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The core issue is Tuilaepa & Lealailepule have been convicted, says PM Fiame

By Lagi Keresoma

APIA, SAMOA – 22 OCTOBER 2022: The issue Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa emphasised during the debate on Parliament’s Ethics & Privileges Committee’s recommendation, was the fact that the Opposition MPs Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi and Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi have been found guilty of Contempt of Court and Contempt of Parliament.

She said the MPs’ convictions were the core of the matter before Parliament.

She acknowledged Lealailepule’s apology in Parliament and also to his electoral constituency, but emphasised how the Opposition Deputy Leader Lauofo Pierre Lauofo who spoke on behalf of the Opposition, tried to avoid the real issue that Tuilaepa and Lealailepule were found guilty of the offences.

“Instead he talked about peace and harmony and said the issue has been politicised.”

On Tuesday this week, the Committee’s Chairman Valasi Tafito Togamaga tabled their recommendations for Parliament to suspend Tuilaepa and Lealailepule for 24 months and stripped them of their Parliamentary privileges.

Speaking on behalf of the Opposition, Deputy Leader Lauofo Fonotoe Pierre Meredith said 24 months is too long a time and the MPs constituencies will be deprived of their voice in parliament. He then talked about working together peacefully and in harmony.

Fiame noted that nothing in Lauofo’s speech mentioned the word “offence” – soligatulafono – which she said was the core of the longwinded chase on the issue deliberated by Parliament. “Where is justice if the offence is ignored? Who is penalised and who is pardoned? Is there a different law that applies for us MPs and another for other offenders?” Fiame asked.

She then brought up the issue of the Lands and Titles Court President, Fepuleai Atila Ropati who was convicted for a crime by the Court of Appeal but Parliament decided to forgo the conviction and restore him as President.

“It really saddens me as that is the core of this very issue. And it seems we’re going back to that with the issue before us today. Whereby Members of Parliament are treated differently from others, and Parliament is in the forefront of pushing that,” she said.

She pointed out that that was the path Lauofo was pushing regarding Tuilaepa and Lealailepule’s offence.

“As a Member of Parliament and leader, I do not accept it especially when Parliamentarians as lawmakers, must set an example,” she said.
When given the opportunity to respond to the penalty, Lealailepule apologised to his constituency. Tuilaepa however said parliament’s integrity was tarnished when its decision was overturned by the Court when he sought for redress on the decision of parliament against him.

The Prime Minister responded that the rule of law is the foundation of Samoa’s democracy and everyone resorts to the Court including Parliamentarians.

“There is evidence of parliamentary matters already dealt with by the Court, and matters pertaining to you Tuilaepa and Lealailepule are not different from any other MPs, and the Court has pointed out natural justice where opportunities are given to the people involved to be heard.

“So Parliament has responded and revisited its decision and the lessons learnt from what happened now sets the foundation for penalties against MPs who may breach Parliament’s Ethics and Privileges in the future,” said Fiame.

“Everyone wants peace and personally as a leader, if we are not honest in working together to uphold and respect Parliament, then there is no truth there,” Fiame said.

She then pointed out 24 May 2022, the last day of forty five days stipulated in the Constitution for Parliament to convene after the general election. Yet, when the elected party Faatuatua I le Atua Samoa ua Tasi-FAST arrived at Parliament to be sworn in, the door was padlocked with police guarding the main entrance.

“It was at the beginning of this parliament that it emerged that there was no respect and regard for the integrity of Samoa’s Parliament,” said Fiame.

The swearing in proceeded under a tent outside parliament, but none of the Opposition Party MPs were present.

MPs and freedom of speech
Tuilaepa also argued that they were exercising their freedom of speech and expression under the constitution.

Fiame pointed out that whilst freedom of speech is guaranteed under Samoa’s Constitution, there are boundaries and limitations.

“This argument was presented before during the contempt of court case,” said Fiame. “But nothing is without boundaries, including freedom of speech and there is no absolute freedom that will ultimately break the law.”

Harmony Agreement
Tuilaepa also accused Fiame and the FAST party for not keeping their word to withdraw their legal challenges against HRPP.

Fiame explained the reasons why.

“We agreed (through our respective lawyers) to withdraw our legal challenges, but when it came to contempt of court, that was rejected by the Court as it was not a matter for us to discontinue. That was a matter for the Court,” said Fiame.

As Fiame continued to clarify the issues, Tuilaepa stood up and claimed everything she said was incorrect and to leave it as it is. “Ta’atia ai lea fa’apea,” said Tuilaepa.

The accusations of incorrect statements were later removed from the record on a motion by the Minister of Agriculture.

“As there are in Parliament, records of convictions of contempt of court and contempt of parliament against the two MPs,” said the Minister.

Before the vote was taken, Tuilaepa said that they will seek other avenues under the Constitution to address their 24 months suspension as deemed by parliament last Tuesday evening.