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A Parliament of a new kind of culture

They say a week is a long time in politics and how true that rings with the current state of affairs in Samoa following the conclusion of the April 9 General ElectionThe 25 constituency seats tie between the incumbent Human Rights Protection Party and Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi, and the elevation of Gagaemauga No. 1 Member-elect Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio as a powerbroker, gradually emerged as official election results became available.It opened the door to a political showdown, unseen and unheard of in the country’s 59 years of independence as everyone waited to hear from Tuala, and which party he will endorse in order to trigger the government formation process.But an intervention by the Office of the Electoral Commission, four days after releasing the official election results, saw the declaration of another woman Member-elect through defeated H.R.P.P. candidate Aliimalemanu Alofa Tuuau.Consequently, both the H.R.P.P. and the F.A.S.T. party now have 26 constituency seats each (including Aliimalemanu whose appointment came courtesy of the invoking of Article 44(1A) of Samoa’s Constitution which is now being questioned in court) to prolong the deadlock and plunge the country into a constitutional crisis. The O.E.C. declaration, which was approved by the Head of State and publicly announced at 9.34pm on Tuesday via the Commission’s official Facebook page, came out of left field to raise questions about the role of the O.E.C. in the government formation process and is now the subject of a Supreme Court proceeding.But it is the details of the Gagaemauga No. 1 Member-elect’s meeting with the caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi – as the ruling party’s top brass negotiated with Tuala to get his support – which confirms what other former-government aligned politicians have been saying as to where the real epicentre of power of both the last Government and the last Parliament laid.Tuala said Tuilaepa wasn’t receptive to his push for the new administration to review the last Government’s taxation policy targeting church ministers; contentious Electoral Act amendments and the widely condemned Land and Titles Court Acts."But he [Tuilaepa] said that the Government is stable and was not willing to review these laws,” said the Gagaemauga No. 1 Member-elect."It was clear to me that Tuilaepa does not want anyone else to lead the country but him. "Tuilaepa said to me that he was not willing to give up his seat. "Instead, he told me that the H.R.P.P. is prepared to wreck the results of the general election, and the party will ask my brother Laufou Alofipo Fa'amanu Manase (H.R.P.P.'s candidate who contested for the seat of Gagaemauga No.1. seat) to file a petition against me."That's when I realised that he (Tuilaepa) is a leader with so much hubris and a bully who tries to coerce people by threatening them.”The revelations by Tuala in the Thursday 22 April 2021 edition of the Samoa Observer comes over a week after the newly-elected Parliamentarian boldly declared that he wanted to change the culture of Samoan politics that has been prevalent in the last Legislative Assembly.His meetings and discussions in recent days – with the heads of the two political party camps headed by two of Samoa’s largest parties – confirms the challenges that lay ahead for him and his crusade to bring change.But it shouldn’t dissuade him from pushing for change within the Parliament using the F.A.S.T. party platform, even from the Opposition bench, if the cards don’t fall in favour of the nine-month-old party after the election petitions.It is a pity that the country’s longest serving Prime Minister didn’t seize the occasion to turn a new leaf, when the Independent Member-elect offered him the opportunity to reconsider the various dubious policies and legislation his Government promulgated at the expense of the people.Coming on the back of a general election that decimated his party’s majority in the last Parliament – which now leaves his H.R.P.P. titering on the edge of getting consigned to the Opposition for the first time in decades – one would have expected him to acknowledge the voters in Samoa wanted change and his party’s loss of close to 20 seats in this year’s polls was a vote of no confidence in his leadership.Nonetheless, the work of nation building continues and Tuala’s dreams of promoting a Legislative Assembly that embraces bipartisanship; is free of name calling and personalising of issues; and restores dignity and decorum through Samoan culture that is reflected in the Standing Orders is a direction that should benefit all citizens and the country going forward.It will be up to all the Members of the Parliament of the XVII Legislative Assembly to make this happen, and if your heart is in the right place, we have no doubt it will happen.

