New Prime Minister keen to unite Samoans under government
By John Pulu
Samoa’s new Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa has had to wait for over 100 days to assume power. The leader of the ‘Faʻatuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi’ or FAST Party got down to business this week, holding her first cabinet meeting.
Heading to her first Cabinet meeting earlier this week, Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa had the local media in tow and was feeling good.
“We had a different kind of work with the campaign and then the court procedures, but now the business of government is what we’ve been elected to do,” she remarked.
The FAST party leader became prime minister just over a week ago after Samoa’s Appeal Court ruled that an impromptu swearing-in ceremony held in a tent outside the locked parliament building back in May was lawful.
That ruling came over three months since the election was held and where the FAST party, supported by an independent, held a one-seat majority.
In reflecting on recent months, Fiame says that result gave her confidence right from the beginning.
“In terms of the substance of the matter, an election that gave us 26 seats, even with the court challenges… being very sure of the merits of our arguments, I believe that we would get to this place. It just took longer than we expected.”
The 100-day delay was caused in part by a series of unusual decisions under the care-taker Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, and the Head of State. This led to several court cases and a political climate which could easily have escalated out of hand. Through it all, the FAST leader stayed the course.
“My people have said that they’ve appreciated that we’ve been calm,” Fiame says.
“I think in my own experience becoming a Matai, the leadership in families, the leadership in villages, I think it’s so important that leadership can convey calmness.
“You need to be able to step back and see what’s happening and not to be too taken up with the heat and the emotion of things.”
Here in New Zealand, many in the Samoan community have welcomed the new government.
“I think what we can learn is that Samoa has established a way to negotiate through these issues that’s been calm and honourable,” says Auckland City Councillor Fa’anana Efeso Collins.
“And whilst at a political level it’s been really unsettling, the world has looked into a nation that now really understands its constitution.”
“I’ve admired Fiame the whole time, how she is very calm and collected and always being patient,” says Laura Keil-Hall from the Pacific Business Hub.
After nearly four months, thoughts are also going to the healing process and recognition that the out-going Prime Minister and his team will make a formidable opposition.
Rev Dr Featunai Liuaana, from the EFKS Church in Sandringham, says having Tuilaepa in opposition would be good for transparency and accountability.
“He’s very experienced, and I think the FAST Party and Fiame know it’s not going to be an easy ride for the next five years, so they’ll be kept on their toes, and it’s really good to have someone like Tuilaepa there.”
Samoa Radio Host Savea Al Harrington congratulated Fiame and paid tribute to Tuilaepa.
“I must say to the outgoing PM, we’re grateful for your service to Samoa, and now there’s a new PM, we hope that she will carry Samoa through these difficult times.”
Tuilaepa often targeted the judiciary when he couldn’t get his way after the election and looks to continue this tactic in opposition. Fiame says the lesson learnt from these past months is that the rule of law is paramount.
“If we have no regard for the rule of law, then the whole concept of an independent sovereign country based on a constitution, that base will go, and chaos essentially is the other alternative, and no thinking person would take that choice,” Fiame says.
The new Prime Minister and her colleagues have much to do in coming months, including contesting several by-elections and all while trying to bring Samoans together.
“People want to be in a secure country, they want to have a government in place, they want things to run, they want services to work,” she says.
“The country has made a choice; let’s move on. This is a new administration, but it’s an administration for all of Samoa. So I think this is a very important message for the country and for our communities overseas.”