“Red Flags and Warning Signs from a Tyrant’s Playbook” – Fiame on HRPP Move to Dismantle Judiciary

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12 July 2021, Apia Samoa.  In response to recent developments in Samoa’s ongoing political crisis, the leader of Faatuatua i Le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST), Honorable Fiame Naomi Mataafa, has issued a strong statement condemning the caretaker government’s latest move of filing a formal complaint against members of the Samoa Judiciary, calling Honorable Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi’s actions “red flags and warning signs taken from a Tyrant’s playbook”.

Signed by Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi as party secretary, the Human Rights Projection Party (HRPP) last week submitted a letter of complaint to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) claiming the Chief Justice and members of the Samoa Judiciary were “on a mission to ‘oust’ HRPP from being in government”.

This afternoon, the leader of FAST and Samoa’s Prime Minister Elect with a majority of 26 parliamentary seats following the April 9th general elections, has called out the Caretaker Prime Minister Hon Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi for moving to dismantle the Judiciary and Constitution of Samoa. 

“Tuilaepa and the caretaker government is now moving to take full control of the Judiciary using unfounded claims so they can suspend the Chief Justice and give notice to the judiciary”, stated Fiame. “These are the red flags and warning signs taken from a Tyrant’s playbook, as he attempts to move us to a dictatorship and the absolute rule by one”. 

The Judiciary Service Commission met this afternoon to discuss the HRPP complaint, in which serious allegations were made towards the Chief Justice and members of the Samoa Judiciary.  HRPP’s letter of complaint to the JSC makes the following personal allegations toward Chief Justice Satiu Simativa Perese, which Fiame says are unfounded, politically motivated and without proper factual evidence;

“The Hounorable Chief Justice appears to be “incompetent” in the handling of our cases since the beginning of electoral petitions. His rulings (albeit with other Judges) do not appear to be in accordance with the law, basic legal principles and well established precedent. His Honour is unlikely to be familiar with the express exclusion of “faaSamoa” and giving of money during the period of election for the purpose of influencing a voter and may also lack a general understanding of the behavior of Samoan voters during an election period and life at village level”.

Fiame says the allegations are outrageous and politically motivated, and seems to prelude an attempt to use the Judicial Service Commission ‘JSC’ to suspend or remove the Chief Justice and Supreme Court Justices HRPP are not in favour of. 

Fiame and the FAST party say this latest move by Tuilaepa, is an attack on the Rule of Law intended to dismantle Samoa’s Constitution and prevent the Judiciary from undertaking its role of interpreting the law and keeping the Caretaker Government accountable.

“The attack on the Chief Justice is not only an attack on the Judiciary and Samoa’s court system, but also a direct attack on Samoa’s Constitution and the laws which protect, guide and allow us to live together in peace. In short it is a direct assault on the Rule of Law as it operates in Samoa. Remove the law and the Courts and we are left with no protection from a Dictator and his tyranny, where one man decides how we live, and how we die”, states the leader of the FAST party. 

“Under these challenging times, I and the FAST Party proclaim our continuing support of the rule of law and our Judiciary as the last bastion and our nations last hope to defend and restore our democracy, our freedom and our country’s dignity”.

Fiame says the attack on the Judiciary is the last desperate attempt by the Caretaker Prime Minister in his string of unconscionable and dirty tactics applied since the announcement of Samoa’s official general election results on the 16th of April 2021 – all to avoid the convening of Parliament.

“Aua o la e iloa e Tuilaepa, e tauaofia loa le Palemene, maua loa ma le iuga o ia”

The people of Samoa have had front row seats watching the worst part of its nation’s history unfolding before them in a dramatic set of events since its April 9th general elections. The night before Tuala Tevaga Ponifasio announced his decision to join FAST, giving them the one seat majority of Parliament, the announcement of the additional woman’s seat was made to equalize Parliament at 26-26. On the eve of a substantive Supreme Court hearing to decide the legality of the decision to add a 52nd Member of Parliament, the Head of State Tuimalealiifano Sualauvi II made an unexpected announcement for the nation to return to the polls and have fresh elections. When the Supreme Court handed down their decision to declare the HRPP’s 26th seat void, they also issued as part of their judgment, a reminder to the  to the Head of State that he needed to convene Parliament as required by Section 52 of Samoa’s Constitution, within 45 days of a general election. On the eve of Parliament convening, the Head of State issues another writ to suspend the convening of Samoa’s 17th Parliament until further notice. The Supreme Court met as a matter of urgency that Sunday 23rd March and on the same afternoon set down a judgment to uphold the original proclamation and set aside the writ to suspend Parliament as unlawful and without legal basis. On the same Sunday night, Parliament was stopped from convening through a public notice issued by Caretaker Speaker Hon Toleafoa Faafisi.

In Fiame’s statement, clarification is made on public allegations by Tuilaepa that she and Laauli were making direct contact with members of the Judiciary.

“I can say unequivocably that contrary to HRPP’s lies and mistruths, neither I nor La’auli nor any member of FAST has met with the Chief Justice or any other Supreme Court Judge, in secret or in private”, clarifies the Sao Faapito. 

“Let me further correct that lie and say this…unlike Tuilaepa who has personally visited the Court Complex at Mulinu’u attempting to speak to at least three sitting Supreme Court Judges (before the 17 May cases were decided), accompanied by others, and who has also sent his former MP’s to attempt to visit Judges in their private homes, to speak with them prior to Court hearings, we have not sought to undermine the Independence of the Judiciary in such an inappropriate manner”.

