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Tuilaepa's politics of self-preservation

It is simply unthinkable the depths that Samoa’s longest serving Government head and caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi is willing to go in order to maintain his grip on power.On Thursday morning Samoans woke up to the news that the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) leader met with Government Ministry Chief Executive Officers on Tuesday to give them the heads-up on a looming budget crisis.The Samoa Observer revealed details of the meeting between Tuilaepa and the Government Ministry Chief Executive Officers in the Thursday, June 10, 2021 edition in a front page article entitled “Govt. braces for budget crisis”.Public servants, who were in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting, were told to prepare to trim down staffing numbers in the likelihood that the XVII Legislative Assembly would not meet in time to pass a budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.The caretaker Prime Minister also warned the senior bureaucrats against expressing “anti-Government” sentiment on social media.A Chief Executive Officer, who spoke to this newspaper on the condition of anonymity, interpreted the instructions from the top as a tool that the veteran politician is allegedly using to force the convening of Parliament.It is amazing that this charade in high office – which started when the Office of Electoral Commission and the Head of State, His Highness Tuimaleali’ifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II tried to unsuccessfully add a sixth woman M.P. as well as revoke the 9 April 2021 general election results – continues with a new chapter.(The revoking of the 9 April election results and the addition of the sixth woman M.P. by the O.E.C. was successfully appealed in the Supreme Court by the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi [F.A.S.T.] party, only to be overturned a fortnight ago by the Appellate Court which then ruled that only after the conclusion of election petitions and by-elections can the O.E.C. make a determination on whether the constitutional provisions on women representation in the Parliament can be invoked).Nevertheless, how are Government Ministry Chief Executive Officers supposed to act with this latest twist as bureaucrats continue to become sandwiches in a political crisis that leads back to just one man and his self-serving definitions of the Constitution and the rule of law?Or have our public servants become inept and complicit in this wholesome attack on the values and principles that bureaucrats in modern democracies around the world are supposed to uphold?Surely public servants saw the story in the Wednesday June 9, 2021 edition of the Samoa Observer on public officials including the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Tiatia Graeme Tualaulelei and the Attorney-General, Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale being two of four people being cited for contempt of court in relation to the aborted 24 May 2021 convening of the Legislative Assembly.Perhaps they’ve forgotten Samoa became a sovereign nation and gained independence 59 years ago – the short-term memory loss probably exacerbated by the caretaker Government’s decision to officially celebrate last Tuesday’s Independence Day by broadcasting reruns of celebrations in years gone by – and conveniently using the coronavirus-induced state of emergency as an excuse not to celebrate.It makes you wonder what Tuilaepa would have said in his ‘Independence Day speech’ last Tuesday had the official celebration gone ahead. Though, on second thoughts, probably he couldn’t stomach the idea of having two podiums at Malae o Tiafau – one for himself and the other for the Prime Minister-elect Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, who on official O.E.C. records has a one-seat majority of 26–25 over his party, and by virtue of those results alone should have had the blessings of the Head of State to form Government.But the Head of State had other plans, as our history records now sadly show, and the damage that his decisions have made to the O le Ao o le Malo will linger for many years representing a dark age in Samoa’s journey as a democratic state.So what is it going to be for this beautiful nation of 198,000 people with its coconut palm beaches, fish-teeming waters and talo-loving farmers?We uphold ourselves as the first Pacific Island nation to gain independence with a governance track record that is the envy of many others. But then do we accept and condone the actions of a caretaker Prime Minister who refuses to accept that he lost a general election, even just by one constituency?And with the Supreme Court deliberating on the 28 election petitions and counter petitions, surely it should have dawned on Tuilaepa, that the results could swing in his party’s favour after three to four months.So let the process take its course, accept the outcome of April’s election and respect the decisions of the Courts. Surely our leaders can go about this with some sense of civility and humility, while acknowledging the decision of the voters to give them that mandate through their votes to get into public office.We have readers who have reached out to us expressing frustration at the turn of events over the last two months, they include longtime H.R.P.P. supporters who have had enough of the charade and vowed to vote F.A.S.T. if polling is held tomorrow.The F.A.S.T. leadership continue to show humility and patience, despite the Courts ruling in their favour, and those qualities were on display again on Thursday when the party opted to back down from its 48-hour deadline for the caretaker Cabinet to vacate the Fiame Mata'afa Faumuina Mulinuu II building in order to maintain the peace.It shouldn’t be surprising that the New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta has changed tact of late, in her assessment of the constitutional crisis when she took to Twitter on Wednesday.“Aotearoa New Zealand is concerned at the ongoing political impasse in Samoa preventing the convening of Parliament,” Ms Mahuta said on Twitter.“Samoa has a reputation for good governance, we encourage respect for the Courts’ decisions and urge cooperation to ensure the immediate formation of Government.”There’s no doubt the language from New Zealand’s Foreign Minister is growing stronger.But why should the niceties of diplomatic language continue to gloss over a crisis that probably warrants a phone call sooner rather than later?

