A war of words between Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and two of his biggest online critics has broken out in cyber space.
The heated exchange follows Tuilaepa’s decision to attack Lawyer and Government critic, Maua Faleauto, and self-proclaimed “private investigative blogger”, Dennis A. Smith, during an interview with the government-owned Savali Newspaper, later released to the media.
Both Maua and Mr. Smith are not backing down, firing back at Prime Minister Tuilaepa with their own accusations. They say he is not someone to be trusted with the administration of the country.
The Prime Minister was asked about people who constantly criticise every decision the government makes when Maua Faleauto’s name popped up.
Tuilaepa said Maua is a member of his extended Fatialofa family.
“I knew his grandparents well and also his father Leifi Faleauto,” Tuilaepa is quoted as saying.
“When I was at St. Paul’s College in 1964, his grandparents invited me to a Sunday toona’i at their home not far from my school then."
“Now that I hold the title Fatialofa, I am therefore the Matai of the Faleauto Clan. Several years ago I presided over the family ceremony conferring the Faleauto Matai title to his brother who was then C.E.O. of the National Bank of Samoa.”
Tuilaepa said he discussed Maua’s behaviour with his brother.
“I did but after I heard something about Maua being a loose cannon, I understood immediately,” Tuilaepa said.
Which is a pity, he said, given that “he is a qualified lawyer.”
“Some fifteen years ago, he came to Samoa,” Tuilaepa explained. “He worked briefly with the Police as prosecutor for the police, during Papali’i Lolenese’s term as Commissioner, then opened his private practice for a short time, then closed when his father died suddenly.
“I helped with the arrangements for the transfer of his father’s body to New Zealand, and I saw Maua off at the airport with the coffin. That’s the last time I saw him!”
As for Dennis A. Smith, Tuilaepa said the Minister of Samoa Land Corporation during the previous Parliamentary sitting evicted him from government property before he was deported.
“He came to my office over five years ago to request my help over a rent dispute with his landlord at Satapuala. I summoned the landlord to my office and settled the dispute the Samoan way,” Tuilaepa said.
The matter was settled through “forgiveness.”
“And to celebrate the occasion, I hosted dinner so that the Satapuala landlord and Smith would both forgive and forget. At 11:00 p.m. afterwards that night I came out to the dark car park for my transport home, and there was John Campbell waiting with his camera trying to catch me for an interview which I had scheduled for the following week.
“Meantime, Mr. Smith did not attend the dinner. He left for New Zealand the same evening – The rest is history.”
Asked if he knew why Mr. Smith does not like him, Tuilaepa said no.
“Since I helped him, he regularly visited my office with a request that I employed him to set up my Facebook. He never understood that I never wanted publicity,” Tuilaepa said.
“So as many times Mr. Smith came to me on the subject of the Facebook – I redirected him to my C.E.Os to talk to them whether it was necessary.
“My two C.E.Os in the P.M’s Ministry and the Tourism Ministry were quick to note that Mr. Smith was an unlikeable character – especially when he casually used my name as official authority – for his own designs –he did not know that my C.E.Os were highly qualified technocrats at their profession and they became subjects of attacks by Mr. Smith.”
Tuilaepa said he doesn’t know where Mr. Smith has disappeared.
“My Minister of Samoa Lands Corporation informed me some time ago that Mr. Smith was granted a lease hold on land under the S.L.C. for a Tourism Development which he never implemented nor paid the lease, rental accrued. So the Minister evicted him from the land and deported him from Samoa for good.”
Both Maua and Mr. Smith are based in New Zealand. They have rubbished the claims from Prime Minister Tuilaepa in online responses.
“Interesting that Samoans are not concerned with the damage that the P.M. has done to the nation but try to make it personal,” Maua wrote in response.
“History will record me as a patriot who put the interests of all Samoans before family loyalties. No Samoan may betray our entire race by agreeing with Asian investors to break up our customary land and expect praise.”
Maua added that since now people know him and Tuilaepa are family, they should believe him when “I say he is not” what he claims to be.
In a press release, Mr. Smith said Tuilaepa’s decision shows the Government is afraid.
“This extraordinary personal attack on two law abiding individuals was clearly initiated by the Prime Minister of Independent Samoa,” Mr. Smith is quoted as saying. “It was written and issued by his office following a long silence online over Christmas. It really shows the fear the political establishment has with the power of bloggers and political critics online.”
As for his departure from Samoa, Mr. Smith disputed Tuilaepa’s claim he did not know about it.
“Tuilaepa claims that one of his ministers deported me in 2016 and that he hardly knew me.”
Mr Smith said Tuilaepa knew because he was the Minister of Immigration and only he can issue the deportation order!
“Personal attacks are the style of the Samoan Prime Minister. Attempting to smear the name of an effective, professional and longstanding critic of the government is the mark of a man clearly worried. Explaining is losing.”