Tuilaepa criticises F.A.S.T. legal advisor Taulapapa

By Sialai Sarafina Sanerivi 23 August 2021, 10:00AM

The Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) leader has hit back at comments by the former Attorney General and senior lawyer, Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu that were critical of his role in backing the recent party-led protest marches.

In a statement issued by the former ruling party, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi responded to claims by Taulapapa that the veteran politician was "using civil unrest" to return Parliament under his leadership. 

The claims by the former Attorney General were published over a week ago in a story titled, "Defeated PM using civil unrest in bid to seize back parliament, Taulapapa Brenda Latu says."

The comments by Taulapapa were taken during a zoom conference she held with the administrators of the Pacific Newsroom Facebook group, Australian journalist Sue Ahearn and Mike Field of New Zealand, minutes after the former ruling party hosted a special meeting at their headquarters at Petesa on Friday 13 August.

"Our Special Party Meeting referred to was for the purposes of launching a Samoan translation of the book titled 'Palemia' which detailed the history of the party and its achievements since its inception; providing a report of the party’s activities as a proactive opposition in Parliament which is yet to meet following our April 9th General Elections due to the encroachment of the Judiciary into the proper functioning of our Parliamentary processes and thirdly, inviting our families and Party Members to witness the Swearing-in Ceremony if any, as is the cultural practice," the statement from the former Prime Minister reads.

"The swearing ceremony for new MPs is a great occasion for families, friends and members of the constituencies to garland their MPs and to celebrate.

"I announced thereon the special significance of the swearing-in ceremony of 24 of May declared illegal by the Supreme Court but later legitimised by the Court of Appeal. 

"Our party members of parliament have yet to take their oaths of allegiance and the Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) Government seems confused of what to do next."

Tuilaepa then once again criticised the ad-hoc swearing-in ceremony by the F.A.S.T. party on 24 of May 2021 (which actually marked 45 days since the general election in April in line with the requirements of the Constitution).  

"Indeed for any right minded Samoan the swearing-in ceremony under a tent was inappropriate, un-Samoan, contravenes the provisions of the Constitution, and it frustrates the proper functioning of our Parliamentary Democratic Process which worked smoothly over the last 59 years of independence," he said.

"An appeal to C.J. Simativa to step aside in the interest of justice was ignored. We are now drawing the attention of the Judicial Services Commission to address these breaches of the rule of law. 

"Following the Supreme Court decision which condemned the tent ceremony as unconstitutional and illegal, Taulapapa dodged responsibility in a televised interview that she was merely doing what her client wanted.

"According to our legal advisers the Court of Appeal decision which reversed the Supreme Court Judgement lacked any legal basis – it has neither constitutional authority nor case law precedents to stand on. 

"The H.R.P.P. Government has now resigned following the Court of Appeal decision. The F.A.S.T. Leadership has taken over. 

"We are now actively doing what an opposition party does best: to question the Government on every action we see inappropriate. 

"And I and our Party are accused for plotting by this woman instigator? F.A.S.T. is still behaving as if it is in Opposition by advice from Taulapapa. 

"Please Honourable Prime Minister Fiame (Naomi Mata'afa) and party, grow up."

The former Prime Minister also said he is of the belief that as an opposition party, they are "very proactive playing their role". 

"Lord Atkins in 1936 stated that Justice is not a cloistered virtue. She must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and the respectful, even though outspoken, comments of ordinary men.

"With so many inconsistent rulings from our Court, Madam Taulapapa, should we remain quiet?"

Tuilaepa then pointed out the appointment of five new jurists from New Zealand who were sworn in last week. 

"Final concrete proof of our reservations is the engagement now for two years of five Senior Judges from New Zealand – after our most important electoral petitions have been disposed of. 

"So many Samoan judges with conflict of Interest? This is unfortunately how political observers will read this decision. 

"H.R.P.P. therefore supports the engagement of these senior independent judges from New Zealand."

Tuilaepa also accused Taulapapa of "spoon-feeding" the international community in N.Z. and Australia in the last couple of months "with much propaganda against the people of Samoa." 

The story by Michael Field which irked the former Prime Minister is printed below verbatim.

Samoa’s defeated PM using civil unrest in bid to seize back Parliament

Samoa’s defeated prime minister is plotting civil unrest that will climax when a new Legislative Assembly holds its first meeting next month since April’s elections, leading lawyer Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu says.

