Samoa’s Attorney-General declares FAST’s swearing-in ‘unconstitutional’

Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale, Samoa's Attorney-General
Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale, Samoa's Attorney-General ... cited a lack of “a number of key components” as the reason why her office did not recognise the swearing-in ceremony. Image: APR screenshot TVNZ

By Barbara Dreaver, TVNZ News Pacific correspondent

Samoa’s Attorney-General’s office is calling yesterday’s swearing-in ceremony of Samoa’s FAST Party unconstitutional and unlawful, and is preparing to file criminal and civil charges.

This comes after the party — locked out of Samoa’s Parliament yesterday when it was meant to be sworn in — held an ad-hoc ceremony outside the building under a marquee.

The ceremony saw FAST leader Fiame Naomi Mata’afa swear her oath as the incoming Prime Minister as the party held a one-seat majority to form a government. Fiame also named her cabinet.

FAST MPs were sworn in by the former Attorney-General and their own lawyer. It is not yet clear whether the ceremony would be officially recognised.

Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale, Samoa’s Attorney-General, cited a lack of “a number of key components” as the reason why her office did not recognise the ceremony.

“There are a number of key components for a swearing-in to be recognised in our constitution, one of which is that Parliament must sit, Parliament must be convened by the head of state and all of the members must be inside the chambers of parliament, not outside,” Savalenoa said.

Subject to civil, criminal proceedings
The Attorney-General’s office said all those involved would be subject to civil proceedings and criminal prosecutions, although this might take time.

“They will be made subject to the law. It is unacceptable to be seen to be taking, if you like, as a bloodless coup and the takeover of parliament without the proper procedures and constitutional requirements being met,” Savalenoa said.

The Attorney-General wanted the court to declare yesterday’s swearing-in illegal. The Chief Justice will hear that case on Thursday and decide whether Samoa has a new government or not.

Meanwhile, both FAST and HRPP continue to claim they are the legitimate government.

Caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi and his MPs of the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) refused to be sworn in yesterday.

Tuilaepa called FAST’s ad-hoc ceremony “treason” and said it was “law-breaking in its highest degree”.

Constitutional expert Dr Bill Hodge, a just-retired professor of law from the University of Auckland, agreed the swearing was not properly done under the constitution. However, he said it did not amount to treason.

Legitimate vote of the people
“If your intent is to uphold the constitution you cannot be a traitor. Ultimately what the constitution must be about is the fulfillment of the legitimate vote of the people,” he said.

Under Samoa’s constitution, Parliament had to meet within 45 days — yesterday — of the election.

But, late on the night of May 22, the head of state cancelled the scheduled sitting of Parliament. He did not give a reason for the decision, and said he would make his reasons known “in due course”. The Supreme Court ruled against the declaration.

After the Supreme Court ruling, Speaker Leaupepe Toleafoa Fa’afisi, a member of incumbent HRPP, announced the house would not convene until the Head of State proclaimed it was allowed. He ordered a lockout of Parliament, which prevented FAST from entering parliament yesterday.

With those circumstances in mind, FAST were just doing their best to abide by the rules, Dr Hodge said.

Republished with permission.

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