Parliament endorses Regulator law change
The Regulator, Lefaoali’i Unutoa Fonoti, has welcomed changes to the Telecommunications Amendment Bill 2019, which now requires her to report to Cabinet.
The law passed in Parliament this week means that responsibilities, functions and powers of the Regulator are subject to Cabinet approval.
Responding to questions from the Samoa Observer, Lefaoali’i said checks and balances ensure good governance.
“As one saying goes ‘One reason people resist change is because they focus on what they have to give up, instead of what they have to gain’,” Lefaoali’i said.
“I perceive that the change is intended to bring about a more proactive role by the Executive towards the Regulator’s functions, powers and responsibility.
“[This] will allow for the passing of information that will effectively prioritise needs and wants which have been advanced over the years in terms of telecommunications, broadcasting, electricity and postal (from a regulatory perspective) which still requires attention.”
Lefaoali’i admitted that while there may be concerns about Cabinet’s influence on the Regulator’s decision making, she does not see it that way.
“And if the Executive have found it fit that it is necessary -then I welcome the opportunity to exercise accountability and transparency without reserve.”
Lefaoali’i is also confident the changing of the law will not change how “we perform our duties because advice/decisions will be based on the Law”.
“The new amendment is considered to be an expression of what is and has often been a matter of practice,” she explained.
She downplayed suggestions that the changing of the law was the result of her handling of the digital TV project which angered Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi.
She said the “powers, responsibilities and functions of the Regulator has not been removed but subject to the Minister, Prime Minister and Cabinet for endorsement.”
She added that the Office of the Regulator is like any other Government agency.
When the law was debated in Parliament, Member of Parliament for Salega, Olo Fiti Vaai, questioned the timing. He also raised concerns about the Regulator now being subjected to the Minister of Communications and Information Technology, who deals with service providers.
Olo reminded that when a foreigner had occupied the role, the Government did not interfere with it at all.
“But now that we have a Samoan [as the Regulator] it seems easy to just take it away [her powers],”Olo said.
“How can the Regulator report to the Minister when he is working together with service providers and M.C.I.T?
“How does the Minister make decision for the Regulator when he is also making decision for service providers?”
Olo warned that the Minister would end up controlling the Regulator.
“He (the Minister) will say don’t do what you want but do what I’m telling you,” Olo said, adding that Prime Minister Tuilaepa had often talked about delegating powers and yet he is taking back the powers of the Regulator.
But Prime Minister Tuilaepa disagreed. He said Olo always tries to muddy the waters so that people end up being confused.
The Prime Minister then used the opportunity to explain the change, saying that when the office was established there were no complications.
But the conflicts arising from the digital T.V. platform made the change necessary.
“They just recently had dispute about the digital T.V. but there weren’t any problems before,” said Tuilaepa.
“That is the reason why it was suggested to amend the legislation. Honourable Speaker, that is the point of clarification [I wanted to make].”
The dispute Tuilaepa is referring to involved the monthly tariff for T.V. broadcasters to connect to the digital platform.