The first few days of Parliament for 2019 have been action-packed to say the least. The $19.4 million Supplementary budget by the Minister of Finance, Sili Epa Tuioti, which has been the focus of debate the past few days is not the biggest budget we’ve seen.
Apart from the raising of salaries for the public service – which also raised many eyebrows - and the increase of the monthly pension for pensioners, there wasn’t much out of the ordinary. Really.
But the debate in recent days – with the petitions against the Electoral Constituencies Bill 2018 adding more flavour – has been most interesting to follow.
If anything, the debate speaks of the times and the general feeling surrounding a lot of these issues. It might sound bizarre and extreme to some people, but it is what it is.
In hindsight, they say out of the abundance of the heart a man speaks. All you have to do is look at the first couple of pages of your Samoa Observer yesterday to get an idea into the thinking of our leaders today, which is quite bizarre if you ask me.
Indeed, these are very interesting times. Take the headline “What corruption?” on the front page of yesterday’s edition for instance.
The headline was taken from Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi’s response to a claim about corruption in Government made by that one Opposition voice, Olo Fiti Vaai.
“We have so much government funds going to waste and this is because the government is being reckless, greedy and abusive,” Olo said. “During the past year, there have been a number of problems faced by the Government, from one Ministry to another and it all comes down to a weakness. When I consider all these actions, it is corrupt, that is what’s happening in the Government.”
That’s all Olo needed to say to rile up Prime Minister Tuilaepa, who leapt to the defense of his Government – as you would expect him to do of course.
“You are being rude and disrespectful,” Tuilaepa said. “You just blurt out such words. This M.P. has been against this Government from the beginning.”
“Corruption is when there are laws and yet nothing is being done about it. That is not the case; there are laws in place for any illegal practices. So don’t you dare level such allegations but you look within yourself and what you are doing.”
Tuilaepa wasn’t done there. He continued to accuse the Salega M.P. of being negative about Government developments, pointing to a story in the Samoa Observer last Sunday, where Olo questioned the raising of the Chinese flag in Samoa.
“There are six flags at the project site, yet he targeted the flag of the Government of China,” the Prime Minister said. “What’s so harmful about China’s flag? It’s a sign they are providing assistance to Samoa. What about you, what are you doing? We are receiving financial support to assist with our developments and as for you, what have you done.”
Olo, as we’ve come to know him over the years, did not back down until the Speaker intervened and forced him to move away from the topic. Which was a pity. It would’ve been great if the Speaker and Parliament had allowed Olo to back up his claim about the corruption charge, by telling the public what evidence he has.
After all, isn’t that what transparency, accountability and good governance is all about? And what better place to exercise it than Parliament, the meeting place of Samoa?
The fact is Olo is not the first Member of Parliament to highlight corruption. We’ve seen many examples of corruption within the public service over the years. These instances have been exposed in reports by the Auditor General and the Audit Office as well as special committees appointed by Parliament, such as the Officers of Parliament Committee (O.P.C), which investigated and confirmed instances of “corrupt practices”, “collusion to defraud” and mismanagement.
So this is nothing new. What people need to know is how the Government is planning to address it “once and for all.”
Here’s the thing, if Prime Minister Tuilaepa is proposing to use an “atomic bomb” to “blow up” petitions against the Government’s Electoral Constituencies Bill 2018, why can’t he do the same to corruption within the public service?
The irony is that the controversial Electoral Constituencies Bill 2018 has been introduced in an attempt to address many challenges during the General Election – including “corruption.”
Which raises an important question. Which “corruption” deserves an “atomic bomb” by Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s administration? The one that keeps them in power or the one that hurts ordinary Samoans who are denied benefits in health, education, and other basic necessities like water, housing and food?
Have a wonderful Friday Samoa, God bless!