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One step forward for the marginalised, and Parliament’s “teething problems”

The recognition of the democratic rights of Samoa’s marginalised and vulnerable groups took a major step forward the other day.For the first time in the country’s electoral process, eligible voters with disabilities as well as senior citizens, will be able to cast their votes prior to the date of an election or a by-election in Samoa.The announcement of the pre-polling service – for the Fa’asaleleaga No 2 by-election – was made in the yesterday’s edition of the Samoa Observer. The story titled “Fa’asaleleaga No 2 By-election pre-polling begins” quotes the electoral commissioner, Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio. The Fa’asaleleaga No 2 constituency has become the first in Samoa to offer a pre-polling service, to eligible voters living with a disability and senior citizens. The service ensures everyone gets an opportunity to cast their vote, even senior citizens who will have difficulties accessing the polling venues, when the by-election gets underway. Faimalomatumua told the Samoa Observer that those entitled to cast their votes through pre-polling include voters who are 65 years old and above, voters with disabilities and those migrating overseas on election week.Faimalomatumua said there are around 400 voters who have attained the age of 65 and above. “As of Friday, the last day of pre-polling applications, 94 have applied. Including in that 94 are people with disabilities and those who are travelling overseas this week.”Top marks to the Office of the Electoral Commissioner and Faimalomatumua, for all the behind-the-scenes work to ensure Samoa’s marginalised and vulnerable – who are eligible to vote – are able to exercise their democratic rights in an election. It will be good to get some statistics later from the Office of the Electoral Commissioner, which would show how many eligible voters – in that category of people – exercised their rights of universal suffrage. The Ministry of Women Community and Social Development (MWCSD) in 2014 published its Samoa Disability Sector Profile and Directory. The report stated that the number of Samoans living with disability remains unknown. However, it made reference to the 2011 Census which highlighted 4,061 people who identified as having “any disability”.Hopefully, some of those 4,061 people – who identified as having a disability – will be able to exercise their rights when the 2021 General Election comes around. Like the elderly from the ages of 65 or more, it is also their opportunity to participate in the democratic processes of this country.In December 2016, the United Nations (UN) in Suva, Fiji announced that the Governments of Samoa and Micronesia ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), with the United Nations Human Rights Office commending both nations on their ratification. Two years after the ratification of the CRPD, an arm of the Samoa Government Samoa has kicked another goal, in its strive to empower the marginalised and vulnerable members of the community.While we look forward to seeing Samoa kicking more of those goals, we note with concern the plea from Journalists Association of Samoa (JAWS) president Rudy Bartley, to the Speaker of Parliament, Leaupepe Toleafoa Faafisi. Mr. Bartley has asked Leaupepe to reconsider the protocols that the Speaker’s Office has imposed on the media, which barred the media from filming and taking photos while the Parliament is in session.Early this week the Legislative Assembly, when advising of the Parliament agenda, notified the media that the taking of photos and videos in the House while it is in session is now prohibited. “An area for the media is set outside the Maota Fono where cable can be hooked on for live feed. Photos will be taken by the Office of the Legislative Assembly and will be made available on our Facebook page immediately after the sitting," the notice from the Office of the Speaker stated.However, when the Parliament convened yesterday these media services were not available, and Parliament staff referred reporters to radio 2AP for audio. Mr. Bartley, who was disappointed in the turn of events at the Parliament yesterday, said the media industry was not even consulted on the new media protocols laid down by the Office of the Speaker.Echoing what the JAWS president said and given the Parliament House was only opened last week, we believe the the media industry and the Office of the Speaker are currently experiencing “teething problems” in their relationship, which can be resolved for the benefit of both stakeholders. Politicians and journalists have a special relationship. As legislators you make important decisions and implement policies on behalf of the public who gave you the mandate, and as journalists it is our job to scrutinise those decisions and policies and report back to the very people who gave you that mandate.  Have a wonderful Wednesday Samoa and God bless. 

