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Saving the most vulnerable in our community

There were four deaths at the weekend according to the Ministry of Police and Prisons. Acting Police Commissioner Papali’i Monalisa Tiai-Keti told the Samoa Observer that out of the four deaths, three of them were allegedly self-inflicted and the cases have been referred to the coroner for further investigation.The coroner is empowered by the law to undertake an inquiry into the cause as well as the circumstances behind a person’s death.A death is a loss to a loved one, to a family and to the community so to have four deaths in the country on the same weekend is a tragedy for multiple families.The fact that three out of those four deaths are allegedly self-inflicted or self-harm is a cause for concern and should immediately raise red flags. Questions should be asked on whether we are doing enough for the most vulnerable members of our community and if the support systems currently in place to prevent self-harm are adequate.Eighteen months on after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of Samoa’s international borders and the collapse of the country’s tourism sector, thousands have become unemployed and forced to return to their villages and families.The cost of living continues to rise as the pandemic drags on with the cost of basic items beyond the budgets of ordinary citizens, posing challenges for individuals and families who don’t have a continuous flow of income.To put this in perspective a month after the pandemic-related state of emergency (S.O.E.) went into effect in March last year, there were already reports of families going hungry due to one parent being out of a job.In August 2020, some five months after the SOE was announced by the authorities, a United Nations survey found that over two-thirds of Samoans report losing income and having difficulties paying their debts due to the economic downturn brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.So could the effects of the pandemic in Samoa be exacerbating a mental health crisis amongst the most vulnerable in the community?There is no doubt the pandemic will gradually take its toll on the people’s mental health, questions need to be asked on whether there are support services offered by the Mental Health Services Unit within the Ministry of Health to the most vulnerable members of the community.Further investment in the M.O.H. Mental Health Services Unit – through increased funding for advocacy and awareness programs on mental health issues as well as boosting staffing levels to enable more accessibility for communities outside Apia – would be a step in the right direction.While not forgetting the tireless efforts of the local non-government organisation Fa’ataua Le Ola which has been providing a lifeline over the years to the most vulnerable in the community.In these times of uncertainty prolonged by the pandemic with authorities unsure when reopening the borders would become viable for Samoa’s economy, policy moves by the new Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) Government to promote mental health would go a long way in removing the stigma often associated with the disorder.And in the process save the lives of citizens facing various challenges in these difficult times.

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A new House amidst party disharmony

A 158 days after the end of the 2021 general election, the 51-seat Legislative Assembly will convene on Tuesday to usher in Samoa’s new XVII parliamentary term.The country is now in the final throes of an electoral cycle that surprised us, unlike no other, with the performance of the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party exceeding expectations. The new party's success at the polls, at the expense of longtime political novice Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.), became the harbinger for a political crisis that threatened the democratic core of our foundations.But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Once we have these by-elections done, one of the most contested periods in samoa's democracy is coming to a definitive close, for which we can be faithful.And taking stock of the political crisis in the recent months following the polls, it almost feels like Tuesday’s first sitting of the House is a fresh beginning, giving our political leaders a chance to turn a new leaf, after one of the most tumultuous periods in Samoa’s 59-year history.The nation should be grateful for the electoral cycle that our forefathers drafted into our Constitution, which has evolved since Samoa’s foundation years and kept on ticking over, to ensure universal suffrage consistently led to democratically-elected governments taking charge of our destiny.Not many developing states have come this far in their journey of nationhood and we have a lot to be thankful for, while acknowledging that the task of nation building isn’t easy and there are challenges along the way.So let us not let this opportunity slip by to witness Samoa’s first female Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa take her place in the Parliament, the nation’s first ever Finance Minister Mulipola Anarosa Ale Molio’o present her 2021/2022 fiscal budget and a new administration occupy the Government bench.Not forgetting a fully-fledged Opposition in the new Parliament to scrutinise the new Government’s policies, some five years after the exit of the then Opposition party Tautua Samoa in a positive move for the country.These are historical developments and point to a democracy very much alive and being responsive to the needs and aspirations of the people.Therefore now is not the time to create disharmony by driving a wedge through the community, with calls for affected constituencies to gather at Mulinu’u on Tuesday to coincide with the sitting of the House.It is unacceptable for the H.R.P.P. leader Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi to ask the 18 constituencies – whose unsworn Members were turned away by Speaker Papalii Lio Masipau on Monday when they asked to be sworn in – to carry the burden of that rejection when it was Tuilaepa and his party members who decided unilaterally not to attend the 24 May 2021 sitting of Parliament and thus bring upon themselves the dilemma they are currently facing.Did Tuilaepa and his 18 unsworn Members return to their constituencies on the eve of the Parliament sitting on 24 May 2021 – in line with the orders of the Supreme Court at that time – to get the views of their voters on whether they should attend the sitting where their election as legislators would have been formalised through their swearing-in?None of the elected and re-elected Members of the H.R.P.P. returned to their constituencies at the height of the political crisis to meet with their voters so why should the voters be lumped with the responsibility of becoming pressure groups for these politicians when the leaders didn’t consult them in the first place?It is time for the former Prime Minister and his party members to accept responsibility for their woeful preparations for the April election, which decimated the H.R.P.P. and enabled the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party to secure the people’s mandate and thus form Government.Failure to act now to halt the former ruling party’s further fall from grace could have implications for the 41-year-old party in the medium to long-term period with the upcoming by-elections and the 2026 general election.Frustration by the general population at the refusal by political leaders to restore normalcy and respect the rule of law following a long-running political crisis could backfire and even lead to more losses at the ballot. 

