Two of the ruling HRPP’s longest serving MPs, Prime Minster Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi and Deputy Prime Minister Fiamē Naomi Mataafa embroiled in a tense public exchange in parliament this afternoon.
APIA, SAMOA – 28 APRIL 2020: Cracks showed up within Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s solid control over his Human Rights Protection Party in a tense exchange with his Deputy in Parliament his afternoon.
Deputy Prime Minister, Fiamē Naomi Mata’afa expressed her reservations on the amendment to the Electoral Act on the residency for the voters. (NB: The amendment was later passed by parliament.)
Fiamē said based on the PM’s statements in parliament earlier that gives prominence to Samoan customs, and laws that smell – namu Samoan, the amendment erodes on that very principle where voting based on the faa-matai recognizes the individual person’s identity as family and the family’s matai title.
She also referred to previous contentious points in the Electoral Act concerning voters who reside in Apia but have to go back to their villages and families in Savai’i and outlying villages to vote because of this very customary identity.
Fiamē, then requested the Committee that given there is time, to hold back their amendments.
This Prime Minister took the floor and asked why the Minster did not appear and give her views to the Committee before they reported to Parliament. He emphasized that Samoa’s electoral laws have been amended after every general election because of anomalies that have made Samoa known for its “corrupt” electoral practices resulting in court petitions after every general election.
Do you think this is the devil standing here?
Tuilaepa then said what offended Fiamē, “it is usual that every time a law is brought forward, the devil is always around to break it.”
Fiamē calmly responded that her views were expressed freely and they should not be suppressed during the parliamentary debate.
“Tuilaepa, you have said it, do you think this is the devil standing here because I have expressed myself,” said Fiamē.
The PM was immediately on the floor, “There is something called the collective responsibility of Cabinet,” the PM told Parliament.
“Any of my Ministers who disagrees, has the chance to resign,” he said.
Then turning to his Cabinet, “But the decision I have given, all off you Ministers must listen, if you are against it, you know what to do,” said Tuilaepa.
He said it does not look good to the people a Cabinet to be challenging their own laws in parliament “based on a speech delivered ten minutes before”.
He the apologized to the Deputy Prime Minister and Fiamē also went back to emphasize her points that she was expressing her views as one of the longest serving MPs and former minister of the Electoral Commission.
Fiamē has been in parliament the longest with Tuilaepa now serving his 39th year in parliament.
It is the first public exchange that has shown cracks in the ruling Human Rights Protection Party’s leadership as Tuilaepa pushes through major constitutional amendments and the country heads into a general election next April if not earlier.