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The dangers of methamphetamine, and beefing up our first line of defence

They say prevention is better than cure. And the admission by the Minister of Revenue, Tialavea Dionisio Hunt, in yesterday’s edition of the Samoa Observer on the smuggling of methamphetamine or “ice” points to an issue that should quickly come under the Government’s radar before it becomes a rule of law and a health crisis. The Minister said Samoa’s borders are becoming vulnerable to drug smugglers. “Our borders have never been so vulnerable until now,” he said, “especially with American Samoa which is in close proximity and they are battling a drug war.”Recent violent incidents in Samoa have also come under closer scrutiny, with Tialavea blaming drug use for such erratic behaviour.“There have been strange and unusual incidences occurring lately and we find out late that the person was high on ice. And this is alarming and we must act collectively to eradicate this drug from within Samoa,” he said.Our neighbours have acknowledged the crisis that they have on their hands, and expressed the need for action to be taken to address it.  Early last month the American Samoa governor Lolo Moliga told Radio New Zealand that the local police conducted over 25 drug raids last year. They seized drugs (including crystal methamphetamine and marijuana) totally valued at US$930,000 (WST$2.3 million). The cache included a large number of guns. Consequently, the American Samoa governor has appealed for more effective strategies to tackle the illegal drug trade in the American territory. It is good to see the American territory going up another gear, in terms of investigations and prosecutions by the law enforcement agencies. However, Samoa is hampered by the lack of capacity and resources, as highlighted recently by the Minister.“The drug detector dogs are at the airport but not all the time as we can’t have the K9 working one shift after another, they must rest as well. “And it cost $200,000 for one K9. We station the dogs at the airports and sometimes at the wharf and hardly at the Post Office,” he said.We have every reason to be worried, following revelations by the Minister, that the relevant agencies lack capacity and resources to effectively police the border.To the southwest of Samoa is a neighbouring Pacific Islands state that is already paying a heavy price for allowing the illicit trade to continue unabated. In December last year New Zealand’s TVNZ broke the story on how a methamphetamine epidemic is “ravaging the Kingdom of Tonga and authorities are struggling to cope with the drug's destructive effects”. The TVNZ report stated that 96 arrests were made in a six-month operation by a special taskforce and up to 70 per cent of all mental health patients were addicts to the deadly drug. Tonga's Head Psychiatrist, Dr Mapa Puloka, told TVNZ that the country was hooked."This country is hooked on drugs, there's no doubt about that," he said.The same TVNZ report said most of the drug dealers on the island were armed and are smuggling weapons into the Kingdom. There has always been a strong link between illicit drug trafficking and illicit firearms trafficking. Therefore, the destruction of close to 300 firearms in July last year by the Samoa Police Service, should be put in perspective.Where and how can such a large collection of guns go undetected when brought into Samoa? Does the presence of these weapons point to a burgeoning drug trade behind-the-scenes that is complimenting its importing? The Police destroyed the guns – some of which were collected as part of a Government-funded gun amnesty program –  and expressed concern at the buildup of firearms in a state that doesn’t manufacture weapons. Consequently, it is important that the concerns expressed by Tialavea are taken on board immediately by the relevant agencies. The formation of a Government-led taskforce to begin the ground work to address the issue should be the way to go, now that the issue has been raised. Suggestions by Tialavea of home-based labs being used to manufacture the drug should not be downplayed. A technical brief produced by the Western Pacific Region Office for the World Health Organisation (WHO) states that the methamphetamine and amphetamine are now the major forms of ATS (Amphetamine-type stimulants) available worldwide.“Amphetamine may be ingested, snorted or smoked and, less commonly, injected. In powder form, methamphetamine is generally swallowed or snorted. The crystalline form of methamphetamine, which looks like glass and is often referred to as ice, is typically smoked. When smoked or injected, ice reaches the brain rapidly and is associated with a high risk of dependence reaches the brain rapidly and is associated with a high risk of dependence. There is growing evidence that smoking crystal methamphetamine has more harmful psychological effects and a higher addictive potential than other forms of methamphetamine,” states the WHO publication.Now is the time to establish a coalition of the willing in the fight against illicit drugs including methamphetamine. Enlisting the help of entertainment centers in Apia is a first step, but the first line of defence at our borders cannot be ignored, and should warrant Government investment in funding and resources to enable our law enforcement agencies to respond effectively and swiftly.Have a wonderful Tuesday Samoa and God bless. 