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For Tuilaepa, the truth hurts

Buoyed as he is by today's court decision, the caretaker Prime Minister has shown a character flaw weighing down upon our national politics: an inability to face up to hard truths.Despite Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi having just alleged the judiciary was conspiring against him, the Appellate Court ruled in favour of his argument that a minimum of six women M.P.s need to be appointed to meet a mandated quota in our 51-seat Parliament. We don't expect that contradiction to be explained anytime soon. The victory has been seized upon by supporters of the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) many of whom have incorrectly concluded the decision will lead to the installation of Aliimalemanu Alofa Tuuau and a Parliament in which the opposing party cannot form Government. They must read the court’s words, reprinted in today’s edition, more closely. In fact, the court voided Aliimalemanu’s warrant of election. Aliimalemanu herself (!) acknowledged this very point when she told the Samoa Observer that she did not mind which woman M.P. ended up being elected nor which party they were from, rather she was pleased to have struck a blow for female representation. And, like the court we applaud her for her devotion to that worthy cause. The reason Aliimalemanu’s election was voided was because it will not be until after the Supreme Court sorts through some 28 petitions and more counter-petitions that the rule requiring six women will be applied. There are another six petitions involving women challenging or defending an election result alone, let alone other women candidates who could be elected if by-elections are called if a legal challenge to a result is upheld. The number of women elected to the XVII Parliament of Samoa could be higher than the threshold, or it could be much much lower. Exactly what role this unforeseen constitutional mandate will figure in the final election results is entirely unknowable. That means two things of extreme significance for the immediate political future of this nation - neither of which Tuilaepa was willing to face up to when speaking on Wednesday afternoon. For the time being, the Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party will retain its 26-25 lead over the H.R.P.P. until the election is completely finalised. How long the courts take to settle the dozens of legal challenges before them will likely be a matter of weeks, not months.Until that time, they notionally - depending, of course - on the outcome of a legal case about the validity of the party’s swearing in, the opponents should notionally have some political breathing room to establish Government. But speaking on Wednesday, Tuilaepa sounded like a man who had not familiarised himself with even the most elementary aspects of the judgement.He asserted the decision cemented Aliimalemanu’s election and a 26-26 tie between F.A.S.T. and the H.R.P.P. and his rightful place and the ongoing future “custodian” of Government in Samoa.No person with basic literacy skills could have reached either of these conclusions after reading what the court had to say in a succinct and articulate 12 page judgement. Fiame Naomi Mataafa, the leader of F.A.S.T., took a different and more reasonable view of the judgement, which, as it was, a victory in principle for the H.R.P.P. but one with few practical consequences for Samoa’s immediate future.F.AS.T., she said, had the numbers in Parliament for now and was ready to proceed to transition to a new Government, just as previous Parliaments have sat while petitions are in progress.That puts the two leaders on a collision course that cannot spell good outcomes for this nation. But the decision also casts in stark relief the fact that the caretaker Prime Minister has shown himself at his most arrogant during a week when he should have learned about humility. For so many years, Tuilaepa’s tendency toward over-the-top statements have merged with his public-political persona. But it is only in recent weeks as he has begun to feel his power ebb in the wake of an election defeat that we have seen the true depth of the caretaker Prime Minister’s unrelenting self-regard. He dared to allege only a little