Government trying to silence opposition: Fiame

The former Deputy Prime Minister and target of a political inquiry says the Government has manipulated Parliament into doing its bidding and silencing political opposition.

Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, the Member of Parliament for Lotofaga during the recently dissolved Parliament, said the Speaker of the House never denied her or her opposition party colleagues leave of absence.

But she alleges he has allowed the Prime Minister to use their absence to launch a Commission of Inquiry into them.

She called the inquiry and the allegations of treason an “absolute misuse of power” by a leader grown unaccustomed to having alternative opinions to his own.

“They are in that mind-set that anything anyone says against them, they can call it what they want, and they have decided to call it treason,” Fiame said.

“H.R.P.P. has become unaccustomed to the normal process of presenting platform in the electoral period. They have not had any real challenging opposition so now that they are being faced with it they are looking for whatever they can call on.

“Now they are using words like treason.

“If they thought that was the case, they should have laid legal charges against us in the court, instead of pussyfooting around with this investigation.”

Fiame, Laauli Leautea Schmidt, Olo Fiti Vaai, Faumuina Wayne Fong are the targets of a Commission of Inquiry ordered on the eve of the end of Parliament largely based on their activities with the new political body Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) Party.

Caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi is accusing the four outspoken M.P.s of treason, misleading constituents on the campaign trail and breaching standing orders to skip Parliament to run their election campaign.

The Ombudsman Luamanuvao Katalina Sapolu, and an as-yet undisclosed retired judge and senior private lawyer will run the inquiry and have been given three months to deliver their report to the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Tiatia Graeme Tualaulelei, Tuilaepa said in Parliament on Tuesday.

“It’s a desperate sort of death throe,” Fiame said.  

“On issues of treason, the charges could simply be laid to the court. It doesn’t require a parliamentary inquiry, […] because if it was a legal thing they would lay it out straight: a charge of treason, a charge of misrepresentation, badmouthing them, it’s a straightforward process.

“My initial reaction is a bit like that headline – it’s an investigation looking for a purpose.”

In his speech in Parliament, Tuilaepa said the four M.Ps breached Parliamentary standing orders, and that this is the reason for the inquiry.

“For the weeks of Parliament prior to the General Election where Members of Parliament Laauli Leuatea, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, Olo Fiti Vaai and Faumuina Wayne Fong’s absence from Parliament, violating Standing Orders, hence the motion for a [Commission of] Inquiry. 

“They did not attend Parliamentary sessions between 19 January 2021 to 2 March 2021, without legitimate reasons and without official approval from the Speaker of the House; they conducted their election campaigns for their political party instead of attending Parliament sessions, as they held these election campaigns during Parliament sessions; in violation of section 24 and 25 of Parliament's Standing Orders.”

Fiame said in the time that she and the three other M.P.s left Parliament sessions there was never any secrecy about their departures and the Speaker of the House Leaupepe Toleafoa Faafisi was informed and approved of each their days away.

She and her colleagues have also accused Tuilaepa of dragging the final Parliament sitting on needlessly in order to keep them off the campaign trail.

“On the very straightforward issue of our attendance, throughout all these weeks people have been trying to put up motions and so forth to chastise or penalise us, [and] the Speaker has always said ‘just leave that with me.’ And he is quite correct; the only person with the mandate through standing orders is the Speaker.

“Apart from the fact that we have always given our leave of notice and so forth, not ever during that period has the Speaker come back to us and said no, I am not giving you permission.”

Fiame said if the Prime Minister genuinely believed she and the other three Parliamentarians were guilty of treason he should have laid criminal charges.

Instead, he is using a Commission of Inquiry as a political ploy, and taking advantage of the sheer strength of numbers he has, she said. But she is not concerned about the impact it might have on her campaign alongside the F.A.S.T. Party.

Asked whether the independence of the Speaker of the House is compromised, she said “totally". 

“The Prime Minister and the Leader of the House have overtaken the prerogative of the Speaker, and this speaker has let that process happen.

“The real power lies with the fact that the Prime Minister is the Minister responsible for the Legislative Office. As the Minister he holds the purse strings and therein lies that power that he is wielding and which the speaker has very conveniently given way to.

“That usurping the power of the two other bodies (the Parliament and Judiciary) is evidence of what we are talking about, about this whole absolute power, control, and the misuse of power happening in the country. 

On Monday, Fiame will formally accept the role of Party Leader in a ceremony in her home constituency of Lotofaga, where she is running for re-election unopposed.

She said she does not believe the Commission of Inquiry places her candidacy or the “groundswell” response to FAST’s campaigning at risk.

“This is a political ploy. In terms of how we’re responding, we’re going to throw water over it. This is a classic misuse of power, this is confusing the mandate of the different bodies and the executive is manipulating Parliament. 

“The initial response from what I can gather […] there is a level of real disappointment in the action that the P.M. has taken. 

“If there is one thing Samoans don’t like, people really don’t like people misusing power.”

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