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Tackling poverty should be priority for new Government

The story of the random act of kindness that enabled a poverty-stricken family to get $5000 worth of building material to fix their home would have touched everyone.Titled “Anonymous act of kindness amazes family” and published in the April 18, 2021 edition of the Sunday Samoan, the article told the story of the challenges that farmer Faleulu Ioane and his family faced and their plea for help.Their fortunes changed on Saturday when an anonymous donor stepped forward with a $5000 voucher, which would enable them to get building material, and is the first step in the family’s lifelong dream to have a safer home.It is not the first time for a good samaritan to step forward, touched by the daily challenges that many Samoan families are facing in the hinterlands of both Upolu and Savai’i, after reading the heart-rending details in the Samoa Observer’s Village Voice column over the years.In fact it has never been the intention of this newspaper to be seen to be capitalising on the misery of ordinary citizens, but rather we’ve felt compelled to give a voice to the voiceless and the downtrodden, especially those who’ve either fallen through the gaps of a Government’s service delivery program or overlooked by the powers that be for whatever reason.In recent years we’ve had some partners who’ve felt the need to intervene and stepped forward to bring a smile to the families; a private company and a church-run humanitarian organisation currently run programs that were inspired by this newspaper’s Village Voice column.But for a nation comprising two large islands (and eight smaller islands) with a population of over 200,000 living off 11 per cent of 2,924 square kilometers of land considered arable, only so much can be done to cater for the needs of every family as a heartless Covid-19 pandemic threatens to worsen their living conditions.It is for this reason that the onus is now on the incoming Government to put poverty alleviation at the top of its agenda for the next five years.And while we are aware of long standing barriers to that policy shift, such as the caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi’s view that poverty doesn’t exist in Samoa, stories this newspaper continues to publish shows otherwise.Not forgetting the first State of Human Rights Report compiled by the Office of the Ombudsman as the National Human Rights Institution in 2015, which found one in every five Samoans live in poverty.“Despite progress in big picture economic growth and within high level development framework, there is disparity in development outcomes particularly in rural and remote areas,” the report stated at that time. “Approximately 20 per cent of Samoa’s population lives below the basic needs poverty line, with the higher proportion of rural populations falling below the basic needs poverty line. Basically, this means that about 1 in every 5 Samoans live in poverty.”As expected, Tuilaepa at that time quickly dismissed the National Human Rights Institution-authored report and came up with his own definition of poverty, saying “poverty is defined as someone who is so poor they walk around without clothes.”“Have you seen someone like that in Samoa? If the answer is no, then there is no-one living in poverty in Samoa. There is no-one walking around on the road naked,” said the caretaker Prime Minister at that time.“I have never heard about anyone in Samoa who has died because they have become so skinny from the lack of food.”Tuilaepa made the above statement in 2016 and five years on, following the 2021 General Election and on the eve of a new government formation, the status quo hasn’t changed for a lot of ordinary citizens who would have questioned the veteran politician’s view of their living conditions but dread the backlash for speaking the truth.The continued refusal by our leaders to acknowledge the true state of our ordinary people’s welfare and living conditions is a gross injustice not only to them, but also their children and the next generation of Samoans.With a new Government on the horizon, it is time to move to a new paradigm of thinking in terms of identifying and tackling poverty in Samoa.Talk to donor partners such as the World Bank and the United Nations, who’ve been more than accommodative to the caretaker Government’s request for financial aid in the last five years, and should be happy to share insights on how they define poverty and the work they are doing to address it globally.Samoa needs to forge a new pathway to tackle this scourge and acknowledging its existence is the first step towards finding a long-term solution.

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An ultimatum for the ruling party

