Samoa MP’s ‘Joke’ About New Party No Laughing Matter: Fonotoe

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Samoa MP’s ‘Joke’ About New Party No Laughing Matter: Fonotoe Deputy PM says Tuu‘u has made no formal efforts to leave HRPP

By Sophie Budvietas and Jasmine Netzler

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, March 2, 2014) – Acting Prime Minister, Fonotoe Pierre Lauofo, has cautioned Siumu’s Member of Parliament, Tuu’u Anasi’i Leota, against making jokes that are not funny.

"It is certainly not a funny joke," Fonotoe said.

"Maybe it is funny to him but it is not funny, nor is it funny to everybody else."

Fonotoe issued the warning during an interview with the Sunday Samoan on Friday when the Acting Prime Minister’s opinion was sought on claims by Tuu’u that he had been appointed the leader of a new political party.

Tuu’u has since backtracked, according to media reports, saying the comments he made in reference to a new party were made in jest. "What I told the media on the day that they turned up for the Tautua Party’s press conference last week was all in jest," Tuu’u is quoted as saying by the Newsline Newspaper.

"But I was surprised when it was printed in a newspaper." Tuu’u did not name the newspaper. However, it was the Sunday Samoan who broke the news last Sunday with a front page story titled "New political party is being formed – Tuu’u." The Sunday Samoan’s story was not from the press conference Tuu’u is referring to.

Instead, the story was based on Tuu’u’s response to questions from the Sunday Samoan. The Member of Parliament hand wrote his answers and handed them over himself at the Apia Park during the Marist Sevens. A copy of the piece of paper with his hand writing is on the front page.

[PIR editor’s note: Talamua reported that DPM Fonotoe called on local and international media to stop promoting the story about a new political party as it had no merit.]

On Tuesday, Tuu’u was again interviewed by the Samoa Observer at the Tofilau Eti Alesana Building, where he spoke briefly about plans for the new party. It was during that interview where he challenged Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi.

The interview was recorded. Asked yesterday if he was serious about what Newsline quoted him as saying, Tuu’u declined to comment. He, however, said that he took his "appointment" by other members of the H.R.P.P. party seriously, which is why he confirmed the reports about a new party to the Sunday Samoan when he was asked. The Siumu M.P. gave the names of the two H.R.P.P members who made the "appointment." Neither of them could be contacted for a comment yesterday.

On Friday, Acting Prime Minister Fonotoe said that even if Tuu’u was joking about setting up a new political party; he couldn't see the humour in it.

"Well maybe it was a joke right from the beginning…we don’t know, I don’t know," said Fonotoe. "It is certainly not a funny joke, maybe it is funny to him but… it is not funny, nor is it funny to everybody else."

The Acting Prime Minister said one thing was for sure and that was Tuu’u had not given any notice to the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) of his intentions to leave the Party.

"Nor has he given any notice to the Speaker pursuant to the Standing Orders of the House," Fonote said. "So I don’t know – it seems clear that…the time he made the statement that he was leaving and forming an new party that he was joking."

Fonotoe said the point was that, if a member wishes to leave a party, that is his own prerogative.

"If he chooses to leave the Party, you know he may leave the Party of his own accord," he said. "But he must abide by the laws governing party hopping, changing parties." Asked if he had discussed the issue with Tuilaepa, Fontoe said no. "Well, we have not discussed the issue but just wait for the return of the Prime Minister and we will see what he decides on," he said. "At this stage it is all I can say."

Tuilaepa is scheduled to return from New York tomorrow. Talks about the formation of a new party comes after growing unhappiness among H.R.P.P. members about the performance of the Minister of Finance, Faumuina Tiatia Liuga. The unhappy members want him to be removed from Cabinet over the handling of a number of issues they are not happy with.

Among them is his handling of the construction of the Fugalei Market, his new office at the S.N.P.F. Plaza and revelations about "corrupt practises" at the Samoa Land Corporation when he was the Minister there.

This is not the first time members of the H.R.P.P. have asked Prime Minister Tuilaepa for the Minister to be removed. Last year, Tuu’u was among members of the H.R.P.P. who wrote to the Prime Minister to sack Faumuina. In the letter, they detailed 18 allegations of wrong doing against the Minister. Asked if Cabinet is likely to revisit the Faumuina issue, Fonotoe said they would have to wait until the Prime Minister returns.

"I’m holding the fort at the moment, so certainly no such decision has been brought to my attention," he said. He said any decision to remove Faumunina from the Party would be a matter for the Prime Minister and the H.R.P.P. caucus.

"The H.R.P.P. is just the same as any other organisation there will be issues and at times that party members… don’t all agree on a single issue, they all have different views, that is just a normal thing." Fonotoe also reassured that the H.R.P.P. is strong.

"There is nothing serious happening in the Party…everything is still in order and there is nothing really serious going on," he said.

"But you know, I think before the Prime Minister left he had already made some statements on the radio about the issue. I think he has given an answer to an extent. He has addressed the issue on the media, so I guess that is it."

Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister rejected claims there were frictions within the H.R.P.P. He also reiterated that the H.R.P.P. caucus has decided on the future of the Minister of Finance.

"This thing is not new," Tuilaepa said. "We’ve already met about this." During the meeting in question, held last year, Tuilaepa said "only three voted differently, wanting him to resign. Everyone else wanted him to continue and that’s how it is."

He added: "There is nothing wrong [within our party]. We had a party last week and everyone was there except for these two who are still angry. They still don't have the heart to forgive." Asked who the two members are, he said: "I won’t tell you who they are."

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