SAMOAN CUSTOM NO EXCUSE FOR TAITO FIELD

Commentary

By Mata’afa Keni Lesa APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, August 5, 2009) - The court has spoken. Its verdict on the fate of besieged politician Taito Phillip Field took a while but when it was delivered, it was unanimous and clear.

The former Cabinet Minister was found guilty not once but 11 times of accepting bribes in return for immigration services. And there’s more. He was convicted of 15 obstruction of justice charges.

Which means allegations of corruption against Taito have been proven and a possible jail term now lies in waiting.

Delivered in Auckland on Monday night, the verdict was received here with a touch of sadness. Why? While Taito was an MP for a constituency in New Zealand, his achievements made him a household name in this country.

Our people were proud of him. Very proud. What’s more, he is a respected matai of Manase, holding a title held in very high regard on that part of Savai’i. But what a fall from grace, what a turnaround in fortunes.

Hailed as one of the highest achieving Samoans in New Zealand, Taito emerged from obscurity in 1994 as a new MP full of promises. He ascended new heights for the Pacific community becoming the first Pacific Islander MP in a country where Pacific people were regarded more as laborers’ and overstayers.

But his fortune turned bitter-sweet in 2004. Nearly five years of trial ended on Monday when the jury delivered its verdict. And with it, Taito was declared a criminal.

His relatives were in tears, his children were devastated and the people of this country were sad.

A contentious issue during the Taito trial was the Samoan concept of lafo. There were arguments and counter arguments. Aspects of our culture were questioned. In the end it was not enough to save the former Cabinet Minister who had always maintained his innocence. He had always argued he was merely trying to help. Maybe he did.

Lessons from this Taito affair are aplenty. Depending on where you look in from, there are lessons in transparency and good governance among others.

The verdict goes to show no one is above the law. Whether you’re a Cabinet Minister, Member of Parliament or a history-making individual, the law does not discriminate. There are no grey areas. There is black and there is white. Period.

What’s worse about Taito’s convictions are the charges of perverting justice in which he has been found guilty of. Any conviction is bad but one where an individual deliberately tries to pervert justice is an extremely serious matter. In a country like New Zealand, that’s where jail terms are called for.

So will Taito be jailed? Let’s wait and see.

Meanwhile, the court of public opinion in Samoa about this case will continue for weeks, possibly months to come. Was Taito corrupt for helping people who needed help? Is accepting lafo bribery? Did the Thai people he helped take advantage of him?

These are some of the questions that will continue to be debated.

But in light of the verdict, Catherine Masters, of the New Zealand Herald, summed up quite well.

She wrote, "When you help people who are so desperate… human nature is to want to repay in some way and when the favour is something that has affected a person’s very future, the need to pay back is very high indeed."

"But as an MP - where he swore an oath to uphold the law - and long-term New Zealand resident, surely Taito should have known better, to not swap tiling for work permits?"

"In New Zealand, though, when you’re an MP and work permits are involved, this is corruption."

What do you think? Tell us!

Mata’afa Keni Lesa writes for the Samoa Observer

Samoa Observer: www.samoaobserver.ws/ Copyright � 2009 Samoa Observer. All Rights Reserved

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