Where will Samoa be in another week’s time? A good question considering the myriad of possible storylines we see developing before our very eyes.For the last 10 days, the entire country has been in a state of limbo, theorizing over what the new government will look like, who will lead, who will be appointed, who will file election petitions and so on.Although there have been a few loose ends left hanging in that time, the most glaring and most demanding of our attention has been that of Tuala “Kingmaker” Iosefo Ponifasio making his big move in this evolving election saga.Tuala’s defining moment would be revealed on Wednesday, and would forever change the fabric of party politics.Well, that was the consensus until the late, breaking news came through last night, declaring that an additional Member of Parliament had been elected.To say there has been a plot twist to this saga is an understatement.It was after 9pm when the Office of the Electoral Commission issued a warrant of election for Aliimalemanu Alofa Tuuau of Alataua Sisifo - signed by the Head of State, His Highness Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II - and made public, on the eve of the big announcement by Tuala of his chosen party.This places the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) with a one seat advantage over the Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party. At least until Tuala declares his chosen party. The post-election announcement came after five women were elected at the completion of the Final Count of votes last week. Despite this, the O.E.C. had confirmed on Monday this week that they were seeking legal advice on whether another woman needed to be brought in to Parliament, with questions over whether the first five women met the country’s legal threshold. Under the Constitution, a minimum of 10 per cent of members must be women. Based on the first five who gained election, and out of 51 seats, that came to 9.8 per cent.The O.E.C. declared that Article 44(1a) of the Constitution has now been activated, due to the fact that only 9.8 per cent had been met.That trifling 0.2 per cent may be the most important number yet, causing another rupture in an already contentious General Election. While this development may have dethroned the Kingmaker, it still places him with an immense amount of power to wield. Now that the Parliamentary seats are slightly in favour of the H.R.P.P., Tuala is now more important than ever to the new blood – F.A.S.T. as a thumbs up from him would set the scales back to an even 26-all.Perhaps a new moniker is apt, no longer the Kingmaker but possibly the Dealbreaker. In an exclusive interview with the Samoa Observer on Tuesday, Tuala revealed his hand, disclosing that he would offer his support for the H.R.P.P., but with a steep proviso – he wants the current leader of the country, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi to step down. As detailed in our front page exclusive “Tuala asks P.M. to step down”, the Independent member reveals what he wants the most from his time in politics.“It goes beyond Tuilaepa,” he said. “Those are the things I put to Tuilaepa [to step down] because one of the things that the people are crying out for is the change.“Not necessarily meaning change to F.A.S.T., but installing institutional change that will function well, to prosper Samoa. And part of that change and I know for sure, is that Tuilaepa cannot be in leadership.”He has remained true to his word that he would be seeking a change to the very nature of politics itself. In his first exclusive interview with the Samoa Observer a day after the General Elections, Tuala said he was excited about new blood going in to Parliament, “a breath of fresh air” that he said feels like Parliament is being cleaned out.Perhaps a premonition of his decision to come was his wish for a Government to be a Government that will work together with the opposition. “I’m looking at it if I can use the opportunity to negotiate something between two camps, to both make a commitment to reviewing the laws,” he told this newspaper on Tuesday. “Everything else is minor and it’s not about how we feel about working with people. “I don’t make decisions based on emotions and the next government has to remain objective and steadfast for our sake.”  Tuala’s history-making demands following an historical election will only come as a surprise to the caretaker Government and the H.R.P.P. party-faithful. For everyone else, it’s been a long road to Damascus.The pages of this newspaper have chronicled the mounting loose ends over the last four decades. More recently, we have seen and heard a growing discontent amongst the people, disconnected from the ruling powers who had taken it upon themselves to treat them as children who knew no better.As for Tuala, perhaps his road to Damascus has been paved by 15 years’ worth of frustration as he tried time and again to enter Parliament, met at each juncture by challenges that might have easily overwhelmed a weaker mind. Back in 2016, Tuala and another candidate were banished from the village of Leauvaa, for filing election petitions against Sala Fata Pinati, the incumbent Member of Parliament for Gagaemauga No.1 and Minister of Police at the time. That was of course prior to the controversial changes that forced the realigning of electoral boundaries, affecting Tuala’s constituency by separating the Upolu enclaves of Gagaemauga from their traditional roots in Savaii. After his second unsuccessful attempt at entering the Legislative chambers, Tuala was taken to court and found guilty in the District Court on charges of bribery and treating. He appealed and the Supreme Court agreed with him, saying it was blatantly obvious that the motive of informants was entrapment. More recently he took the O.E.C. to Court over what he deemed was unfair advantage of sitting M.P.s over hopeful election candidates due to the way the monotaga requirement was worded in the electoral legislation. His subsequent victory meant a change to the wording, the compromise being he dropped the case against the O.E.C. It would be fair to surmise that these struggles have sharpened his focus to the specifics mentioned earlier, and allowed him to come to a fairly clear set of demands in a relatively short period of time. His ultimatum to the leader of the H.R.P.P. and arguably the most prominent and polarizing political figure in the region’s history, takes a certain level of bravery that has long been missing in Parliament. Whether he manages to strike a deal with either party, and knowing what we know about the additional seat for H.R.P.P., this story could still generate a few more heart-stopping moments before the closing credits.