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Tales from under a breadfruit tree

Amid heavy police presence and barricades set up at Mulinu’u closing off public access to the Parliament precinct Tuesday morning, the veteran politician Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi declared “what a sad day for Samoa!”The Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) leader and former Prime Minister is correct: it was indeed sad that he and his 17 unsworn party Members were not in the Parliament to witness the tabling of the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) Government’s $982 million budget.But the bigger tragedy is how Tuilaepa and a number of his party executives disseminated flawed legal interpretations on the swearing-in of parliamentarians and the role of the Head of State. It put them at odds with the established norms of Parliamentary Standing Orders, resulting in the Speaker Papalii Lio Masipau recently choosing to forgo that process, which would have enabled them to get sworn-in to sit in Parliament.And just like the 24 May 2021 impromptu swearing-in by the F.A.S.T. party under a tent on the lawn of the Parliament; after the caretaker H.R.P.P. caretaker administration locked the chamber to force Fiame Naomi Mata’afa and her party Members to get themselves sworn-in outside; it appeared as though the new Government had now turned the table on their political rivals.As the Minister for Finance Mulipola Anarosa Ale Molio'o delivered her budget speech in the 51-seat Parliament chamber; in the process becoming the country’s first female Finance Minister to hand down a Government’s budget; Tuilaepa and his Members were seated under a breadfruit tree some 200 meters from the Parliament precinct listening to a Radio 2AP live broadcast of the budget session. It would have been the perfect script for a political thriller: how Samoa’s longest serving Prime Minister and his 41-year-old party got outmaneuvered by a woman-led political party that only got established in June last year.And sadly a new chapter of sordid tales gets to be added to the book as the veteran politician refused and continued to question the rationale of the Court of Appeal’s landmark judgement in July this year which installed the F.A.S.T. Government.So who will accept responsibility within the H.R.P.P. for the blunder that saw 18 constituencies miss Tuesday’s crucial tabling of the new Government’s fiscal budget due to the absence of their elected but yet to be sworn-in Members?And will the Members of the H.R.P.P. take their responsibilities as legislators in the new parliamentary term seriously and acknowledge that it is the people who gave them the mandate through the general election?Close to 160-days after the end of the 2021 general election, it is time for voters in the affected constituencies to take their Members to task over the decision-making of their elected representatives.It has become clear in recent months that the H.R.P.P. lacks direction and has not necessarily represented the interests of citizens and the public good, let alone became responsive to the needs of their voters. Bearing witness to the tabling of the F.A.S.T. Government’s first ever budget on Tuesday would have put the former ruling party in the box seat to scrutinise their political rival’s annual money plan, to ensure the Legislative Assembly shapes it as well as provide budgetary oversight for the benefit of the people.But the leadership of the party with over two decades of experience in handing down annual budgets failed this nation when they were absent during the first sitting of the XVII Parliament on Tuesday.As Prime MInister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa said in the Parliament on Tuesday, the 18 unsworn H.R.P.P. Members only have themselves to blame for missing the sitting, which saw the tabling of her administration’s budget."That ship has sailed. They have forgotten how we begged and asked them to convene parliament after the election in April,” she told Parliament."Who prevented parliament from convening back then? Who is to be blamed for the situation they are in right now, with their elected Members being un-sworn? “The Courts offered two opportunities for parliament to convene back then, but rejected those chances so what now?”Food for thought for the unsworn H.R.P.P. Members who are in desperate need of accountable leadership.   And more importantly a reminder that the mandate to serve the people ultimately comes from the people. Therefore elected representatives should not take their roles and responsibilities for granted as to do so would come at the expense of the people.

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Street Talk

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Public react to movement of top officials

