SAMOA'S TOFILAU DIES

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By Michael Field

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (March 20, 1999 - Agence France-Presse)---Former Samoan Prime Minister Tofilau Eti Alesana, who until November last year was the Pacific's longest serving head of government, died in Apia Friday at the age of 74 after a series of illnesses.

Tofilau grimly hung on to office through severe illness for several years until handing over the reins of government to his deputy last November. New Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi kept him in the Cabinet.

Tofilau was the last of Samoa's leaders who began their political service under the New Zealand administration that ended in 1962. He was a co-founder of the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), Samoa's first political party and became prime minister in 1982.

Born in American Samoa in 1924 and named Aualamalefalelima Alesana, he was the son of missionaries who had served the London Missionary Society in New Guinea.

He wrote he was brought up in a "religious environment." When he was six his father was transferred to the Malua Theological College, headquarters of what is now the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa.

In 1947 he moved to his mother's family in Savai'i, acquiring the talking chief title Va‘aelua.

In James Sutter's book "The Samoans; A Global Family" he wrote that he needed the counsel of a wife. He looked for one, and found Pitolua To'omata. They had 14 children.

In 1957 as Luamanuvae Eti he entered the Legislative Council and a year later became Health Minister. Between 1958 and 1960 he was a member of the constitutional committee and signed the convention set up the Independent State of Western Samoa.

In 1966 police arrested "one Va‘aelua Eti " on two charges of theft. He was fined two pounds and two shillings in what had been a minor affair, more to do with village politics over straying cattle than any personal gain.

Years later he was to deny that it was him but in a mark of the bitterness that afflicts Samoa's politics his police record disappeared from police files and re-emerged in the pages of the Samoa Observer and was tabled in Parliament by Tuiatua.

"I have never stolen anything in my life because I am a son of a church minister," Tofilau told Parliament.

In 1979 when he joined Va‘ai Kolone to form HRPP its sole aim was to overthrow Prime Minister Tupuola Efi, now Opposition Leader, Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese.

In 1982 HRPP won power with Va'ai as prime minister. Claims of bribery and corruption against Va‘ai were proved in court and Tupuola returned as leader until December 1982 when HRPP managed to defeat the budget and Tofilau became prime minister.

"My political philosophy is based on democratic principles," he wrote. "It is my wish that this philosophy will work hand-in-hand harmoniously with the customs and traditions of the Samoan people. Our dream is to live in liberty, based on Christian principles without prejudice, oppression or anything that could curb the progress which is envisioned by free people everywhere."

As leader he launched a period of "national sacrifice" to restructure the economy, followed by infrastructure development. Two cyclones and a crippling blight of the major taro crop frustrated his efforts, events that nearly crippled the Samoan economy.

He imposed a goods and services tax that led to protest marches.

His government was frequently accused of corruption with government contracts often going to HRPP ministers and supporters.

Tofilau introduced universal suffrage, replacing chiefly matai suffrage, and in 1991 extended the term of a government from three years to five.

"I regard Western Samoa as the most stable nation in the Pacific region," he said.

In his later years Tofilau became a fundamentalist and once told a prayer meeting that he had been to heaven. He said once there he saw green mountains, a blue sea and children singing.

"And then I said 'Please God, take me. Take me there.'"

Tofilau in later years spent a lot of time seeking medical treatment in New Zealand.

"Useful leaders who could have made considerable contributions to the country and community, have died prematurely due to the quality of the health services available in Samoa," he said.

Michael J Field, Agence France-Presse, Auckland, New Zealand Tel: (64 21) 688-438; Fax: (64 21) 694-035; E-Mail: afp.nz@clear.net.nz Website: http://www.afp.com/english/

SAMOA MOURNS DEATH OF FORMER PRIME MINISTER, TOFILAU ETI ALESANA

APIA, Samoa (March 22, 1999 - PACNEWS)---Tuesday has been declared a public holiday by the Samoan Government in honor of former Prime Minister Tofilau Eti Alesana, who passed away Friday morning after a long illness. He was 74.

Tofilau was Samoa's longest serving Prime Minister. He resigned last November because of ill health.

Secretary to the Prime Minister's Office, Va‘asatia Poloma Komiti, said Tofilau's body would lie in state for two hours tomorrow.

"This is an opportunity for all those wishing to pay their respects to Honorable Tofilau, to do so. " Floral tributes will be accepted there," said Va‘asatia.

A state funeral service will be held at the prayer center, Fa‘avae I Le Atua Samoa (Samoa is founded on God), on Mt. Vaea tomorrow. Tofilau's body will be taken to his home island of Savai‘i on the Lady Naomi, the country's newest inter-island ferry, with a police patrol boat as escort. He will be buried in the afternoon.

Tofilau's nephew, Tauese Sunia, Governor of neighboring American Samoa, flew to Apia shortly after receiving news of the death.

Tofilau came to power in December 1982 and was forced out of office in a vote of no confidence led by Parliamentarians from his own Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP). They were unhappy about their exclusion from Cabinet.

He returned to power in the 1988 general elections. Tofilau led his party to a win and did not lost a general election since. He dominated power to such an extent that HRPP now holds an unprecedented two-thirds majority in the House.

He was also the sole survivor of the first Samoan Cabinet, picked in 1959 in the lead up to Independence in 1962, when he was Minister of Health.

The former Prime Minister was credited for major infrastructure developments in Samoa over the last decade.

Economically, under his leadership, widespread tax reforms were introduced, especially the extension of the Value Added Goods and Services Tax (VAGST).

Several controversial measures were also implemented, including the introduction of universal suffrage to a country where previously only chiefs (matai) were allowed to vote in elections.

COOK ISLANDS PRIME MINISTER HENRY AMONG FOREIGN DIGNITARIES ATTENDING TOFILAU SERVICES

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (March 21, 1999 - Cook Islands Public Information Office)---Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Henry departed noon Sunday for Apia, Samoa, to attend the funeral services for Tofilau Eti Alesana, former Prime Minister of Samoa, who died Friday.

Sir Geoffrey will return via Auckland tomorrow evening. He will be accompanied by Chief of Staff Temu Okotai.

Others from the international community attending the services include Prime Minister Jenny Shipley, Minister for Foreign Affairs Don McKinnon, and Opposition Leader Helen Clarke from New Zealand and, from Australia, Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer.

By courtesy of the New Zealand government, the Cook Islands delegation will fly to Apia on the Orion aircraft, based in Rarotonga on a surveillance mission.

From Apia to Auckland, the delegation will accompany Mrs. Shipley on her government aircraft.

Prime Minister Henry and Temu Okotai returned late Saturday evening from

Penrhyn following several days in the Northern Islands Group working with the communities and Island Councils on devolution and related matters.

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