The XVI Parliamentary Term is the “beginning for the political evolution of Samoa."
So vowed Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi on Friday.
And with the appointment of Samoa’s first female Deputy Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, the evolution has begun indeed.
Fiame is not only the Deputy Prime Minister she is also the Deputy leader of the Human Rights Protection Party having won the caucus vote two weeks ago.
But she is also the new Minister of Natural, Resources and Environment, a portfolio that will hold great importance for Samoa with millions of dollars being promised by bigger nations to help fight climate change.
Speaking to the Sunday Samoan, Fiame said she is honoured by the appointments. She sees them as a leap in the right direction for efforts to achieve gender equality in key decision making roles.
“It’s an additional responsibility but I am looking forward to it,” Fiame said about the role of Deputy Prime Minister. “There are not any particular duties except deputizing for the Prime Minister at different times but there are also other matters that he wants me to look after.”
Fiame is a pioneer. And she sees her appointment as a door being opened to motivate other Samoan women and females.
She reiterates that she believes women need to participate and engage in the political dialogue and developments to give themselves a chance to be appointed to such high offices.
A day after the general election on 4th March, Fiame rose above the male-dominated party winning a caucus vote for the Deputy Leader position.
She edged out veteran H.R.P.P. M.P for Palauli ile Falefa, Faumuina Tiatia Liuga and former Deputy Prime Minister, Fonotoe Pierre Lauofo.
“The appointment at the party level is very encouraging,” she said.
“(It assures) that your colleagues you work with have confidence and trust to elect me.”
Fiame is a great believer in the saying “speak softly, carry a big stick; you will go far.”
The senior Cabinet Minister was conferred the title Fiame in 1977 and had been serving her family and village ever since.
“Starting from when I was a young matai I lived in the village for seven years before I ran for office,” she said.
“From there you begin to do the work. Being a Member of Parliament becomes your career and in the process you gain general knowledge and understanding.”
Her mother was the late Laulu Fetauimalemau Mata’afa who entered parliament in 1975.
On Laulu’s retirement from politics, Fiame contested the seat and was elected.
She had held the seat since then.
Growing up in a family of politicians, her father being the first Prime Minister of Samoa, the late Fiame Mata’afa Faumuina Mulinu’u II, Fiame isn’t gunning to be the first female Prime Minister.
“I never went into politics to do that,” she insisted when she was asked if she would follow her father’s footstep. “I’m more interested in the development of the country and being part of that.
“I saw my father when he was in the position and have seen other leaders…no one person does it. If it happens it happens if it doesn’t it’s not a dying ambition.”
Being entrusted with the Ministerial portfolio of Environment, Fiame is confident about her experience at the international level.
“It’s a big area,” she admits. “(Environment) It also has a lot of international implications. I think with my experience in other areas and mostly at international level I can go forward in this particular portfolio.”
She added that her new role is a priority not only for Samoa but the Pacific region.
Having held several ministerial portfolios over the previous terms, Fiame was a Minister of Education for 15 years at one point.
Some of the achievements she is the University, the establishment of district schools, introduction of Samoan as language of introduction and rationalization of tertiary sector.
Fiame said it was all about the equity of access.
Following that role, she was allocated the portfolio of the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development.
The portfolio being a community one, the 58 year old said she had wanted to stay on but was moved to the Ministry of Justice Courts and Administration.
She held the ministerial role in the previous parliamentary term.
“Justice has its own particular challenges,” she recalled.
Fiame said the interface with the judiciary and working with the Ministry aims to ensure its independence is maintained.
But the main goal is to work together with the state so that justice through Courts is delivered.
Fiame is one of the longest standing Members of Parliament in Samoa and the first female member of Cabinet
She has represented Samoa and the Pacific Islands on the Executive Board of U.N.E.S.C.O and the Board of Governors of the Commonwealth of Learning.
She has served as the Pro-Chancellor and Chair of the University of the South Pacific (U.S.P) and also the Pacific Regional representative on the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (C.W.P) Steering Committee of the Commonwealth Parliamentarians’ Association.
She maintains strong ties with the Samoa National Council of Women (N.C.W) and the Inailau Women’s Leadership Network, both of which she has been a longstanding member.
Previously, Fiame convened and led the Women in Leadership Advocacy (WinLA), a network of women Parliamentarians, Chief Executive Officers and Public Service Commissioners in Samoa.