La'auli, P.M.'s heated exchange over boundaries
Electoral boundary reform sparked yet another war of words between the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, and M.P. La'auli Leuatea Polataivao in Parliament on Wednesday.
Vaimauga Sisifo No 1 M.P., Lenatai Victor Tamapua, raised the issue by acknowledging the increase in the numbers of seats for the Vaimauga constituency.
That gave La’auli, the Member of Parliament of Gagaemauga No 3, a chance to make his objections to the Electoral Act 2019 known.
“I am responding directly to the Member of Parliament’s speech like he said, there will now be four members of Parliament from Vaimauga, I am aiming to explain something that I saw as a big concern,” the Fa’atuatua I le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party leader said.
“[But] now it is clear; thank you Lenata’i, now the nation has heard that representatives of Vaimauga are being added while a representative from Savaii is being removed.
“When we came, there were 20 representatives, but now [one] has been removed; it’s now removed.”
Laauli’s speech was interrupted by the P.M. who said he needed to correct the record.
“I stood up to explain the whole gist, deep, deep, very deep essence of why we [undertook] those changes and [there] was no narrow reason why we did that,” Tuilaepa said.
“This change was done while this Member was in the Cabinet while it was discussed, so I would have thought the representative of Gagaemauga No. 3 understood the changes well because he did not object to this matter.
“It was a matter that was discussed as soon as this term started.”
Laauli disturbed the P.M.’s speech, questioning the Deputy Speaker, Nafoitoa Talaimanu Keti’s decision to allow the Prime Ministerial interruption to proceed.
But the Deputy Speaker shut down Laauli saying the P.M. was not interrupting, but instead clarifying the Government’s side on the matter discussed.
Nafo’itoa told Laauli to sit down whilst the Leader of the House continued his explanation.
“This is why I am saying, the Cabinet at the time passed the matter with the intention to make these changes, there was not a single voice that objected,” Tuilaepa said.
“And with this matter then has been brought up again and again, saying we have removed a seat from Savaii; how did we remove it? Savai’i still have their seats.
“Plus the seat of Leauvaa, even though it is to be called a seat here in Upolu, but Leauvaa and all the chiefs (matai) over there are matai from Savai’i."
He continued to criticise Laauli saying only a two-year-old toddler who does not understand what happened in the past would continue to bring up such accusations.
“They came to Upolu because of a disaster that occurred, but it does not take away that they are from Savaii,” Tuilaepa said.
“Mr. Speaker, it is only a child who has just been born who does not understand such things.
“You would also have to be a child who had just been born not to realise what misleading looks like; making a mockery of this Parliament’s efforts since its very first term to solve this matter.”
In 2019, the Prime Minister Tuilaepa explained that the amendments in the bill, which has since been passed as a law, are the “final phase” of multiple phase reform programmes the Government began 28 years ago.
The reforms included universal suffrage, increasing Cabinet Ministers to 13, a referendum on the question of introducing a second chamber of Parliament, increasing Parliamentary terms from three to five years, having one MP per constituency and the one man, one vote system.
“It is something I know very well, as well as the parents of these people who keep standing up, we made these decisions together; we all sought a remedy for the problem,” Tuilaepa said on Wednesday.
“I cannot complain if the children of those late Members of Parliament, whom we worked together in the past, come up with remedies for such a problem and now that we have the solution. And those who were just born yesterday do not understand it.”
Efforts by La’auli to get a chance from the Speaker to counter the insults from the Prime Minister were unsuccessful, as Nafoitoa invoked House Standing Orders.
La’auli took the opportunity all the same.
“Now, even my right to correct and explain has been removed,” Laauli said.
“How are you to do this, Speaker of the House? I am appealing to you for a chance but we shall do what you please. Samoa, you be the judge.”
Then Nafo’itoa ordered the Gagaemauga No. 3 M.P. to sit down and explained it was not his intention to take away any rights.
“The chair must abide by the Standing Orders,” he said.
“It is the duty of the Speaker to ensure the peace and smooth progress of the Legislative proceedings.
“It is not going forward and going backwards, that’s not the intention, it is the intention of the Standing Orders to move along.”
It was La’auli’s opposition to the Electoral Constituencies Bill 2019, that led to his sacking by the ruling Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) last year.
The Electoral Constituencies bill, which was passed into law, became a contentious issue as the country prepares for the General Election next year.
As a consequence, the law has been challenged in Court by two election candidates, Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio and Papali’i Panoa Moala in separate lawsuits.
Away from Court, a former District Court Judge has criticised the changes and called on the Government to consider withholding their implementation.