more than a week ago that there was a conspiracy against him being cooked up by the nation’s judiciary after his party lost four court battles in a row while trying to use the courts to prevent a new Government forming. Tuilaepa then sought to assume for himself a merged role of judge, jury and Prime Minister by condemning F.A.S.T. for holding an improvised swearing-in ceremony in order to uphold the constitution. “I am well versed with this law because I own it; it’s mine,” he said.Only weeks earlier he said that he was "appointed by God" to lead Samoa and that the judiciary had no authority over his appointment.The recent decisions of the Supreme Court should have disabused him of the idea that the rule of law is something one man can own. But the public of Samoa, in one way or another, be it by way of the ballot box or making their feelings known will prove decisive in the resolution of this seemingly endless political saga.In this time of crisis Tuilaepa's bombastic persona is no longer proving a political asset but rather something which grates upon the voters of Samoa, and he is losing support evidently. He is increasingly being less seen as a strongman who can be depended upon to steer Samoa through choppy waters as an immovable object with whom much of the political deadlock originated. The H.R.P.P. have been champing at the bit for another election to be called as a recourse to holding onto power. But despite winning an absolute number of votes in the April election, almost every step taken by the party and its leader in the interim has done little to endear Tuilaepa to the public. If things continue as they are, the political confidence he had in April is likely to have evaporated by this month’s end. We saw just as much at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral at Mulivai on Monday evening when he became the subject of a sermon and a general character appraisal by the Archbishop of the Catholic Church, Alapati Lui Mataeliga.Tuilaepa, not known for welcoming differences of opinion, looked every inch a man in a furnace. With his eyes closed and fan working overtime, he almost appeared to be hoping to deflect the Archbishop’s words.It did not, of course. His Grace’s sentiments are still lingering, long since his homily concluded.The Archbishop referred to himself as Tuilaepa’s “spiritual father” and indeed he performed his role in this respect by dispensing some home truths to a man - and a nation - in need of them. Speaking on the eve of Independence Day, His Grace noted that Samoa has had a history of oppression before; we have been colonised by Tongan, German and New Zealand forces in our recent history. Our paramount chiefs have had their natural status constrained and our people have suffered under the yoke of colonial Governments which have misused their powers for personal gain. The historical parallel was obvious. The Archbishop lamented the current state of the nation which became the first in the Pacific to free itself from colonial rule but only after a long struggle. “There is no peace and there is no unison and it appears as if our forefather’s shed blood for no reason,” he said. “We are affected by [our leaders] abusing power due to high-mindedness and dictatorship.“Without Samoa, there would be no leaders and the people should be well aware of that, the power in which is being abused by these leaders was given to them by us, the members of the public.”Perhaps Monday’s homily dispossessed him of the conviction that he has a divine right to the Prime Minister’s chair.It is impossible that Tuilaepa does not realise that his recent actions have sown division in this country. The Government’s recent decree that there be no public celebration of Independence Day clearly reflected a political fear of that day’s symbolism. The notional excuse provided, that large gatherings posed a risk to the public health, was undermined completely the day before when the Prime Minister addressed more than one thousand political supporters. To have the head of your faith tell hurtful and shabby truths about your conduct must, even for a man of Tuilaepa’s bravado, be a wounding experience. For the sake of the country’s immediate future, we must hope against every indication it was also, deep down, a humbling one. 

