toleafoa also visit Taiwan. Recently Taiwan has shown it is open for business. I’m not sure how open Mme President Tsai Ying-wen and her Government are in term of approaches for aid money; but at least in Taiwan you can find a free press, freedom of association, freedom of speech; you can find free and fair elections, rule of law and transparency. Levels of corruption are probably (by Chinese Communist Party standards) almost non-existent in Taiwan. No survey on such an important question could be complete without meeting and seeking the views of jailed professionals who have dared to champion human rights. I am thinking of Mrs. Wang Yu of Beijing; Mr. Li Wenzu; the list is a long one. As in ages past, the jails of China are full of the tortured and illegally detained. I urge Mr. Toleafoa to think hard about his preferences for international relations – and his own motivations for these preferences.Yours sincerely, Robert Travers

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