SAMOA LEADER’S LETTER CALLED ‘BRILLIANT’, ‘DISGRACE’

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SAMOA LEADER’S LETTER CALLED ‘BRILLIANT’, ‘DISGRACE’ Tuilaepa diatribe elicits outrage, admiration

By Aigaletaulele’a F. Tauafiafi

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Nov. 14, 2010) - Contrasting views have emerged from two opposition MPs over the ongoing saga between Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and New Zealand journalist John Campbell.

In his latest letter to Mr. Campbell, words like "bull" and "idiot" are used by the Prime Minister to refer to Campbell and his employer.

He wrote, "Please note I am signing this message and not by some other kind of idiot. Only idiots recognize and emphasize the importance of other idiots."

He referred to Campbell’s excuse of their network having a small budget as "the biggest bull" of "quite a lot of bulls in various shapes and colors," he has seen in his career as a politician.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s invitation for an interview in Samoa on 16 December has been rejected by Campbell who described Tuilaepa’s letter as "bizarre."

A Campbell Live spokeswoman told Sunday News yesterday the proposed date was the last night the show airs this year, meaning "we wouldn’t be able to run the interview until January 24" (when the show restarts).

Meanwhile, the Sunday Samoan canvassed views from opposition MPs on the topic. The result raised a few eyebrows.

In the one corner is Gagaemauga No.2 MP Levaopolo Talatonu.

"His attitude [PM Tuilaepa] is a disgrace," said Levaopolo.

"He must know that he’s the country’s spokesperson and therefore should be responsible to maintain the respect and prestige of that station. But his attitude and response towards John Campbell has made a mockery of this country to the international community."

But, four-term opposition colleague, Falealupo’s Aeau Peniamina disagrees.

He told the Sunday Samoan Tuilaepa’s handling of the Campbell episode has been nothing short of brilliant.

"I have to take my hat off to him," said A’eau.

"Tactically it’s a brilliant piece of political maneuvering. It’s obvious he dodged the questions but in this particular instance that was the perfect option to take because he isolated the damage to himself personally, leaving the country out of the incident."

He said if the Prime Minister had answered Campbell’s questions when ambushed at 11 p.m. at a car park, "I suspect it would have been an international embarrassment because he wasn’t prepared. The impacts currently raging right now is much, much smaller and controllable than what would have happened if he did do the interview that night [October 26].

"For me I am fully convinced Tuilaepa is doing the right thing as it protects our country’s reputation by turning it into a personal vendetta by Campbell."

Levaopolo vented his disappointment to the international media when interviewed by Radio New Zealand.

"I told Radio NZ our Prime Minister’s attitude was ‘disgraceful and that he should have treated the media with a lot more respect,’ he said.

"Bottom-line for me is that he should have answered the questions and dealt with it in an honorable and respectful manner. If he didn’t want to answer it then say ‘no comment’ and arrange another date. What has now resulted is an international incident that’s made our country look like its run by a pack of idiots."

He said he couldn’t understand why Tuilaepa didn’t answer the question [where has the millions of tsunami assistance gone?], "unless he was trying to hide something. Once something is not right people tend to sidetrack the question and drag it onto other issues and that’s what’s happening here."

Although the two opposition MPs differed in their assessment of the Tuilaepa versus Campbell bout, they did find common ground to agree on a number of issues and indirect impacts.

"The Campbell thing is only one of a long list of failings by the PM. If it affected only him personally then that’s fine, but the country is suffering as well."

One example Levaopolo told Sunday Samoan is increase in the price of sugar.

"His personal mud-slinging war with Bainimarama meant the country no longer imported sugar from Fiji. This is imported from Australia and other countries with increased freight and other costs which caused the hike in sugar prices. It’s time for him to step down."

Aeau Peniamina agreed.

"In all, he has become too powerful," he said.

Aeau who was HRPP Secretary in 1985 and helped draft the party’s constitution with Fiame Naomi said, "In his own party he is the only voice making decisions and bringing in initiatives. He’s the leader of HRPP’s national component, and the leader of Caucus. He is the leader in many sports organizations; he’s even the leader for the Fa’afafine Association.

"When you get to the stage Tuilaepa is right now, any idea he comes up with can be turned to reality. It’s a level of power that’s very dangerous because it’s close to absolute.

"It makes it hard for him to be objective about projects, initiatives and see what the real benefits are for the people and public interest?

"I firmly agree that the best thing for Samoa is for him to step down", said Aeau.

Another common point highlighted by the duo is the lack of support for the Prime Minister from other HRPP members.

"What amazes me is where are the other members of HRPP who can lend a hand," asked Levaopolo.

"Where were they during the Campbell episode? One of them should have fronted this so Tuilaepa is kept at arms lengths away from the action. But I do know that most of them are just sitting there looking dumb and stupid and by being stupid and saying nothing they have allowed Samoa to be an international mockery."

More direct to the silence from HRPP MPs was Aeau.

"They are enjoying all the perks and for many, they are not used to it, so why rock the boat and do risky things when you can sit back, relax and enjoy the perks?

To right the wrongs, Levaopolo has some advice for the Prime Minister.

"If I were him I would go on TV and apologize to the country about my attitude. You know whatever is the palagi’s attitude it doesn’t matter because the palagi is not a Samoan, and not a matai. Tuilaepa has no excuse because he’s a matai.

"He needs to learn from leaders such as John Key on how to handle the media. John Key and other leaders treat the media with respect, that’s how a leader should behave."

Prime Minister Tuilaepa in a previous interview had always maintained the answers to Campbell’s alleged missing tsunami funds have been provided.

"Nothing is missing. What’s crazy about this whole episode, the report he was given contains all the answers and that’s what makes this whole thing so silly."

But Campbell’s is after answers to the following questions: Why do some people in Samoa still have no running water? Why should they have to bathe by the roadside? Why do some houses have dirt floors and no bathrooms, kitchens or toilets when they had these facilities before the tsunami? Samoa isn’t a third world country but many people appear to be living in third world conditions despite the Samoan Government receiving millions of dollars in aid?"

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