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Democracy's rules non-negotiable

Having the political leaders who have been standing on opposite sides of the nation’s ongoing constitutional crisis make face-to-face contact and negotiations was in some ways a welcome sign.  Nearly two months since April’s election, all political communication has been defined by attacks, slurs, and damaging statements about democracy. Prime Minister-elect Fiame Naomi Mataafa going to the Government building to meet her counterpart on Thursday was a powerful symbol that we may be moving towards civilising Samoan politics. But apart from presenting a display of change from negative political campaigning, there are few promising signs to have arisen from Thursday’s meeting between the two party leaders which leaves question marks hanging over how productive Monday’s second round negotiation will be.What the Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) or the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) discussed is not known. But the following day Fiame made it clear that the caretaker Prime Minister’s resolve to stop any loss, even a temporary one, of his grip on power was a major roadblock to negotiations.As is reported in today’s paper Fiame said that Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi appeared keen to explore any solution but that directed to him repeatedly by the rule of law. Namely, she referred to multiple court decisions prompting him to acknowledge he lost the election and to allow the Parliament to convene and face the music."[It's] as if he is almost saying, let’s leave the rule of law altogether,” Fiame said.“But the reason why he wants to put the laws aside is due to the fact that the courts continue to say, no, F.A.S.T. won the general election. “Now he is seeking cultural solutions and solutions from the religious denominations; but I personally think that there’s no need for that, the rule of law is sufficient.”How successful negotiations can proceed from here is unknown. But Tuilaepa said he was confident that over the course of several meetings a consensus might be reached.But a major sticking point for Tuilaepa was apparently refusing to acknowledge his deficit and refusing to consent to Parliament convening at least until after post-election legal challenges are heard, a delay that will potentially give him a chance to gain more seats and maintain his period in power.“In our view, we cannot make a decision before the activation of the sixth seat. And there are ways we can make this work to fulfil our duties as stipulated under the constitution,” he said.But we find the idea that it is up to political figures, rather than the law, to interpret the law and determine the course of democracy objectionable.Doing so has resulted in violations of the supreme law of the land but also, as Tuilaepa recently said, the most powerful force in politics: basic arithmetic.The numbers are plain: F.A.S.T. holds 26 seats compared; the H.R.P.P. 25.In most functioning democracies outgoing and incoming leaders do meet in order to brief each other on key issues and smooth the transfer of power.But until he is prepared to acknowledge the simple fact of F.A.S.T.’s majority in Parliament, it is difficult to see how Tuilaepa can have a productive discussion about moving forward.Tuilaepa previously said forming Government was deeply pressing while advocating for a second election to be held, because the business of Government could not be delayed but now he seems comfortable approaching negotiations at a languid pace. Through a boycott and behind the scenes manoeuvring Tuilaepa actively breached the constitution and a court order that Parliament convenes within 45 days of an election last month.  The nation is increasingly tired of court drama in the wake of an election in which the people spoke with their votes. But as wearying as court cases are, we believe there is no other option other than having independent jurists determine how Government should form rather than self-interested politicians. Skilful negotiators know the tactical value of making a high initial offer.But this is not a used car sale or a payrise negotiation. It is the future of Samoa’s Government; decisions about when and how Parliament should sit should be made in accordance with the law, not a backroom deal. Tuilaepa has repeatedly shown disdain toward the constitution and the judiciary over the past two months.In response to a small protest outside Parliament last month he said he was "appointed by God" to lead and that the judiciary has no authority over his appointment. This may well be the caretaker Prime Minister’s sincerely held view but it is not part of the constitution, the document which he is obliged to uphold. So far Tuilaepa, by contrast, has been an immovable object doing all he can to frustrate the formation of a democratically elected Government.The negotiations the nation are most in need of right now are discussions internal to the H.R.P.P. to develop a workable strategy around the deficit of numbers they face in Parliament. Acknowledging that will be the only means for both the party and the nation to move forward.

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Revoking of top cops’ contracts bad timing