Malama Paulo, 64, Alamagoto"I think Samoa has a new government and the decision that they make for the top bureaucrats is based on trust because trust is the most important thing that builds a good relationship. So in my own opinion the new Government make their own decision based on facts and of course according to policies and guidelines which they think is true and reasonable. So we have a new Prime Minister as well as new Ministers and new Government and we also have to accept the fact that there will be some new changes in our country."  Mauga Gasologa, 75, Satapuala"I believe a new government always have their own new plans, tactics and strategies for change. I support the decision by the new Government and I also ask them to do the right thing according to God’s will. We love our people, we love our country but leaders should have some concern about our wellbeing now and forever because they hold the power to change anything. So I hope these changes will glorify God and have a good impact for our people."Poe Leaega Lesolo, 50, Vailele-Uta"I have supported HRPP for the past five years as a member of Vaimauga N#1 and I remember what our leader Tuilaepa hate so much was a person that complains too much. But when the people of Samoa vote the HRPP out, our former prime minister became the number one person who was full of complaints. So for myself, whoever has become the leader, just support and help them out. It happens to all the countries in the world, no one can stand like a mountain but we must accept the fact and support the new Government. The decision they made to censure top employees, they have reasons to do it and we support it."Filoialii Mikaele Pesamino, 57, Lalovaea"The HRPP have no grounds in terms of their accusations against the new Government especially in relation to their decision concerning top bureaucrats. I’m a father of eleven and our Member that we vote for lost the election. So politic is like that, you win, you lose and new people, new member but politicians remain. And who vote them in – it’s us, the people of Samoa. So the people vote them in, the people vote them out. The Cabinet Ministers and the Opposition side need to be careful with what they say and what they do because people have the power to vote them out of office."Maraea Ioselani, 25, Papauta"I don’t think is the right decision by the new Government to remove these top ministry employees because they have the experience and also they have families to feed. It’s hard to find job these days but they lost their job and it’s sad to see them leaving so don’t support the decision of the new Government."Taatiti Tietie Vaili, 58, Saoluafata"I believe the Prime Minister has the right to make her own decisions to better her Government. But HRPP leaders should join and support to make things perfect and respectful as our foundation. It’s sad and hard to see top officials in Government leaving but there is always another door for them in life. So we have to accept those facts and support the new Government because their decisions today could lead to their downfall in the future."Talitonu Aumua, 67, Laulii"I strongly support what the new Government is doing at the moment. If we change the Government, we have to change everything about the Government. And it is an old issue, when a new Government forms; they always bring in new people and their own new plans with their aim to improve and do better things for the country. So it is not a big deal but the HRPP is trying to make it as a big thing because they lost the election but it’s an old issue and it happens to other countries in the world. So whatever the new Government wants to change, it is for the benefit of Samoa and its people."Hope Kaio, 22, Vaitele-Fou"The bible says neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved. Just like the situation our country is in right now, new Government should have trustworthy people to work with in order to move forward and achieve any of their goals so I support the new Government and their decisions. "

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Letter to Editor

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Where did you pick up this kind of garbage?: Tuilaepa

14 July 2021Letter to the Editor Samoa ObserverSACKING OF CHIEF JUSTICE (CJ) AND FALSE RUMOURSSomeone wrote to me today (July 13th) mentioning a rumour your newspaper has created that this Government plans to dismiss the CJ.  This is news to me.  Where did you pick up this kind of garbage? The FAST leadership? It must be!The political problems facing Samoa today were never caused by this Government.  If it is to be recalled, three major Court decisions have been instrumental in the impasse we are confronting today.First:    The Supreme Court decision which erroneously decided that five (5) women MPs comprised 10% stipulated under Article 44 of the Constitution.  It was a very, very strange split decision.  The Court then chose the length of time for the Electoral Commission to submit his report to the Head of State on the official results of the General Election (an issue that was irrelevant in the case) as the basis of its decision.  This was the first Court decision with a classic tail end.Second:  The Court of Appeal then overruled the Supreme Court decision and stated that the correct number of women MPs is six (6) as the HRPP argued.  But then attached another of its own tail end that the sixth woman (an HRPP candidate) can only be activated after all the petitions have been heard and bi-elections have been held.  This is the second tail created by the Court – again raising many more questions.  The HRPP has nevertheless accepted this decision with humility and this is where we are today – waiting and waiting.  If there was no tail end  here, Parliament could have convened then with FAST and HRPP both having 26-26 members each, a tie, a hung parliament, and therefore a possible General or Snap Election.  That is the ideal solution – Let the people decide!  However the Court and FAST did not seem to want that.  The Court by implication seems to want to choose the Government they wanted.  Third:  The Supreme Court decision presided over by Justice Vui ruled against the ceremony by FAST under the tent on Monday 24th May 2021 as unconstitutional, illegal and therefore void and of no effect.  Bravo!  But then very strangely attached another tail end that Parliament must meet within seven days or else the Court would reconsider the issue of the ceremony that was already declared illegal and unconstitutional – a plain threat.  And using the Doctrine of Necessity which in short could declare legal what was already ruled as unconstitutional and illegal!This Supreme Court decision was based on the Head of State’s Proclamation of 20th May 2021 which had already lapsed or expired.  Again FAST has appealed Justice Vui’s decision.    These famous Court initiated tails have frustrated the normal functioning of the Parliamentary Processes under the Constitution of the Independent State of Samoa.  As mentioned above, these three tails are the causes of our current political problems.The Head of State in his recent proclamation on Sunday 4th July 2021 has provided a solution.  He, as the Sole Legal Authority to convene Parliament has called for all actions necessary to be completed to properly convene Parliament on Monday 2nd August 2021.Tuila’epa Sa’ilele MalielegaoiPRIME MINISTER

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