Former Samoa deputy PM dismisses "false reports" criticism

Former Samoa deputy Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa has dismissed accusations made by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi that she falsely claimed to be absent when Cabinet discussed restructuring the judiciary.

 It was her speaking out against three bills, which would, together, create an autonomous Land and Titles Court (LTC) that led to Fiame’s resignation earlier this month. 

 “Mata’afa had the opportunity to raise her concern in Cabinet over these measures, but she didn’t,” the Prime Minister said 

 During a Parliamentary committee consultation on the bills at her constituency of Lotofaga, Mata’afa described the bills as having too many “gaps” and called for them to be rewritten. 

 Mata’afa said she had used the consultation to express her views and that she was not present during the Cabinet meeting where the memorandum on the three bills was tabled, or when the Bills passed their first reading in Parliament. 

 "I am now using my one chance to express my opinion as a Member of Parliament before the Committee as the Prime Minister had sternly advised [members of the public]," Mata’afa said.

 On his weekly programme, Tuilaepa said Fiame was present at some Cabinet meetings when Ministers discussed the proposals. 

 “When it comes to these matters, each and every Minister delivers their views [in Cabinet] and discussions are held in two or three Cabinet meetings prior to voting on these matters,” he said.  

 “There were meetings [...which] Mata’afa did not attend; she was overseas but upon her return has inquired with Agafili (the Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet CEO) for the minutes of the meetings and she had every opportunity to ask questions in areas she does not understand.” 

 “The bottom line is she did ask for the minutes of the meetings at which the bills were discussed.”

 Tuilaepa read out a particular Cabinet paper (22-42) which was titled ‘Reconsideration’ (fetuna’i muniao) and regarded the LTC bills, which were prepared by the Samoa Law Reform Commission. 

 “Cabinet minutes say that on Wednesday 04 March, 2020 and [which were] approved [on] 21 March 2020 says that Fiame was present- and to say that she was not present is wrong,” he said.

 The Prime Minister referred to another Cabinet meeting whose minutes (20-640) showed the meeting was a thorough deliberation of the Bills concerned. 

 “[The] minutes which [are] dated 8 July 2020 and [were] approved by Cabinet on 15 July, 2020 [show] Fiame was present,” said the Prime Minister. 

 According to the Prime Minister, Mata’afa had the opportunity to raise concern in Cabinet over these measures, but waited until the Bills reached Parliament before commenting on them.

 (The Bills are currently at their second reading stage of the Parliamentary process. A report compiling public feedback from a Special Parliamentary Committee - at which Fiame spoke out - will precede their procession to the third stage).

 “I would think that for someone who is a senior member of Parliament, she should be honest,” he said. 

 In response Mata’afa brushed off Tuilaepa’s criticism while declining to enter into a detailed discussion of his criticism. 

 “The Bills [had] already been introduced in Parliament by the time I came back [from overseas] and I wasn’t there,” she said. 

 "And, you know, I don’t even want to respond to that; leave him be. 

 “Essentially it’s no comment.”

 The LTC Bills were debated in Parliament on 17 March.

 In an earlier interview after she tendered her resignation,Mata’afa said her decision to leave Cabinet and the Human Rights Protection Party was due to her disagreement over the three controversial bills. 

 “The bills came from Cabinet and the truth is if I cannot support the legislation I have to tender my resignation,” she told the Samoa Observer. 

 “My relation with the political party – that lies with the party they make that decision – and my decision to resign from Cabinet where I work, especially with the legislation I objected to came from Cabinet. 

 “So I cannot stay in Cabinet and continue now that I have publicly stated that I don’t support the legislation.” 

 The bills in question are the Constitution Amendment Bill 2020, the Lands and Titles Bill 2020 and Judicature Bill 2020.

 Mata’afa  is now an Independent MP. 

 Parliament will convene on Tuesday this week to discuss an urgent amendment to the Electoral Act 2019.