Samoa Observer: The Attorney-General’s fall from grace

Samoan AG Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale.
Samoan Attorney-General Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale ... chosen to walk a path which has coincided with the trampling of Samoa’s 59-year-old constitution. Image: Anetone Sagaga/Samoa Observer

EDITORIAL: By the Samoa Observer’s editorial board

Amid a mountainload of work this week in the [Samoan] Attorney-General’s Office – as the caretaker government’s lawyers look over the constitution for ways to “delegitimise” Monday’s Parliament swearing-in of Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) party members – Attorney-General Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale still finds time to issue another press release accusing the Samoa Observer of misinformation and “attempting to control the narrative”.

Savalenoa didn’t agree with the story titled “A.G. seeks interim orders to stop new Govt. transition” which was published on the front page of the Wednesday, 26 May 2021, edition of the Samoa Observer.

The story reported on plans by the Attorney-General’s Office to go to the Supreme Court to stop the transition of the new government, as the office was of the view that the swearing-in ceremony of FAST party members conducted outside the Parliament chamber, but within its precinct, on Monday afternoon is illegal.

However, the Attorney-General said the story is misconstrued and her Office didn’t seek an interim order to stop “new government transition”.

Instead, Savalenoa, says her Office filed two applications in the Supreme Court on Monday and Tuesday this week to declare that “the FAST purported swearing in as unconstitutional and unlawful”, and an ex-parte notice of motion is “seeking interim orders to stay and suspend the legal effect of FAST purported swearing-in as it is unconstitutional and unlawful”.

So can an English teacher tell us the difference between our article reporting on “plans by the Attorney-General’s Office to go to the Supreme Court to stop the transition of the new government” and the overall goal of the two Supreme Court applications which the Attorney-General specifically makes reference to in her press release?

Isn’t the ultimate objective of both the Attorney-General’s office-filed applications for declaratory orders and an ex-parte notice of motion about stopping the FAST party headed by Fiame Naomi Mata’afa from forming government?

It is incredulous seeing Savalenoa getting so worked up over a newspaper article – when the judiciary of which she is part and partial of and swore an oath to protect – continues to be ridiculed and kicked around like a football by the very people she continues to report to and represent in Court.

At the end of the press release, the Attorney-General claims that the “misinformation” by the Samoa Observer is this newspaper’s “attempt to control the narrative of what is actually happening”.

The charge by Savalenoa that this newspaper is attempting to “control the narrative” of this week’s events is ridiculous, especially when millions around the world, thanks to social media and Samoa’s mainstream media (including this newspaper), saw how the caretaker government locked the Parliament in breach of the Supreme Court orders, in an attempt to stop the swearing-in of the XVII Legislative Assembly.

Can the Attorney-General tell us where she stands on the decision by the Head of State, His Highness Tuimaleali’ifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II, to overlook the Supreme Court’s orders in relation to the convening of the Parliament on Monday?

And was the Attorney-General privy to the decision by the Head of State to breach the order of the Supreme Court by suspending the convening of the XVII Parliament on Monday?

The honourable thing for Savalenoa to do a week or two ago, when it became obvious that the caretaker Prime Minister Tuila’epa Dr Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and Head of State would disregard the orders of the Supreme Court, was to resign, to not only protect the integrity of her office but to show citizens and the world that as a lawyer she cares about the rule of law and our democratic foundations.

But it has become obvious in the last week or so that she has chosen to walk a path which has coincided with the trampling of Samoa’s 59-year-old constitution – the very document that gives breath and life to her title and office as the Attorney-General of Samoa – and in the same vein witnessed the attacks on the Supreme Court and breaching of its orders without lifting a finger.

Attorney-General: how much more damage do our institutions that are key in the administration of justice in Samoa have to sustain before you step in and start upholding the constitution and the values it stands for in line with the responsibilities of your office?

But then we remind ourselves that we are not within the “secret whisper” circle with the caretaker Prime Minister, to afford ourselves the privilege of making judicial appointments such as the Chief Justice, and then turn around and cry wolf every time a court ruling goes against us and our interests.

Remember him talking during his press conference the other day of bringing in foreign judges because he didn’t trust the locally-constituted bench and accused them of favouritism?

It makes you wonder how much more does this country of under 200,000 people have to dance to Tuila’epa’s music simply because he didn’t like a court judgement.

There is no doubt that this constitutional crisis has left our judiciary battered and the long term-effect of the loss of public confidence in our courts and the rule of law will not augur for the future of this nation.

It is why the memo sent out by the Samoa Law Society on Wednesday –- which reminded all lawyers who are members of the society of their “fundamental duties” as practitioners of the law and as barristers and solicitors of the Supreme Court –- could not have come at a better time for the legal profession.

On the last page of the memo, the Samoa Law Society states in one of the paragraphs: “The danger of course, is that when the public is misinformed (inadvertently or otherwise) about the efficacy and value of the judicial process, the respect for the institution of the courts and the rule of law is lessened, and we are one step closer to anarchy and lawlessness.”

We continued to be in awe of the steadfastness of the Chief Justice, His Honour Satiu Sativa Perese and his justices as well as the judges of all levels of the courts in the face of adversity.

But the responsibility of upholding the rule of law does not just belong to His Honour and his justices as well as the judges and lawyers, but everyone who swore an oath to this nation, including the caretaker Prime Minister, the Head of State and the Attorney-General.

The Samoa Observer editorial on 28 May 2021. It has been republished here with permission.

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