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Tight election exposes democratic weak spots

Democratic institutions are like sports cars: it is only when moving at high-speed and under stress that their performance is shown. In the past weeks, Samoa’s have come under extreme strain and many have found to be wanting. Nearly a fortnight after the election, the country does not have a Government after a political saga that has had more plot twists than a murder mystery novel. Much of this dragged-out tension has been caused by the intricacies of life in a  Parliamentary democracy. Particularly when it produces exceptionally close results, we are reminded of the old saying that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all the others that have been tried. But late last night we saw an intervention from one of the institutions intended to bring stability to Samoa’s democracy.There has been an outpouring of praise for the Office of the Electoral Commission following the 9 April poll. This has ranged from kudos on social media to downright fulsome praise being lavished upon them in the pages of certain media outlets for having overseen an election without incident. On Tuesday night, though, we saw the commission go from an institution that had been assuring Samoans it was going “overboard” to ensure impartial elections to one that became an active player in shaping their outcome. In a social media post at the irregularly late hour of about 9.30 pm, the Office of the Electoral Commissioner announced that it would be expanding the size of Parliament to 52 seats and installing an M.P. aligned to the Human Rights Protection Party.The justification given was that their reasons were grounded in established constitutional law that requires 10 per cent of all elected legislators be women. But the interpretations of this provision, as explored in today’s edition, are murky.Five women were elected in this month’s election: a total of 9.8 per cent of all members of Parliament.While that figure represents a slim shortfall of the threshold, elevating the fully mandated 10 per cent of M.P.s would require 5.1 female legislators to be appointed to the Legislative Assembly.  The law was introduced in 2013: at a time when the house was composed of 49 democratic representatives. In an attempt to clear up any possible future confusion, the amendment makes provides some guidance on how to resolve difficulties of interpretation. “Women Members of the Legislative Assembly shall: (a) consist of a minimum of 10% of the Members of the Legislative Assembly,” the clause states. “Which for the avoidance of doubt is presently 5.”Social media has been abuzz with dark humour about whether only dismembered members could precisely meet the legal quota and conjecture about the letter of the law.In any case, the provision is confusing and confusing enough for the Electoral Commission to have wrongfooted itself.After the election, the commission said that there would be no need to invoke the quota requirement because of the ascension of the five women M.P.s.Samoa’s Electoral Commissioner, Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio, soon performed an about-face on this interpretation.He said the office was seeking legal advice, particularly on the meaning of the term “presently”.This brings to mind the case of the American President Bill Clinton who famously told a grand jury that the answer to one of their questions “depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is.”But in announcing he was seeking legal advice on the question earlier this week, Faimalo did so with the full acknowledgment that a decision by the commission could be subject to a legal challenge. “Given that this specific issue is yet to be tested in Court, there is a possibility that it could end up in Court for interpretation,” he said. Why the Commissioner did not refer a matter of constitutional interpretation to a court earlier has so far gone unanswered. The commission made much of the years of preparation that went into polling day but evidently, they overlooked the development of consistent procedures for election outcomes. For its part, opposition party Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi said achieving the quota exactly could never have been possible in the 51-seat XVII Samoan Parliament:“I am not really a mathematical genius but I think 5.1, you can’t have part of a woman, you have to have a whole woman,” leader Fiame Naomi Mataafa said this weekend. On Wednesday the party announced it would be mounting a direct legal challenge to the commission's interpretation, declaring it “unlawful” and “unconstitutional”."F.A.S.T. believes that the constitution is clear and unambiguous, that the minimum number of women is clearly defined and prescribed in the Constitution as [five]," the party said. We are shaping up for an election that could be decided in court.The close-run election has exposed the many shortcomings in our knowledge of the institutions that govern this country.There is open uncertainty about several matters arising from a seemingly tied election. For one thing, we do not know if the court’s ruling will be timely enough to determine the composition of our next Parliament or not. Others doubts include a lack of knowledge about whether a governing party that provides a Speaker of the house could rely on his or her vote to pass legislation through Parliament. There has been no public information provided on what happens next week - when the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Tiatia Graeme Tualaulelei said the next Parliament would be sworn in - if numbers remain deadlocked. Fresh elections are the only answer.Conventions of impartiality under a caretaker Government have also been shown to not be deeply rooted in the public service, too. The Public Service Commission had to issue bureaucrats an official reminder to remain politically impartial, a memo that was contradicted after certain Government Ministries attended a prayer service at H.R.P.P. headquarters.  It is the performance of a country’s non-partisan institutions that ultimately determines the strength of its democracy. Our recent close-run election has shown several of Samoa’s are coming up short. This must be a wake-up call that to do their job of safeguarding democracy, our democratic institutions must have consistent procedures in place for any political outcome, however unexpected it may be. 