“This type of behaviour is outrageous and strikes at the heart of what is good, what is right and the conventions which are at the heart of our democracy”.

“No such meetings ever took place. This type of misinformation is absolutely consistent with the recent slurs on the reputation of La’auli, which we now find was a complete lie motivated by malice and assisted by the failure by journalists to independently check their facts…and seek and honour the truth”.

Fiame says the stance now taken by HRPP that the Judiciary are bias in their court rulings over election petitions and other matters brought by FAST is a childish response to undermine the Judiciary without evidence, as if to just throw their cry-baby complaints to the JSC, and expect the Commission to respond in their favour.

“Is this the attitude and behaviour of people you wish to lead you?” 

Fiame says the evidence and legal principles advanced by FAST in their cases is a reflection of the depth of hard work and research put in by the Party and their legal team.  She also questions the timing of the move, on the eve of the substantive Court of Appeal hearing scheduled for this Friday 16 July 2021. 

“As with court systems in all functioning democracies, the findings and subsequent decisions by the courts are based on evidence and legal principles. Where the Courts have ruled in favour of FAST cases, are based on the merits of legal principles and evidence provided, and not any bias on the part of the court”.

It is concerning that the caretaker is now seeking to suspend or remove the Honourable Chief Justice whilst the sitting of the Court of Appeal is pending this Friday 16 July on highly important matters such as the legality of the swearing in of FAST members on 24 May and the proclamation by Head of State to convene Parliament of 20 May and the legitimate party to form and lead the Government of Samoa.

The FAST party leader and Prime Minister Elect addresses the misuse of powers by the Samoa Head of State, with three of His Highness’ proclamations already ruled unlawful by the Courts over the last three months of the political crisis.

“Tuilaepa and HRPP supporters and their advisers in their media releases, have stated that the Head of State is above the law and possesses powers to direct everything and everyone,  including the Police, in a manner which is not authorised by the Constitution and the only protection which you and I have is through our country’s Courts”. 

“Under the Constitution, the judiciary is the only legal body and the authority and power to interpret and render final pronouncements on the Constitution and the law in Samoa”.

Fiame again reminds that the people of Samoa expressed their will through their votes at the April 9th general election, where out of the 51 Legislative Assembly seats, FAST secured 25 and now holds a majority of 26.

“It is going on to four months now and Tuilaepa and the caretaker government and HRPP in their behaviour, continue to disregard the will of the people expressed through the general elections. They have instead blamed FAST and the Judiciary for their loss”. 

“The Constitution, founded by our forefathers almost 60 years ago, has never presented us with the magnitude of these problems because the problems created by Tuilaepa have been created because of his refusal to follow accepted conventions including the one that requires the loser of an election to leave office once the results are confirmed and where his party do not have the majority of votes in Parliament”.

Fiame says it is now clear that one of the intentions behind the 3 controversial bills rushed through and passed by Parliament last year, were to weaken the role of the Chief Justice and the Courts, and allow Tuilaepa as the Prime Minister to have his way in all things.

“Parliament has been prevented from sitting, and the Judiciary is the remaining and standing pillar left of our democracy that holds our last hope to defend our democracy”. 

Prior to recent amendments made through the three controversial bills, judges of the Court could only be removed by a two thirds majority of Parliament.

S68(5)  A Judge of the Supreme Court shall not be removed from office, except by the Head of State on an address of the Legislative Assembly carried by not less than two-thirds of the total number of Members of Parliament (including vacancies), praying for his or her removal from office on the ground of stated misbehavior or of infirmity of body
or mind.

Under the newly amended Laws, the removal of the Chief Justice still requires a two thirds majority of Parliament, however, other Supreme Court judges can now be removed by the Head of State on the recommendation of the JSC.

S79(4) The Head of State may, acting on the advice of the Judiciary Service Commission and focusing on standards within the Act to provide for conditions of tenure, suspend and removal of office from: 

(a) Judge of the Supreme Court as provided for in Article 67(7); and
(b) the Senior Judge of the Supreme Court as provided for in Article
68(2); and
(c) a Judge of the Subordinate Court

The suspension of the Chief Justice, however, can be done by the Head of State acting on the advice of the Prime Minister.

S67(5) The Head of State, acting on the advice of the Prime Minister may at any time when the Legislative Assembly is not meeting suspend the Chief Justice from his or her office and such suspension shall continue in force until the end of the next ensuing session and no longer.

As tensions between the two political parties and its supporters continue to elevate, Fiame calls on Samoa to maintain peace.

“As the country continues under the pandemic State of Emergency, it is my earnest and constant prayer that we all remain calm so as not to provide an excuse for the further abuse of Emergency Orders and unnecessary restrictions on trade and personal liberties by the caretaker government. But for us all to continue to protect, defend and uphold the rule of law and the democratic principles that have steered our nation well over the last 59 years as an independent country, and await the final decisions in matters which will define us for the next five years”.

The Court of Appeal has set down this Friday 16th April for the substantive hearing to once and for all decide on the issue of Parliament convening. A special mention of the case was called Tuesday afternoon, where the Court has ordered for all parties to Samoa’s political crisis be served including the Head of State, Caretaker Prime Minister, Caretaker Deputy Prime Minister and all elected HRPP Members of Parliament, as well as the Caretaker Speaker and Clerk of the Legislative Assembly.


Sina Retzlaff