La’auli's exit a day of drama, division
As announced his resignation from Parliament on Tuesday Laaulialemalietoa Leuatea Schmidt said: “I have been crucified”.
The former Speaker, Cabinet Minister and Member of Parliament for Gagaifomauga No. 3 told Parliament he was resigning on Tuesday.
That came just a month after his resignation from the ruling Human Rights Protection Party.
And it followed a Parliamentary Privilege and Ethics Committee which found him guilty of contempt of Parliament, and recommended that he be suspended without pay for three months.
La’auli informed Parliament he was leaving, but Speaker of the House, Toleafoa Fa’afisi Leaupepe appealed to La’auli there was no intention to “forsake him”. But La’auli did not budge but left the Chamber.
Following the departure of his former Cabinet colleague, the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, moved a motion that in order for the resignation to be official it had to be in writing.
“Under the [Constitution] the Member’s resignation has to be in writing and it should be directed to you Mr Speaker,” said the Prime Minister.
There were three motions before Parliament on Tuesday.
The first one was from the Chairman of the Privileges and Ethics Committees, Nafoi Talaimanu Keti, and moved to suspend Laauli for three months without pay.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, motioned instead to issue a “strong warning”. And third was a compromise motion from M.P. Lopao’o Natanielu Mua, seeking to suspend the M.P. for one month without pay.
The Committee investigation which preceded La’auli’s resignation centred around the cost of a 200KVA generator bought by the Ministry of Prisons.
La’auli had claimed he had bought a 200KVA generator for $100,000 and so he questioned the $300,000 price tag for the model procured by the Ministry of Prisons.
The Committee found the generator was of a much lesser power (30KVA) and a lower price tag of about $20,000.
During the debate, four Members of Parliament opted to accept the recommendations of the Privileges and Ethics Committees Report: the Chair of the Finance Committee; Ali’imalemanu Alofa Tu’uau; Cabinet Ministers Papali’i Niko Lee Hang; Afamasaga Rico Tupa’i and M.P. Alai’asa Sepulona Moananu.
The Member of Parliament for Salega East, independent Olo Fiti Vaai, urged lawmakers to forgive each other.
He said the issue cited against Laauli is not a “serious” matter compared to previous incidents involving other M.P.s.
Vaimauga Sasae, M.P. Sulamanaia Tauili’ili Tuivasa urged Parliament to forgive Laauli and dismissed the committee report.
The former Speaker was reprimanded by Faasaleleaga No. 2 Namulauulu M.P., Sami Leota, for being “disrespectful” in Parliament and attacking the Prime Minister. But in the end, he urged the Parliament to give Laauli a second chance.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mataafa, pointed to mitigating factors that should be considered; she favoured giving “him a strong warning and that [should] be a reminder the need to be extra cautious when making verbal submissions in Parliament”.
Fiame’s motion was second by M.P. Gatoloaifaana Amataga Gidlow.
A member of the Ethics Committee, M.P. Alai’asa Sepulona Moananu, reminded the lawmakers it was not their place to amend the motion.
“Accept the motion or deny it, but don’t move to amend our motion in place,” said Alai’asa while adding he had previously viewed Laauli as a brother.
Laauli took the floor once again and noted past apologies made.
“I will not let my failure burden my constituency, and I am cautious that what has been said will also target my constituency,” Laauli said.
He again offered apologies directly to the Prime Minister. “I apologise for what led us to drift apart but God knows my heart is for you,” he said, referring to the Prime Minister.
Laauli then turned to the Committee and acknowledged and accepted the report.
“To my family and my constituency, remain calm and [for] what was said in the past I apologise,” he said.
The former Speaker referred to a recent criminal case where he was acquitted of all charges last week.
“It has only been three days [since the criminal case] and had the decision [been] rendered not in my favour, I would have been incarcerated,” Laauli said.
“Mr. Speaker I tender my resignation”.
The former Speaker said that he has chosen his own fate; that he did not wish for other M.P.s to continue to criticise him; and that suspending him would be the same as sacking him: “What was said about me [here in Parliament] I will take the pain with me. Thank you to those that supported me but this morning, Mr. Speaker, I will walk away silently.”