Speaker "ejects" Audit Report

The Speaker of Parliament, Leaupepe Toleafoa Fa’afisi, has ordered that the Audit Report for Financial Year 2018-2019 be “ejected” from Parliament’s website.

The order from the Speaker was confirmed by the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Tiatia Graeme Tualaulelei, who said the Speaker has also declared that the report is “considered a confidential document.”

“Hon. Speaker has made his decision that S.A.O. 2019 is protected under Parliamentary Privilege and shall not be published unless the Committee Report is presented to the Legislative Assembly,” Tiatia wrote in an email to the Samoa Observer.

“Hon Speaker has also recommended that the Standing Order Review Committee to take precedence of this matter as part of Standing Order Proposed Amendments for future Parliamentary Terms.”  

The decision was made after the Audit Office objected to the Samoa Observer reporting on the content of the Audit report in question.

In an email to the Samoa Observer on Wednesday 13 November, the Director of Communications and Stakeholder Relationship at the Audit Office, Terrence Su’a, wrote: “I am sure you are aware already that the Parliamentary procedures/processes for this report is not completed yet as required by the Parliamentary Standing Orders and as advised in the past by the Office of the Attorney General and Office of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly.

“I fear that you may already be in breach or violation of the Parliamentary Standing Orders with these 2 recent publications;

“I therefore advise with the utmost respect to stop or to discontinue publishing this report for the year ended 30 June 2019 until the parliamentary procedures/processes are completed unless the Office of the Attorney General and Office of the Clerk rule or state otherwise.”

In response on Wednesday night, the Editor of the Samoa Observer, Mata’afa Keni Lesa, wrote: “Let me assure you that it is not our desire to breach any Parliamentary standing orders. I am well aware of the discussions with your office over the past years about these reports and since those discussions, we have taken great care to ensure we write our stories within the confines of the law.

 “With regards to the S.A.O’s report to Parliament for the year ended 30 June 2019, Joyetter had emailed your office when the report was uploaded on Parliament's website.

“She also contacted the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly (who said the information on Parliament’s website is for the public’s information.)”

Continued Mata’afa: “I guess the question we have is this, if these reports are available on Parliament's website which can be accessed by anybody, why is it a breach for the media to report on them?

“If you read the Clerk's email, he says the information on the website is for the public's information. Are you able to clarify this for us?”

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Mr. Su’a did not respond right away. After a follow-up email from Mata’afa on Friday morning, Mr. Su’a finally responded, saying: “The SAO 2019 report is now Parliamentary property. The website carrying the SAO 2019 report is Parliamentary Property

“Tiatia is the current Clerk of Parliament and I guess your question will be for Tiatia to answer whom I am now copying. The Clerk and the Attorney General have final interpretation of the Standing Orders.”

On Friday evening, Clerk of the Legislative Assembly Tiatia wrote, saying the Speaker has instructed that the Audit report be removed from Parliament’s website. His email is published below, verbatim:

“Malo le tauatai, faafetai mo le mataupu e aafia ai le Ofisa o le Fono Aoao.

For your information I’ve extended my apologies to the Controller and Auditor General on 13/11/19 with regards to publication of SAO 2019 on OCLA website.

1.       Although Standing Order interpretation of “Paper” means any Paper, report, account, return, statement or other document which is ordinarily laid on the table at the time for “Presentation of Papers”, however, SO 51 provides that “any report from the Komesina o Sulufaiga or the Controller and Auditor General, the Attorney General and the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly shall stand referred to the Officers of Parliament for consideration;

2.       It is the responsibility of our Chamber and ICT Division to upload Papers which have being presented to the Legislative Assembly for public information, although Committee Stage process have not completed and final approval once Committee Reports are presented to Parliament for consideration;

3.       For clarity on When Parliamentary Papers which have being tabled In Parliament becomes a Public document despite not having gone through committee consideration thus provision of a Committee report? It is uncertain with our Standing Order provisions and it needs to be revised. However, it is quite common across Commonwealth Jurisdictions, that once a “Parliamentary Paper” is tabled, it becomes a public document and it is distributed to Members of Parliament.

·         House of Representatives- New Zealand Standing Order provides a limit to the above common practice: We have referred to NZ Standing Orders which allows us to refer to it or any other similar Commonwealth Parliament if our Standing Orders is not clear on the matter.

NZ - S.O 374: “Any Parliamentary Papers (criteria for what is a Parliamentary Paper is provided and relevant to the discussed audit report) presented to the House, Speaker controls how they may be presented and published”.

4.        Hon Speaker has made his decision that SAO 2019 is protected under parliamentary privilege and shall not be published unless the Committee Report is presented to the Legislative Assembly.

5.       Hon Speaker has also recommended that the Standing Order Review Committee to take precedence of this matter as part of Standing Order Proposed Amendments for future Parliamentary Terms.  

Faamalulu atu ai ia outou finagalo pe afai e lē o maioio ma atoatoa ia Vaega. Our IT Division was instructed to eject the SAO 2019 from the Parliamentary website.  

Ma le faaaloalo tele.

Tiatia         

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