Former Speaker, Laaulialemalietoa Leuatea Polata’ivao leaving on his own terms
By Lagi Keresoma
APIA, SAMOA – 09 JULY 2020: It seems the long and winding chase by the Prime Minister of his former Cabinet Minister, La’aulialemalietoa Leuatea Polata’ivao Schmidt, will now end on the MPs own terms.
La’auli made the point in a media conference yesterday at his new office at Vaitele, lined with photos connected to Samoa’s parliament and political history and what looked like a new political party headquarters.
He went back and explained to the media his surprise resignation from Parliament 30 June in the middle of what he described as a pre-planned assault on his character when parliament was debating the Privileges Committee report that found him in breach and recommended he be suspended without pay and allowances for three months.
Laauli’s resignation caught both the Speaker and Prime Minister by surprise and the PM later moved a motion to require the Members resignation in writing, but the motion did not specify a time limit.
According to La’auli, the plan was to give all the MPs time to speak and more than ten who spoke used the opportunity to attack La’auli for his “arrogance” and “rudeness” in a number of tense exchanges with the Prime Minister not only in Parliament but on media interviews.
Rather than accepting the Parliamentary Privileges Committee’s decision to suspend him for 3 months, La’auli took matters into his own hands and did the unexpected, resigned and left Parliament.
“Their decision to suspend me was an indication that I have done something wrong, so I left under my own terms and terminated any of their plans intended for me,” said La’auli.
“I felt like a defenseless man in a coliseum, surrounded by wild tigers and men attacking me, but I believe that whatever was planned for me backfired when I resigned.”
He said after listening to 15 MP’s speaking and most of them attacking him, he decided to stop it “to protect the integrity and good name of his constituency and his family.”
The power remains in the hands of the people
After his verbal resignation, La’auli met his constituency last weekend who again instructed him not to submit his written resignation but to proceed to establish a new political party to contest next years’ general elections.
This week, he received a letter from the Speaker asking him to submit his written resignation.
“I will write and acknowledge the Speaker’s letter but I will let my resignation lie as it is. But I will also follow my constituency’s instruction to form a new political party and that’s where and when I will give up my position,” he said.
“On my own terms.”
However, Prime Minister Tuilaepa told the state owned radio that there is no weight or power of a constituency’s letter or opinion over Parliament’s decision.
“That is his own opinion,” La’auli said of Tuilaepa’s view. “But there is no authority over the authority of a constituency. It’s the power of the people – the real power of Samoa and the citizens who voted us MPs into Parliament,” La’auli explained.
Re-tendering the prison generator proof of my argument
The Privileges Committees investigation and report focussed on what La’auli raised in Parliament and questioned that $300,000 talā allocated for a standby generator for the Tanumalala prison was too expensive.
He told parliament that he bought a generator that was much cheaper, but did not reveal the generators’ output power, said La’auli.
He said he also presented a quote for a 200kva generator which cost much less than $300,000 talā.
“The quote I gave them is to prove what I said in Parliament when Tuilaepa asked where I got such a cheap quote, however, a motion was moved to have the Parliamentary Finance Committee investigate my claim,” he said.
The Finance Committee’s investigation did not call La’auli to give evidence and their report found the claims to be untrue.
The Privileges Committee investigation also based their investigation on the Finance Committee’s report rather than doing their own investigation.
La’auli pointed out that the Privileges Committee’s report never made reference to the 3 quotes in the Finance Committee’s report that claimed the lowest price for a 200kva generator was $300,000 talā.
This was noted by the Deputy Prime Minister, Fiamē Naomi Mata’afa when she spoke on the Committees report just before La’auli resigned. Fiamē cited a number of weaknesses in the Government tender process used by the Prisons Management for the standby generator.
“After the whole fuss, the Government has now open new tenders for the standby 200kva generator for the Tanumalala prison. This time, at a lesser budget than the $300,000 talā proposed in the Ministry of Police & Prisons Supplementary Budget.”
La’auli believes the changes to retender is the good outcome from what he pointed out but the Privilege Committee found him in breach by insisting that he bought a 200kva generator at a lesser cost.