The Human Rights Protection Party

What is Good for Apia is also good for Savaii!
"O le mea e lelei i Apia, e lelei foi mo Savaii"

Jan 31

INTERVIEW WITH THE PRIME MINISTER

This is the English translation of the interview with Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, conducted by the Savali Newspaper on 31/1/15.

 



Question: The Government has received a lot of flak recently from one of the local newspapers, regarding the Government’s written replies in Parliament to the reports of the Auditor and some Parliamentary Committees.  One such editorial alleges that the Government’s replies do nothing more than rubbish these reports.  What do you say to that?

Answer: The debates in Parliament are broadcast live on Radio 2AP, so everyone who tunes in can listen to the real reports and the real-time exchanges taking place in Parliament. There’s no big secret in what we MPs talk about.

So I’m glad you’ve brought up that question.  Despite my busy schedule, I always make time to answer the media’s questions and correct some of the misleading write-ups that emerge from time to time.

In Parliament, twice the Opposition’s leadership intervened and proposed that we should adopt the responses as having been read, as they have all read the written answers and they were fully satisfied.  The Speaker and I both rejected the first intervention because the rest of the country was listening on the radio and it’s important that they are kept informed and hear their Government’s responses.  Several hours later, at 9pm the same evening, a senior member of the Opposition intervened for a second time with a proposal, appealing to our good sense of understanding that since they were satisfied with the Government’s positive responses, to adopt the rest of the 51 answers or replies that were yet to be read out.  I again reminded Parliament that since these replies were issues of public interest, we must give the country the opportunity to listen to the rest of the Government’s written replies.  But I also felt that we should defer to a decision by Parliament, through a motion that was passed subsequently reflecting the consensus of the House.

The feedback from the public was very positive and encouraging for the Government.

The one, lone, contra opinion by a contemptuous editor typically illustrates the famous idiom that empty vessels make the most noise.
The public may still obtain copies of the full Government replies from the office of the Legislative Assembly.

Question: Another allegation is that the Government replies have thoroughly ignored the Auditor’s report and the relevant Parliamentary committee report.  Is there any basis to this accusation?

Answer: The comprehensive written replies from Government provide strong, undisputed evidence of the Government’s support for the Auditor’s Report and the report of the relevant Committee of Parliament.  There are 51 very detailed and clear responses.  These responses were further supported by the leaders of the Tautua opposition party whose speeches were broadcast live for all to hear and who asked that we immediately adopt all responses, providing added confirmation of Government’s genuine respect for the statutory functions of the Audit Controller’s Report and the reports from the Parliament Subcommittees.

In fact, the ultimate objectives of Government, the Audit Office Reports, and the reports of the Parliament subcommittees are one and the same, that is – to enhance Government’s Accountability and Transparency in the discharge of its many different responsibilities and service delivery.

Question: Another serious allegation is that there is no Parliament deliberation on the Government’s replies.  Is that true?

Answer: All deliberations in the House must observe the Standing Orders of the house.  These standing orders were not created in a vacuum.  They were established to ensure order in the debates and to avoid long-winded, repetitive interactions that serve no useful purpose other than creating chaos and confusion in the House.

Numerous opportunities are available to both sides of the House when a report is referred for the House’s Subcommittees’ investigations.  Where necessary, CEOs are summoned to answer queries and give evidence and on many occasions I have directed CEOs to attend the committees’ deliberations when called.  Moreover, the Committees are at liberty to take up discussions on any issue they raise with the relevant Minister. When a report of the committee comes back to the House, every member has a chance to address the report.

At the last session, I reminded the House that they had the Budget for six weeks to study and the leader of the Opposition kept talking about the supplementary budget of “ten plus millions” of tala when it was only eight million tala.  This shows the great difficulty the Government faces, of having to run the country and also educate the Opposition.

Question: What is your explanation of the ’10 percent retention’ and ’10 percent withholding tax’ – mentioned in media reports.

Answer: They have similar explanations.  These are funds being held by Government, that belong to a company under contract to Government.  The Government might decide to utilize these funds to make up any shortfall in workmanship (10% retention) or to offset a higher tax liability (withholding tax).  The funds are company funds, not the Government’s.

For example, if the construction of a road is estimated at one million tala, then Government will hold on to $100,000 for one year as assurance against poor workmanship.  When the 12 months is over and the Government sees that the road is in good order and of quality construction, then the $100,000 is refunded to the company.  Remember, it’s their own money.

The Government encourages as many contractors as possible to take up these projects because the more bids received for these works, the lower the costs to Government.  When the market is healthy and competitive, the contractors are often operating at lower profit thresholds, and many of them request to withdraw their ‘retention’ in these times of financial hardship. Many businesses in Samoa are still developing, and some contractors are still struggling.  It is why this assistance is given – to withdraw the ‘$100,000′ earlier – so to have the good sense to share and look ahead is the commonsense of a wise person.  Conversely, to be inflexible when it makes sense not to be, is to have the commonsense of a fool.

It is the duty of the responsible Minister to monitor, carefully with caution, the company or contractor on the progress of the work, whether it’s done properly and up to standard. This monitoring also determines any decision to withdraw part of the 10 percent retention or not.

If the government were to hold firmly to every single policy in place, there would probably only be one, maybe two road contractors in Samoa and the cost to improve and develop this important infrastructure would be far, far greater than it is right now.

Losing millions to save one sene?    Use your God-given commonsense.

Question: It is also alleged that whenever the Government is accused of wrongdoing, it hides behind biblical doctrines.  Is this true?

Answer: Wrong.  And ridiculous.

The preamble to the Constitution of the Government of Samoa speaks of our country being based on Christian beliefs and its Samoan culture.  Samoa is founded on God.  We do not copy preambles of the constitutions of other states, which provide for “Trust in God” only.  We are founded on God.  What could be stronger than that?

To invoke the doctrines of Christianity is exemplary. Any Samoan who is shy to invoke Christian principles or suggests that it’s bad practice, is telling us to ignore the very Christian foundation on which our Government is based.

Didn’t our Lord say that anyone who refrains from proclaiming His name publicly, He too will not proclaim him to His Father in Heaven?

The real objective of the allegation therefore is to turn Christian people’s attention deliberately away from the unchristian behaviour of bearing false witness against their neighbours.  How many times have we seen apology after apology in the media for deliberate misrepresentations and paying damages for court actions on proven deliberate defamation's?

Final Question: Can a subcommittee of Parliament sue Parliament if it is not happy with the way Parliament has handled its report?

Answer: Parliament has already faced this challenge, some twenty years ago, when a CEO of Government took Parliament to court over a report that was not, according to the CEO’s understanding of the Law, handled in a legal way by Parliament.

The resulting court decision confirmed that Parliament has the authority to set its own proceedings.  What Parliament decides as the best course of action to take, is the rightful prerogative of this supreme, law-making body that represents the people of Samoa.

And that concludes the interview between the Savali Newspaper and the Prime Minister, conducted at his home on Saturday 31st January 2015.

Author: Savali
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