Woman as Head of State is only a question of how soon it will happen

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Yesterday’s front-page story titled “Govt. considers law change to allow female as Head of State” was certainly an interesting read.

For the uninitiated, the story quoted a Public Service Commission Newsletter which referred to Cabinet Directive (FK (17) 33 where the Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (M.P.M.C.) had been tasked to lead the preparations for the review of the Head of State Act 1965. 

“This review was prompted by Cabinet to reflect changes made to the Constitution regarding the Head of State post,” the original newsletter reads.

“Some of these changes include but are not limited to the eligibility criteria, the number of years or the duration of service and the possibility of having a female Head of State in the future.” 

A female Head of State?

That certainly raised eyebrows. For good reason.

Firstly, it was only last year that Samoa had welcomed a new Head of State. He is still trying to find his feet and get comfortable on that chair and here we have the government of Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi already making plans for the next, according to the newsletter.

But that’s not all that was rather disturbing.

The impression that Samoa’s Constitution prohibited a woman from holding the position seemed so ancient. It would put to shame all the government’s recent efforts - including amending the Constitution to allow more in Parliament.

The good news is that the Public Service Commission, which initiated all this confusion, has owned up and taken responsibility for the error. 

On the front page of the newspaper you are reading, the P.S.C. has made the necessary change and apologised for the confusion.

“I’ve attached our revised December edition but have included the amended article re: Constitutional changes to the Head of State Act 1965 below for ease of reference. The revised version of the newsletter has been reloaded onto the P.S.C. website also,” writes Osana Liki-Ward, of the P.S.C. 

“We’ve removed the reference on the possibility of a female Head of State as this was incorrect information that we received last year. The Act, as it stands, does not prohibit the appointment of a female Head of State. Our apologies for this.”

Apologies accepted Mrs. Liki-Ward. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time. Even we do and one of the best things in life is learning when to say sorry and move on.

What’s important here is that this little kerfuffle has allowed light to be shed on this issue. While we’ve never had a female as a Head of State, we know for a fact it might not always stay that way.

The good thing is that the law as it stands allows it. Which speaks of the vision, wisdom and foresight of our forebears who ensured this piece of vital information was included. Even before any of this gender equality and women empowerment came into the equation, our Constitution already ensured that our women would be given a fair go. 

This is reaffirmed by the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Agafili Shem Leo, on page 3 of the newspaper you are reading.

“The newsletter issued makes it seem like women are not qualified, but that is not the case here, the Act is crystal clear,” he said. 

 “The Act does not say that only men are qualified. That is why this issue has never been brought up before Cabinet because there is no need.  

 “The Act is clear and it does not pin point to only men allowed, it does not say that only men can become Head of State and that is why I was shocked to the reference used in the newsletter. 

 “Again the proposal that came was for Parliament to review the said Act, but it does not say to include women to become Head of State. 

 “No, I guess because only men were head of state, the late Malietoa Tanumafili II, Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi and Tuimaleali’ifano Sualauvi II were all men, gave the idea that women cannot become Head of State. 

“Also keep in mind the decision is made solely by Parliament, which is now for two terms, upon the vote of Parliament, regardless whether it’s a man or a woman.”

Well that’s great to know, isn’t it? And given the way things are working out at the moment, don’t be surprised when a woman occupies the role. There is nothing there to stop that from happening.

So it is not a question of whether it will happen, the real question is how soon it will happen. What do you think?

Have a great Tuesday Samoa. God bless!

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