Let’s be honest, right now the nation demands that its public servants stand tall, in line with the oath that they swore to public office to serve the people without fear or favour.But some of them went off track since the conclusion of the 9 April 2021 General Election, and were blatantly complicit in attempts to upend the results of the April election, and ultimately undermine the Constitution.It is tragic and bizzare and despite the best efforts of the Public Service Commission, to get everyone to tow the line of political neutrality and act with impartiality during these uncertain times, it becomes farcical when Government ministry heads dabble in politics adding fuel to the fire.But one group of public servants have risen to the occasion in recent weeks and boldly declared they will uphold the Constitution: the Samoa Police Service and its men and women in uniform.On the morning of Monday 24 May 2021, when the XVII Legislative Assembly should have convened in line with the orders of the Supreme Court, Police Commissioner Fuiavaili'ili Egon Keil was on the ground at Mulinu’u with his men and women to maintain the peace and to escort the Chief Justice, His Honour Satiu Sativa Perese and his judges to what was a locked Parliament.On the afternoon of the same day, the Police guarded the precinct of the Parliament and witnessed history in the making, when Samoa’s first woman Prime Minister-elect was sworn-in under a tent with Members-elect of her Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party in keeping with the 45-days constitutional deadline for the new Legislative Assembly to convene.This and other matters are now the subject of various Court proceedings.A week later, when the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) urged its women supporters to converge at Mulinu’u on Monday for a peaceful march and for chiefs from Upolu and Savai’i to meet at Malae o Tiafau, Police presence ensured there was civility despite rising tensions.Therefore, the role of the Police Service in maintaining peace and good order in the community and the country, at such a precarious juncture of our history should not be downplayed.And revelations of the caretaker Cabinet overturning a recent decision to extend the contracts of current Commissioner Fuiavaili'ili and Deputy Commissioner Papalii Monalisa Keti are a cause for concern.Fuiavaili'ili and Papalii have been exemplary in their leadership of the Police during a critical period for Samoa and pushing for a change of guard now – with the country’s leadership still at loggerheads over who represents the legitimate government – does not augur well for stability within the Police Service and over the long-term the wellbeing of the nation and its people.The Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and Secretary to Cabinet, Agafili Shem Leo, has confirmed the two senior officers had their contract extensions revoked. “Apropos your enquiry on the Police Commissioner's and Deputy Police Commissioner's contracts, Cabinet at its meeting FK(21)19 issued on 27th May 2021 approved the advertisement of the Police and Prisons Commissioner's position as per requirements of the Police Service Act 2009,” Agafili told the Samoa Observer.The Police Commissioner’s contract is set to expire next month. Surely both senior police officers can have their contracts temporarily extended out of necessity due to the current prevailing conditions?Now that Fuiavaili'ili and Papalii are no longer Police officers will their replacements have the same work ethic and adherence to upholding Samoa’s Constitution during a politically-sensitive time?And what impact will the exit of Fuiavaili'ili and Papalii have on the rank-and-file within the Police Service?We understand that caretaker Governments should defer making significant appointments during this period until the swearing-in of a new administration following a general election.But it should be asked whether the caretaker Cabinet asked the pertinent questions raised above and considered the implications of their decision before revoking Fuiavaili'ili and Papalii’s contract extensions. The crisis that the country currently faces warrants the caretaker Cabinet revisiting its decision to consider putting the Police Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner on acting appointments.The two officers earned their stripes in recent weeks in how the Police Service and its members handled themselves – this is their calling and they should be given every opportunity to complete the job.

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Mixed reaction to breakdown in parties' negotiations

Saufoi Laneselota, 22, Salepoua’e Saleimoa“I stand for whoever will be leading Samoa for the next five years, we have seen many obstacles lately due to political differences, to me the ones who lost should respect the results given and let’s moved on for the next five years. This is my first time to cast my vote with the hope that we have God-fearing leadership ahead for Samoa."Fesolai Falaniko, 55, Faleasiu“We have prayed to God for his guidance over our leaders – what we need are leaders who love Samoa dearly. But what we have seen now is leaders holding onto the power. In our country, culture and Christianity go together and that’s what our leaders should have done. To me, the 10 per cent (on women MPs) court ruling is correct. But according to the results from the general election, the winning party should take the lead. The problem is everything is happening at the same time, but we have done many elections before and them saying new developments need to be done it is not on. They will only remember us when its near election time. We have our culture to solve matters so my advice to this leaders is use the faa-samoa ways."Telesia So’o, 49, Lefaga“Our country needs to go back and have another election. This could solve everything that is happening now in Samoa so whatever results that come out of the election will be our new government for sure. It’s a must for both leaders to take action now and look beyond for the sake of our people, our leaders are not fighting over on social media, it is the supporters showing their support and frustration. For our leaders, something has to be done but I stand for Samoa going back to the polls."Suia Sooula, 52, Fasitoo-uta“For myself I supported Tuilaepa and his leadership. He has done so much for our constituency in terms of water and roads so I am happy for the old government and their contribution to our country in terms of good governance and also some of the new developments they have done for Samoa. Hopefully a time will come for our leaders to solve this issue in order for a peaceful Samoa."Vaifale Tui, 62, Leauva’a“I don't understand why it is taking so long as the election results are very clear: 26 to 25 so the new Government should take the lead now. All these issues going around saying we have to wait for the court and even the Head of State. What he (Tuilaepa) and his party has done is causing  trouble for our people and our people from overseas are involved in as well. I prefer the Archbishop's sermon in teaching him a lesson and he used this words hence it is a must for him to step down and let the winning party take control of Samoa for the next five years."Seela Seve, 69, Fagafau“Let’s wait for the leaders and their decision making. Our situation right now is difficult so I’m hoping our leaders could solve these issues and let’s moved on with it. Let’s all hope and pray for peace upon Samoa especially its leaders as we are now facing a political crisis."

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