She and her husband George Latu act for the election winning Fa’atuatua I le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) Party lead by Fiame Naomi Mata’afa.

F.A.S.T. defeated the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) and its leader and former premier Tuilaepa Sailele who now refuses to accept the result.

Failing to win in the courts, Taulapapa said he was building up to a crescendo of unrest at the September 20 parliamentary opening?

She said he could be stopped by jailing him on serious charges which could include treason.

Taulapapa said there was currently HRPP intimidation of judges and lawyers, a police force unable to stop it and sabotage within the Tuilaepa controlled civil service, all aimed at returning the defeated prime minister to office.

Taulapapa had, up until 2006, worked extensively with Tuilaepa when he was prime minister for 23 years.

In a Zoom meeting with Pacific Newsroom’s Sue Ahearn and Michael Field, Taulapapa drew a parallel between Tuilaepa’s election defeat and that of last November’s defeat of United States President Donald Trump.

Tuilaepa’s failed efforts to overturn Samoa’s election have left him vulnerable: “He lost the elections, he’s lost in court, and sadly the absolutely what he doing now,” Taulapapa said.

“It is almost Trump, the Pacific edition…

“Even more so because on Monday he called all members of HRPP to go to Mulinuu when parliament is convened on 20th of September….

There can be only one reason to do that..”?

She said Tuilaepa has the opportunity to end the turmoil. “If he does not do that voluntarily then what will end this will be, being imprisoned.”

Events were moving fast.

“It is building up to a crescendo and I am not sure what that will be but it is definitely building up to something happening. We have got him doubling down, we have him on TV1, which is the HRPP channel, every night now and he is also coming on the Good Morning Show. He has really ramped it up since the decision came out and plans for more rallies and marches.”

An example of his strategy, and the risks, came last week when Tuilaepa led HRPP group to Savaii. They were resisted by locals who objected to their presence on the island.

“My big concern now,” Taulapapa said, “is that he is actively creating civil unrest which if you contrast that with the 4 months waiting for our court decisions, people were patient and were respectful of the court, and now after the decision has come out, you have a leader creating this stuff, 4 months after the general election.”

Plotting illustrated the desperation of a 76-year-old man who was not getting the message that he had been defeated.

“It isn’t anything more than that… There is a reason you shouldn’t don’t stay so long. It’s true power corrupts but also corrupts your judgment…he basically will not accept the fact that he lost the elections.”

Taulapapa Heather-Latu has been a prominent legal figure in Samoa since 1997 when she was appointed Attorney General under HRPP Prime Minister Tofilau Eti who was succeeded by Tuilaepa the following year. She gained a vivid insight into HRPP corruption when, with George Latu, she prosecuted two cabinet ministers and one of their sons for the 1999 assassination for Works Minister Luagalau Levaula Kamu.

Following criticism from Tuilaepa, she resigned in 2006 and set up her own law firm and this year has been acting for FAST. This gave her a decisive role on May 24 when Fiame and her party were locked out of Parliament by HRPP Speaker Leaupepe Toleafoa Faafisi to prevent them being sworn in as MPs. 

Under Taulapapa’s direction, swearing in ceremony was instead in a tent outside parliament, subsequently recognised in the Court of Appeal.

Comparisons between Tuilaepa and Trump have drawn protests from observers but Taulapapa said there was obvious similarity.

“You have someone who is the author of his own misfortune,” she said, pointing to Tuilaepa’s behavior last year when he pushed three bills through the Legislative Assembly.

The legislation was the Constitution Amendment Bill the Land and Titles Bill and the Judicature Bill.

Tuilaepa chose to insult his then deputy, Fiame, in the assembly and unnecessarily prolonged parliament late last year.

One result was that H.R.P.P. formally had 20 seats on Savaii but following the elections 18 had gone to FAST.

Tuilaepa was “prideful about being the master political strategist, and he is so past it,” Taulapapa said.

And within H.R.P.P. after the election defeat “absolutely no squeak from H.R.P.P. about accountability, why did we lose?” H.R.P.P. itself was “comatose and about to slip into oblivion.”

The defeated prime minister produced his own disaster: “he is belligerent, he bombastic, he abusive, so when he prolonged parliament, instead of the normal 10 days, he prolonged it 5 weeks at the end of the year.

