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Opposition MP voted to suspend Leader and Party Secretary

Staff Reporters

APIA, SAMOA – 19 OCTOBER 2022: One Member of Parliament for the parliamentary Opposition, crossed the floor to vote in support of Parliaments Privileges and Ethics Committee Report to suspend the Opposition Leader and Party Secretary for 24 months.

HRPP Leader and Prime Minister for 22 years, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi and Party Secretary, Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi were ordered to leave the House yesterday evening after parliament voted in support of the Committees recommendation to suspend the MPs for 24 months without pay when found in contempt of parliament.

In a secret vote, nineteen (19) of the 20 Opposition MPs present voted against the report and the number of government MPs in support increased from 28 present to 29.

After the swearing in of the Head of State in the morning and recess, Parliament went straight into the Committees report tabled by Chairman Valasi Tafito Togamaga Selesele.

Speaking on the report, Tuilaepa said they had already been heavily penalised twice and had been impoverished during their five months suspension already served, then asked if that was not enough to satisfy the Government. He was defiant not offering an apology to the House. Tuilaepa referred to the PMs words when the MPs were originally suspended last May “to give time for us to see if there would be any change in attitude,” as belittling the status of MPs.

Lealailepule was emotional and asked his constituency for forgiveness and drew the House’s attention to Tuilaepa’s long service to the country. He then encouraged their party MPs to stay strong and remain steadfast.

“The most lethal weapon a soldier takes to war is the reason why?” he said.

Before Parliament rose at 1.00pm, the Prime Minister moved a motion to extend the hours from 3pm to 7pm last night to complete the debate on the Committees report and recommendations.

When the afternoon session resumed, Party Deputy Leader, Lauofo Fonotoe Lauofo spoke on behalf of the party expressing concern over the length of the period which will be 30 months if the six months already served is considered. He said the suspended MPs constituencies will not have a voice in parliament for that long.

The Minister of Agriculture, Laaulialemalietoa Leuatea Polataivao steered the focus on the issue which he said was to restore the respect and integrity of parliament and the rule of law of which the two MPs have been found in contempt.

“They should no longer be sitting inside parliament as they have been convicted for contempt of court and now contempt of parliament,” said the Minister. “We must be wary of setting a precedent for the future generations to come to this parliament,” he emphasized.

Tuilaepa farewell handshake
Tuilaepa farewell handshake

Tuilaepa shaking hands with party MPs before existing parliament last night.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Tuala Tevaga Iosefo Ponifasio who filed the original complaint of contempt of parliament against Tuilaepa and Lealailepule, said he was keen to hear an apology from Tuilaepa.

But there was none. “In a military drill, it starts with getting the very first step right as it will take everything to correct it and before it ends badly,” he said. “We are doing this for future generations as the gist and reason for all this is for Samoa,” said the Deputy Prime Minster.

The Prime Minister then urged all Members to speak freely on the issue as this was the opportune time to discuss the behaviour of MPs and standards of parliament.

“This is an issue that is particular to us, the integrity of parliament and the behaviour of parliamentarians,” said Fiame. “So I am eager to hear from Members.”

However, the Opposition had opted for its Deputy Leader to speak on their behalf and three more Government MPs spoke in support of the Committee’s report.

After a brief summing up by the Committee’s chairman, Tuilaepa asked the Speaker for a division where MPs will rise from their seats to vote “for” or “against”.

The Deputy Speaker, Auapaau Mulipola Aloitafua however moved a motion for a secret ballot, “to allow members to vote freely on this important issue.”

After interjections from Tuilaepa, the Speaker, Papali’i Li’o Ta’eu Masipa’u ruled for a secret ballot.

There were 48 MPs present; 28 for Government and 20 for HRPP.

The result: 29 MPs in support of the suspension and 19 against.

In May this year, the MPs were suspended indefinitely in relation to their conviction on contempt of court charges.

Tuilaepa and Lealailepule challenged their suspension and the court ruled in their favour citing that Parliament’s disciplinary rules and practice do not give the persons who are the subject of adverse recommendations by the Privileges and Ethics Committee, the opportunity to be heard as to penalty before the Assembly.

“This is a failure which breaches a fundamental plank of the rules of fairness that are secured in Article 9(1) of the Constitution – the right to be heard.

They were reinstated. But the court decision suggested that the Assembly may wish to revisit the penalty aspect, consistently with the Constitution.

The Privileges and Ethics Committee’s reconvened and came up with new recommendations to suspend the MPs for 24 months which Parliament upheld last night.