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Street Talk

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Public decry addition of Woman M.P. after polls

Anne Taupale, 23, Toamua“Adding another female candidate to the Parliament to meet the 10 per cent is inappropriate. I don’t support this matter, the Head of State already signed the official results of 2021 General Election and now this. When did this happen? She did not win a seat during the election and now is given the chance to become a Member of Parliament. How is this going to work for other candidates who lost during the election?”Sulusamoa Tenisi Lui, 22, Toamua“There was a tie between two major parties in the General Election, both H.R.P.P. and F.A.S.T. hold 25 seats each. With the addition of a new female candidate it's not fair for the other candidates who lost their seats and the ones who didn’t win. It doesn’t sound right for other candidates and their supporters.”Taki Sapani, 51, Tafaigata“This is shocking news, the addition of a new female candidate shouldn’t be done. The Head of State signed the official results which was a tie between H.R.P.P. and F.A.S.T. with one independent candidate. We are extremely shocked with the new H.R.P.P. female candidate being added, this is all part of politics. It is inappropriate, the public were only aware of the tie between H.R.P.P. and F.A.S.T. and waited on Tuala Ponifasio’s final decision. “Fiaui Sapakuka, 42, Pu’apu’a Savai’i“The latest update about the General Election, the public were waiting for Tuala Ponifasio’s decision. How many seats are there in the Parliament? The number of candidates outnumbered the parliament seats, I am against the addition of the new candidate to the Parliament, especially when the Head of State had signed the official results. Once he signs it then that’s it, no more changes to the official result. This means that the Head of State is not right with his signature on the official results since there are changes with it. Can someone get charged for this matter? Every constituency has one seat for each candidates, where will she sit then? Since there will be two candidates from the same constituency, where will she sit then? Shall she bring a chair from her place to sit in parliament house and a mic of her own? Or does she have to sit on the candidate that won from the same constituency? How is this going to work?”Siaosi Tupuola, 67, Vailoa.“There was not enough information to inform the public about the addition of a new female candidate. It is not clear to members of the public with how this came out of the blue, which shocks everyone. The addition of the female woman is inappropriate, it is not fair for other candidates that lost and only she gets to be have this chance.”Fa’ataualofa Robert, 39, Vaitele Uta“It is not fair, the General Election is done and yet that female candidate that didn’t win a seat is given a chance in the Parliament. Also the way information is being delivered to the public ain’t good. Lack of information can make us confused especially the addition of the female candidate in such a short time and abruptly.”

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Public talk elections and its significance

Oscar Pio Manu’a, 23, Taufusi“I am a first-time voter and I strongly believe that the 2021 General Election is important for the next five years for our government in terms of improvement and for our generation who are the future. The reason why I voted for my candidate is I wanted the best for our government with good changes. I am happy with my decision and who I voted for as I want more job opportunities for the youth.”Thomas Fania, 23, Afega“I am neutral with my decision but whatever the result of which party wins I’ll go with. The winning party is not just for the voters but God’s chosen party to govern Samoa. People are good at predicting things in terms of what they will do if they win. I was calm and confident when I cast my vote and I will be fine with whichever party eventually wins.”Jaden Su’a, 24, Vailoa“This is my first time voting and contributing to the process of choosing who our next leaders are. It is a challenge for under 21 youth to use their voice to push for positive development in Samoa in the next election. Getting to vote has played a big part in life and your vote could count in terms of change for the government of Samoa.”Mulimai Laalai, 27, Falevao“Ever since the HRPP came in power I've never seen any party come close to challenging them. But the 2021 General Election is different from previous elections as we now have two parties who are tied and this is a new development. I find it interesting and have the right to vote for whichever candidate, for change and improvement of our country.”Agalelei Ioane Vaiausa, 22, Vaivase Uta“This is my first time voting and I can see HRPP and the FAST party going through a lot of challenges. As a first time voter, getting to vote is very important, but it was hard choosing which party to vote for. With FAST and their plans that they will give out $1 million per village, numbers of employees will increase, double pension within a month and also free access for students to education. Also HRPP developed our country which benefited individual families and members of the public. That is why it was hard for me to choose for a party to vote for; I was calm with my decision and I believe I voted for the right candidate.”Tautogotogo Talavou, 25, Nofoalii“When I first voted there wasn’t much going on with party system as HRPP always won the election and the party that came second, its voters couldn't be compared to the HRPP. But in the 2021 General Election it was hard for me to cast my vote since there were four parties. It did put pressure on me either to vote for FAST or the HRPP. “