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One party state, H.R.P.P’s succession plan and opportunity for Opposition party

This much is undeniable. Samoa absolutely needs an opposition party.A quality opposition party at that too, not one driven by emotions and anger which stirs up animosity among the population. We also want a party that doesn’t misinform people.In any democracy, the role of an opposition party is critical. It exists to provide checks and balance and to hold the government of the day to account for their decision-making and more.Indeed, they are there to ask questions of the system and highlight faults and flaws, especially in the area of finances and policies. Speaking of finances, they play a very important role in exposing corruption; highlighting wrongdoing and bringing to the public’s attention what they believe the real issues of the day are – including abuse of power and positions, which is rampant in political circles.In Samoa today, the truth is staring at us unblinkingly. In the absence of an official opposition party, we are a one party state. Numbers don’t lie, in a Parliament of 50 members, 47 belong to the ruling Human Rights Protection Party.But it gets interesting. Of the three members who are not HRPP, there is only one Member of Parliament who has a reputation for being the opposition. It is why Olo Fiti Vaai has earned the nickname the “lone opposition party.”And rightly so.Olo, who has been an opposition MP all his political life, has over the years developed a reputation as a fearless critic of the Government who would take on anybody including the most powerful politician in Samoa in the form of Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi. History exists to remind us of the many clashes between the two politicians where the name-calling knows no end. And with the election coming in two years time, this relationship is only to become even more interesting to follow.There is another element of course. After the last General Election when Prime Minister Tuilaepa appointed all his Cabinet Ministers and Associate Minsters, he made a point at the time that all other HRPP members were unofficially opposition members in Parliament.Now this is important because we’ve seen some instances where these HRPP members have taken their new role quite seriously and literally. During some Parliament sessions, one could be mistaken for thinking that some of these HRPP members have crossed the floor listening to their tone in Parliament.But that’s just one part of being an opposition MP. There is a lot more. What we have seen and this where we the need for an official opposition party becomes quite acute is when matters of national importance – especially Constitutional amendments – are put to a vote.Although other HRPP members are unofficially opposition members, they would not rock the boat and they will always toe the party line. All you need to do is look at what has happened to former Speaker Laauli Leuatea Schmidt and how the HRPP has treated him after he rocked the boat during the last Parliament session.Indeed, regardless of what they say, political parties want control and nothing but complete control. Where a more insidious form of dictatorship exists, the almighty and powerful will always want to crush that lone voice of dissent.La’auli, as we’ve all seen, has found himself in that position. We don’t envy being in his shoes right now but we admire his tenacity and courage to take on a system that has become so powerful over the years the only way it could break up is if it self-destructs.Now, is there a possibility of that happening in the HRPP? Who knows? You be the judge.The fact is nothing lasts forever. As powerful as all the powerful regimes in the world go, history reminds us that there was always a beginning and an end. It’s just the way it is. It’s not a question of whether it will happen but it is only a question of when and how it will happen. This ruling government is not immune.But these are interesting times.Having had Prime Minister Tuilaepa at the helm for so long, the question that is on everyone’s lips is this: What is the succession plan after Tuilaepa? And who will take over should the current Prime Minister decide to call it a day?Everyone has an answer just as everyone has an opinion. There is no doubt even members of the HRPP have been talking among themselves – perhaps whispering quietly too – about the future.What will happen and how will it all unfold?We can only wait and see.In the meantime, it brings us back to the issue of having an official opposition party. Now is the opportune time to organise an opposition party, with a couple of years remaining before the General Election.If anything, this country needs an effective opposition party now more than ever. But it helps when people putting themselves up are people with credibility and of good standing in the community. We need brave men and women to stand up, not extremists and loudmouths.What do you think? Have a wonderful Wednesday Samoa, God bless!

