Samoa Observer

APIA, Samoa (Nov. 17, 2010) – By the time you pick up this edition of your newspaper, chances are you are probably well informed about the rift between Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and SUNGO.

SUNGO by the way stands for Samoa Umbrella of Non Governmental Organisation.

Formed in 1997 to help vulnerable groups, the organisation also set out to "provide input into government policy, Community Based Organisations (CBOs) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) on cross-cutting issues."

They are roles SUNGO has proudly performed since it came into existence.

But the organisation has hit a snag.

At the beginning of the month, it received a letter it did not want. Dated 1 November 2010, the letter in Samoan was written by Prime Minister Tuilaepa.

"It is my opinion you should look for a land, there are a lot of land owned by the Catholic Church at Malololelei so you can build a house there and vacate the government land for other organisations," Tuilaepa’s letter translates.

"There are other organisations who are trying to survive and have been crying to me but you are too big, independent and anti-establishment, you are no longer skinny like you used to be."

Obviously, the letter writer is unhappy. What made him angry he did not say. He was adamant, however, that the instructions are obeyed.

And to show who really is the boss; he ordered the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Faumuina Tiatia Liuga, to "proceed and ensure that SUNGO is evacuated by 30th November 2010."

Well today is the 17th of November and SUNGO effectively has 13 days to get out. But what if SUNGO cannot find a new home? Will the all mighty Prime Minister send in the police to throw them out? Will we find SUNGO operating from under a pulu tree at the Eleele Fou?

SUNGO Chief Executive, Roina Vavatau admits the location of their office has been an outstanding issue.

"We formally requested the government through the Samoa Land Corporation of our intention to buy the land over two years ago," said Mrs Vavatau.

"We received no response. Our Board sent a delegation to Faumuina Liuga with no success."

Two months ago, the Board sent another representation.

"I guess we now finally got our answer," said Ms Vavatau.

As of Monday this week, spokesman Mailo Sio Pesamino said SUNGO has met with the Prime Minister and they are awaiting a response.

Meanwhile, Ms Vavatau suspected her appearance on Campbell Live during which she called Tuilaepa a dictator and Samoa a one party state might have something to do with the letter.

Mailo was quick to distance SUNGO from Ms Vavatau’s opinion (see story), which we find odd and unusual.

How can you separate Ms Vavatau’s opinion from SUNGO? Aren’t they one and the same? Is SUNGO scared of the Prime Minister?

Ms Vavatau doubts Tuilaepa will change his mind.

"The country marched in support of PASS and it failed to change his mind. Church leaders petitioned a stop to the Casino bill and that failed too. So for 11 people [Board of SUNGO] we’re not going to turn his head at all – I’m sure," she said.

What’s more, Tuilaepa appears to have developed quite a disliking of SUNGO over the years. Back on 27 October 2009, he wrote another scathing letter attacking Ms Vavatau and SUNGO President Va’asilifiti Moelagi. Written in Samoan, he accused them of using SUNGO to promote themselves.

Judging from his letters lately, Prime Minister Tuilaepa has become quite bitter. The tone in his words is venomous and he comes across as a bully.

What SUNGO needs to do is take the eviction letter as a challenge and find a new home as soon as possible.

As an organisation independent of government, this is the perfect opportunity to prove it can stand on its own. Otherwise, it will continue to bow to the all powerful Prime Minister every time he lifts his little finger.

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