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Mixed reaction on length of counting the votes

Apolosio Alaalatoa, 21, Moamoa“The timing for the 2021 election results to come out does make sense, it is a long process because it is not easy due to two parties having a tie. For now, I think that the answer comes after Tuala Ponifasio and the constituency meet and see which party they will join. I understand that there is no official answer because Tuala Ponifasio hasn’t decided yet.”Tapu Iefata, 48, Salagi“In the previous elections it didn’t take long for the results to be released but what’s happening with the 2021 election is different. Samoa is the only country where this is happening in terms of delayed election results, it is a new thing. But let us wait for the official results, whatever it is, I believe it is all from God.”James Tunu Tauta, 21, Afega“Members of my family and villagers are patiently waiting for the official results. I heard that there are changes with some candidates' results. I understand the results being late, at least if it is good results that can make members of the public happy. A Government that can bring peace and develop Samoa. The Electoral Commission is taking long to ensure there are no mistakes rather than publicising results early with mistakes.”Sieraseta Aiesi,49, Lalomanu“I am disappointed with the delay of official election results because in the previous elections the results were released quickly but this is different. I am beginning to have doubts as the results shouldn't be released this late. We are human beings and we notice what’s happening in our lives and for situations like this, the delay in releasing the results could result in failure.”Atinae Aloi, 65, Saanapu“As much as we want to know the official results, we understand why it is being delayed a bit, because it is hard for the Electoral Commission due to the tie by the two parties so by next week there will be an official result.”Lani Tafi, 21, Faleasiu“It is taking too long for the results to be released and members of the public are waiting for answers on which party that will govern Samoa for the next five years. I guess the delay is due to tensions between the candidates from the different parties.”

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Voters' hopes for new Government

The makeup of Samoa's government for the next five years is still unknown, after an election deadlock was confirmed last week. With questions on who will take majority of Parliament, reporter Seia Lavilavi Soloi took to the streets of Apia to ask what citizens expect from a new Government for the next five-year term:Tala Ta’ala, 42, Laulii[I am] thankful this year’s General Elections are over even though there is no official Government announced yet. Changes are really needed within our country now. As a stall owner, this is one of the developments that the new Government should be looking into, by fixing the Flea Market which cost us millions. We do pay money every day and if this is the result of not doing anything at all, I stand for a change for the next five years.  Petelo Loi, 43, FaleasiuI support whoever will take the Government for the next five years. What I would like to see in the future is the cost of living to decrease. Since the borders are under restriction orders as of now, and yet the cost of living is expensive like the goods and products we buy. We have to make sure the needs and wants of our everyday life are met. Malaki Avau, 65, MalieTo me personally, let’s not leave and put our trust in one person, if Samoa is founded on God according to our motto (Favae i le Atua Samoa) then why are we arguing about who won? If this is the decision whether H.RP.P. or F.A.S.T. takes over for the next five years, that’s from God's appointment. I urge our people - what we have to do right now, is to pray for peace and humility for us all. God will choose the people to take control as a Samoan citizen I stand for whoever is in control in leading Samoa for the next five years.Tovio Masa, 34, Leauva’aDefinitely, a change for Samoa is much needed. As a farmer, we need new ideas and changes. Even though we haven’t had a formal Government now, but hopefully the new Government will help us in any way they can. The struggle right now is us (farmers) due to the Covid-19 pandemic the closure of borders so we don’t know where to sell our products (taro and banana) apart from the market. So we do hope the new Government can help us in the future for our products to export overseas.Senio Touli, 35, TiaveaAs long as new developments and work is done I stand for that. Whether it's H.R.P.P. or F.A.S.T., what’s best is that they can give our people a comfortable life, new ideas also new resources as well. I’ve seen some developments in the past years and it benefits our people and if that’s continuing for the next five years, that would be much appreciated. 

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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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