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Keeping violence out of school rugby, a platform for future stars

It is tragic that violence has reared its ugly head at a school rugby sevens tournament that was set to unveil Samoa’s future stars.The Samoa Rugby Union (SRU) said the Schools National Sevens Rugby Championship – which was moved to the big island of Savai’i last Friday as part of efforts to give the game a nationwide footprint – was slated to be a spectacle and opportune exposure for Samoa’s future up-and-coming rugby stars.Instead the tournament, which started well in Upolu, degenerated into a nightmare for the organisers. The SRU said supporters of Mataaevave College invaded the field and attacked members of the Leifiifi College U19 Boys team, resulting in a melee and injuries to the players.“The scuffle boiled over with the intrusion of hooligan supporters from Mataaevave, who ran onto the field and caused a commotion. Police quickly apprehended and arrested the lead hooligan, (who was) wielding an umbrella while the rest were ushered away by tournament officials,” the SRU statement read.The organising committee met and discussed the incident, according to the SRU, and agreed to disqualify Mataaevave College for the remainder of the tournament as well as slap them with an indefinite ban from future tournaments. The clash also led to the Leifiifi College U19 boys team pulling out of the tournament, due to injuries sustained by three players during the clash.But the brawl didn’t stop the tournament – the show had to go on. Leulumoega Fou College dominating pool A and Leulumoega Fou College defeated Safata College 36-0 to retain their National 7s Crown making it back to back titles. The U19 Boys MVP award went to Des Sepulona captain of Leulumoega Fou College. Avele College won over Palauli i Sisifo College in the finals for pool B U19 Girls with scores of 19-7 and landed the U19 Girls MVP award To Faalua Lefulefu of Avele College. Leifiifi College took the U17 boys title over Aleipata College with 12-7 points - the U17 Boys MVP award went to Gerard Faalupega of Leifiifi College.Nevertheless, it is unacceptable that violence in Samoa’s premier school competition has tarnished the image of the game, especially in a time of uncertainty with world rugby superpowers considering a “World League”, which could see a 12 nation competition introduced that would exclude Pacific Island nations.Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, who launched a scathing attack on World Rugby over the proposal in a recent interview with the Savali newspaper, would be shaking his head in disappointment at the news of the violence-marred school rugby match in Savai’i. And rightly so as the chairman of the SRU.We applaud the decision by the tournament’s organising committee to disqualify Mataaevave College for the remainder of the tournament, as well as slap them with an indefinite ban from future tournaments. The penalties imposed by the organising committee should serve as a deterrence and warning to all teams, players and their supporters that any form of violence on and off the field will not be tolerated.Top marks to the Police for their quick action, which led to the apprehending of a main suspect behind the violent attack. Justice should now take its course, though we note that were others involved, who according to the SRU were ushered away by tournament officials. Perhaps the Police should expand their investigations to identify the others who were involved. The violence in Savai’i last Friday should also compel leaders on the Big Island to personally drive home the message to the community that violence anywhere – on a sporting field or at home – is not acceptable. The decision by the Samoa Government to host a number of Pacific Games events at Savai’i was an expression of confidence in the island and its residents. The onus is on the island’s residents to compliment that recognition by embracing good sportsmanship and condemning any form of sporting violence. The violence last Friday during the Schools National Sevens Rugby Championship wasn’t a good start as part of the island’s preparations for the Pacific Games, which is scheduled to kick off July 7. And with the Manu Samoa recently notching their second consecutive finals appearance in the 2018/2019 HSBC World Rugby Rugby Sevens Series in Las Vegas and Vancouver, there is a buzz about Samoan rugby on the global stage and an air of optimism has descended on this island paradise – following disappointing results in recent years. Let Samoan rugby lovers enjoy the moment and make it the perfect buildup to the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

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Street Talk

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Public support EPC employee drug test proposal