“Most old people have their radios on parliament when it is sitting, and they were treated to 5 weeks of unmitigated abuse. For a lot of older people, like my aunties and uncles in Savaii, they basically said…too much, too revolting, too yuk  and time for a change.”

At the elections he let multiple HRPP candidates run against each other in electorates.

When the result initially came in as 26 H.R.P.P. and F.A.S.T. members he blundered again by claiming that a constitutional requirement on the number of women in the assembly had not been met. So he put another H.R.P.P. women into parliament.

“He goes to the nuclear option and the first one is to administratively add another M.P. and the second nuclear option was that he basically advised the Head of State (Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa) to call fresh elections … got him cancel the results of a general election, run a new one in 2 weeks but with a whole lot of changes that would limit your ability to vote,” Taulapapa said.

“And then he sued that to get all his multiple candidates to resign, to withdraw.” 

Then came a series of court cases in which rulings favored F.A.S.T.

Tuilaepa and H.R.P.P. kept violating court rulings and, as the weeks rolled over, his members became more intimidating toward the courts and the judges. These actions have led to Tuilaepa facing contempt for court charges.

In the crime tariff, contempt can be a relatively light offence, and Taulapapa said there were considerations of bringing the more serious charge of scandalizing the court.

At one point Tuilaepa accused Taulapapa and her husband of treason for the way they were acting for FAST and swearing in its members.

A treason charge has to consist of a series of overt acts which individually may not be a crime but which if proven can establish the offence of treason.

“Pacific Newsroom” asked Taulapapa whether the defeated prime minister’s behavior could point to possible treason: “absolutely, absolutely. Currently F.A.S.T. our clients, filed contempt proceedings so they are live, they will be added to next week because there have been almost daily instances of calling the court crooked and everything.”

Taulapapa said she was not satisfied with the police force attitude which she characterized as detached and disinterested.

“When you are facing people that keep naming the judges on the appeal, keep naming lawyers involved particularly George and I, that keep putting their pictures on H.R.P.P. pages, then it suggests to me that he is inviting someone to do us harm.”

The former leader was burning bridges and no one was trying to restrain him.

“Everybody is a sycophant, everybody else is yes sir, no sir,” she said.

“There is a real element of the cultish leader where even people that were reasonable and respected members of our community are sitting around him, nodding and laughing, and that is disturbing. These are people who otherwise you believe would be reasonable and balanced and wise.”

In the last decade Tuilaepa would not accept advice and made appointments to office based on obedience and family association.

For Fiame and F.A.S.T. the behavior was debilitating. “She is getting attacked from the outside, and then having problems establishing her government inside, in the public service.”

Many of the public servants were related to the defeated prime minister, including senior officials in Treasury, Revenue and Audit Office. They are blocking FA.S.T. attempts to get the budget under control.

“So you have active, aggressive opposition from key officials.”

Fiame had written to the H.R.P.P. appointed Attorney General Savalenoa Mareva Betham about the abuses and challenges from H.R.P.P. on the judiciary, but nothing had come from her. 

“I would absolutely call it sabotage.”

Taulapapa pointed to the Ministry of Revenue where, on Monday, the chief executive Matafeo Viali-Fautuaalii unilaterally introduced a 10 per cent capital gains tax with no notice.

Suddenly major transactions were having 10 per cent added on top of them, ranging from matai registration to large mortgage and land transfers. The new government was not consulted.

“That has caused incredible knock on effects commercially because, of course, people only got mortgages for a particular amount…but it also exposes the government to risk.”

Samoa society tended to move in a communal way and three bills in parliament had seen a mass split from HRPP and a large block went to F.A.S.T. which had risen rapidly.

In the process Tuilaepa was destroying his “great legacy of developments.”

Every day he was undermining his reputation, Taulapapa said.

“Yesterday he came on TV and said ‘where the hell are New Zealand and Australia, why aren’t they doing something about how the judiciary has stolen parliament’,” she said. “Well they did say something, they said congratulations on winning the elections,” Taulapapa said there was a role in the current crises for Australia, New Zealand and multilateral bodies.

“We have never had a transition in our history, really, and so we need technical support so that we can bring in people like forensic auditors and former state services commissioners because there is going to be a need for reprogramming. Things are personal that is why I mentioned cults.

“There is almost a personal emotional attachment to this man,” Taulapapa said.


By Sialai Sarafina Sanerivi 23 August 2021, 10:00AM
Samoa Observer

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