Decisions today will matter tomorrow

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Amidst the excitement and chaos of some local and global developments of the past couple of weeks, a very interesting issue flew by the radar.

The issue is of national significance, which is why we believe it is worth revisiting with the idea that the government needs to clarify the parameters so that all is clear in terms of moving forward.

We are referring to Cabinet’s decision to deny the application by the former Head of State, His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi’s request for the continual use of their diplomatic passport.

The  development surfaced a few weeks ago and as any responsible news organization would do, we asked the government for a comment. 

At the time, the Head of Immigration and the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Agafili Shem Leo, would not confirm or deny the reports.

But he explained the process that governs the issuance and usage of such passports.

“I am responding in accordance to policies and regulations in place for government officials when it comes to this issue,” Agafili told the Samoa Observer.

The C.E.O. went on to explain that diplomatic passports are made available to relevant government officials including the Head of State, Members of the Council of Deputies, Members of Parliament, Cabinet Ministers and the Prime Minister while they are in office. 

“There are regulations which govern the issuance of diplomatic passport that are mainly for government officials,” he said. 

 “For example, the Head of States, Council of Deputies, Members of Parliament, Cabinet Ministers and the Prime Minister. From the beginning, it is policy that once the official no longer holds the position, the government cancels the diplomatic passport.

 “The reason the passport is cancelled is that it goes together with the designation. This same practice applies to the official passports for the C.E.O. position. 

 “Once you are no longer the C.E.O. the official passport will also be cancelled. This is the normal practice; once the official title is cancelled it’s likewise for the diplomatic passports. 

 “This however does not apply to the regular passports, once the official passport is cancelled the regular passport is still valid which he or she can use anywhere in the world.” 

Okay then. 

But we certainly hope they would reconsider. 

We say this because Tui Atua is not just a former Head of State. He is a former Prime Minister and we know as a holder of such a position, there are privileges he is entitled to. A diplomatic passport for life should be one of them.

The issue here is this. Who has been issued a diplomatic passport in the past? And who holds one now? 

There should be some clarity and transparency around this area. To do that, if we know who held a diplomatic passport in the past and who has one now, that should help us a great deal.

You see, as far as we are concerned, the issue with Tui Atua’s request is quite simple. Is he entitled to a diplomatic passport? Yes or no?

Who is responsible for the determination of who is entitled and under what condition? 

And if Tui Atua is entitled, why then was his application denied? 

Is there more to it than meets the eye? 

These are questions members of the public want answered.

Why is it significant? 

Now that we’ve reached a point in the history of our country where we will soon have multiple former Heads of State, we need to set the ground rules to avoid a similar embarrassing situation in the future.

In other words, the issue is far more than Tui Atua as a person. It is about the privileges of the office that he held, in this case the offices he held which includes the Head of State and Prime Ministership. If he is entitled to it, why make things difficult? 

In a few years time, this issue will be more than just Tui Atua. We have a new Head of State who might not be the Head of State for life. What will happen to him when his term is up? What about Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi? Will he still be entitled to a diplomatic passport when he decides to hang up his political gloves?

The point is that we need to set the parameters today so that our work tomorrow is a lot clearer, easier and transparent. Isn’t that what accountability and good governance is all about anyway? 

Write and share your thoughts with us. In the meantime, have a wonderful Wednesday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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