To me I think it’s something worth doing because it’s not appropriate for them to be on drugs while working or while serving the country. Another thing is in any ministry or any country, everyone working in those ministries are strictly not allowed to use drugs while on duty. These drug tests should be done in the Ministries from now on.There is a belief by some that the use of drugs helps develop and awakens the mind while doing something but what is more important? It’s the safety of our people. I would go 50/50 on this if I were to choose which option to support. It’s because I believe in the role of marijuana for example, I believe that it can wake you and keep you up. But if you overdo it that’s where it gets worse, especially since it can affect the lives of the public and colleagues.Personally, I think it’s what we should have been doing. This is a major problem that has been taking the lives of our people here and it’s all because of alcohol and drugs. These are exactly the things that have kept some families apart because of death and why? Because it’s either they get drunk or are too high on drugs while driving. Car crashes on the road because of reckless driving is now common in Samoa and we cannot let these things happen again, so I strongly support this new strategy of drug test in the Ministries.It’s important to protect the public on the road, in case someone loses a life again from reckless driving caused by alcohol and drugs. Not only that, it can also protect colleagues from losing their lives on the job. Some lack rational when it comes to these things, but it’s these things (drugs). I think it would be nice to have drug tests early in the morning, before they start the day at work.It’s true some people working for EPC are on drugs as I had a brother who worked for the EPC. I know a lot about the issue with their vehicles causing accidents on the road, so it’s very important not just for EPC but also other Ministries' employees to undergo drug tests. Another thing the Ministries should be doing is to collect the car keys right after they clock out, because I also noticed that it’s after work that I always see these vehicles flashing here and there to show-off.I support the application of drug tests inside the Ministries because I know there were heaps of accidents before involving alcohol and drugs and lives were lost. Innocent lives, people who went to buy sugar for their families, suddenly got run over by a car. Kids playing around the road, just happened to end up lying in their graves at such early ages. These are the kinds of accidents we’ll always be facing if we don’t emphasise doing drug tests of motorists.

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“The Prime Minister deserves respect”

“The recent arrest and charging of King Faipopo – when he flew into Samoa for his mother’s funeral – has triggered a lot of public debate. Our reporter Soli Wilson meets members of the public to get their views on the issue. 

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Govt. policy versus freedom of opinion

The Government’s decision to sack the Nofoali’i village mayor over his comments against the Government’s land law reforms has raised a rather interesting question. Can the Government sack village mayors who are appointed by the villages? What’s more, where does this leave Government employees when it comes to the question of freedom and rights? Talaia Mika and Misiona Simo discussed the issue with members of the public and these are their views:

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Public share views on remittances

“Remittances is Samoa’s largest form of foreign exchange earner with the 2017/18 financial year recording about $503.73 million tala in earnings. This shows the extent of the contribution by Samoans living abroad to the development of the nation. What do you think? Talaia Mika discussed the issue with members of the public and these are some of their views:

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Letter to Editor

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“Seek ye first the Kingdom of God…”

Me thinks Pr. Samoa Unoi of the Peace Chapel Christian Fellowship protests far too much when found out about his involvement with cryptocurrency. And in spite of his job description, I find nothing peaceful about his language. It’s also hard to believe he does not really care about the money he invests in cryptocurrency as he repeatedly claims. It only makes one wonder about the origin of such money. As for his rave against government interfering in how he spends money, the good pastor ought to know that the Central Bank of Samoa is duty bound to warn the people of Samoa about money scams that come to Samoa from overseas. The Bank is only doing its job as all good shepherds should.And in any case, the Central Bank did not tell the good preacher what to do with his money or with his flock’s money for that matter. What the Bank did was give a blanket warning about the dangers of these shady get-rich-quick money schemes, in the same way it warns people about pyramid schemes and counterfeit currency. And the good pastor may not be concerned about throwing money away, which incidentally is not what a faithful steward would do with heaven’s blessings. But most people do, and they will find the Central Bank’s warning of great value in avoiding being scammed. In fact, this is not the first time the good preacher has publicly shared his thoughts about money. The first time was to oppose the government’s proposal to tax church ministers like himself. He did not want to pay taxes and is one of only a few church ministers that spoke out publicly on the subject. As for Pr. Unoi’s claims about losing money by investing in UTOS, if true, he would be among a very select few who have had that happen to them. It makes you wonder whether the good preacher is not confusing UTOS with some other get-rich-quick scheme he is dabbling in.But no wonder the Good Shepherd told his followers to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth, nor rust doth corrupt, or where thieves do not break through nor steal” And if He was around on earth today, Jesus will no doubt have included as well all ge- rich-Squick scammers and prophets.F.S. SheepSamoa.

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I admire the Minister for giving unbiased advice to the P.M.

Dear Editor, Re: $121,000 contract should’ve been tendered, Minister says

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How it works

Re: I admire the Minister  In a Westminster system, the buck stops with Cabinet.

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It’s lost on you

Re: Taxing remittances  It’s obvious that the basic concept of tautua is lost on you. Most countries allow their expatriate citizens to vote from abroad.

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Cartoons

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