UN relationship with Samoa under a cloud

The United Nations has glaring problems in Samoa where the government is calling for the UN's role in the country to be reviewed.

The most pressing immediate problem concerns UN Resident Co-ordinator in Samoa, Simona Marinescu, and the local government's allegation that she has interfered in domestic politics.

Samoa's ruling Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) party has accused Marinescu of breaching UN principles of neutrality by actively working against the party during this year's election.

Marinescu was a politician in Romania, and took up the Apia post in early 2018,

The FAST claim partly relates to Marinescu's involvement in the push to increase the number of women MPs in Samoa. The topic became a central point of contention in the drawn out impasse between the former ruling Human Rights Protection Party and FAST over April's election, which was won by FAST.

The diplomat is a vocal advocate of women's rights. However, by pushing the women MPs matter during the testy post-election stages, she was accused of having favoured HRPP and its leader, Samoa's long-time prime minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielagaoi, who aimed to prevent Fiame Naomi Mata'afa becoming the country first woman prime minister.

After months of court action over the election outcome, as well as rallies by HRPP supporters which FAST has accused Marinescu of being involved with instigating, Fiame is now installed as prime minister - and her government has the knives out for the UN rep.

FAST party chairman deputy prime minister La'auli Leuatea Schmidt has also questioned Marinescu's role in a reported recommendation to legalise abortion in Samoa. It was made as part of a submission by the UN country office for Samoa's recent Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council.

La'auli said it was not Marinescu's place to have pushed for changes to Samoa's laws in the area of women's rights, adding that she had crossed a line.

"She should not affiliate with our local domestic politics," he said.

"That is our main concern, because we found out that she has been involved with our political affairs locally."

The diplomat has been unavailable for RNZ Pacific's requests to comment. Having recently attended COP26 in Glasgow, Marinescu remains out of the country, and it is uncertain if she is welcome to return to Samoa given the new government's feelings.

Tuilaepa, now the opposition leader, came out in defence of Marinescu and called for an apology from La'auli whose attacks he described as "uncalled for".

Sources close to the UN in Samoa described it as unlikely that Marinescu had sought to help HRPP win government over FAST, but said her interventions were ill-judged, badly timed and came across as high-handed.