Samoa’s Prime Minister has finally done it; published his memoirs. Due out in June 2017, I preview the book, knowing the man somewhat (having crossed swords with him when I lived in Samoa) as well as knowing the people and culture of Samoa. I also share what will NOT be in it, basically the contents of my book, Corruption in Samoa!
Pālemia tells the story of how a boy from an isolated village grew up to become Prime Minister of Samoa. It follows his journey from Lepā to Apia, Wellington, Brussels, Singapore, Beijing, Tokyo, London, New York and many other international destinations, always returning to Lepā and the Fa‘asamoa that shaped him.
I know the PM’s village Lepa well having been there many times with guests and trying to run a village stay at the top of the hill. I also know the PM’s history pretty well too. He’s told me a bit over the time we spent together.
Fa’a Samoa is the “Samaon way”.
There is only one way to really understand the Prime Minister of Samoa, Tuila’epa, and you can do this without reading more than this question and thinking a little . . . “what does he do?”
Tuila’epa is a politician. Politicians play politics the world over exactly the same. In Samoa he is at the top of the political tree and Samoa is well recognised as a country with endemic corruption, many claiming that it has gotten worse. Tuila’epa has been in power coming up two decades. ‘Nuff said. Work it out.
Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi is Samoa’s longest-serving Prime Minister. His premiership has been marked by political and economic crises, natural disasters, regional tensions and local challenges.
His local command over politics is strong and he has strengthened it substantially to the point that opposition in Samoa has virtually ceased. Even the supposed voice of the Fourth Estate, Samoa Observer’s Sano Malifa has buckled to the politics of top man with all the power. The only real challenges Palemia faces are internal . . . oh and one rogue anonymous blogger “O le Palamia” who they are trying to find, but unsuccessfully!
Tuila’epa’s political career started during turbulent times but has resulted in an unprecedented period of political stability and economic development through his leadership in modernising the economy, improving education and health and reducing poverty in Samoa.
There are many people that make things happen in a country. The Prime Minister sits at the top of the tree and takes the credit when he wants. The truth is that under his watch many good things have happened, BUT the hidden sides are ugly. Corruption is one quite visible but the huge debt that he has saddled his country with must go down as his personal responsibility. When I lived there the debt was over a billion dollars and growing. It can never and will never be paid off.
By my best estimates Samoa lost its real sovereignty around 2000 when the man at the helm took over. Political stability is presented ad nauseum by those with vested interests. Samoan politics is a cesspit of corruption and intrigue. Stability comes from control – NOT because Samoa is any different to the rest of the world. In many ways it’s actually worse, because they present things pretty on and to the outside! That’s just the Samoan culture coming through, though.
Pālemia captures the voice, documents the life, and places in context a record of the most significant Samoan political leader of this generation, and contains many useful insights into the social, cultural and economic development of Samoa and the wider Pacific region.
To my eyes, Samoa is pretty much an outcast in the Pacific. Fiji pretty much ignores it. Tonga does as well. A few tiny islands rely on it. It’s comparatively expensive to stay there and even guests who do go there rarely return. There’s a reason for that. The people and the culture are the lure. They are also the reason that many won’t return. New Zealand and Australia tolerate Samoa and give it rats and mice, making a big deal about what they do give and help with, but really Samoa is a non-starter – certainly when it relates to things in Samoa. Ex-pats however are the exception – as I often say, “anyone who has some get-up-and-go has got up and gone!”
Fiji has made huge gains since Tuila’epa’s
pet hate nemesis Frank took over. Samoa’s sporting prowess and capacity to export its people aside, Samoa stands in turn to get reducing handouts from Australia and New Zealand. Development for the elite, as always, has remained strong and the infrastructure too has been building well but extract the government and its payroll and the country would cease to register in many areas. Debt; debt and more debt.
‘In collaboration with Peter Swain, a superb conveyer of information, Tuila’epa narrates his entry into politics and his rise to power. The book is a fascinating biography and provides a stimulating, thoughtful, original and authoritative perspective on Samoan political life – from the inside.’ Professor Stephen Levine.
OMG . . . Tui on Tui! I look forward to the “authoritative” aspects of it. I strongly suspect that there are large and important sectors of Samoan life omitted!
I spent many hours with Tuila’epa when I first moved to Samoa. I was the new Palagi kid on the block and it suited us both to engage meaningfully. He wanted to spend time with me and to suck my ideas as well as to suss me out. Samoans do that. I too found it an honour [at first] to be welcomed by the Palemia of Samoa, but the gloss didn’t take more than a couple of years to wear off. Summarised, I spoke of the future; Tui only spoke of the past, mainly about himself and his exploits.
In the early days I suggested many things to which he agreed to quite a lot. I even suggested that I write his memoirs. He agreed and gave me authority to use a photo that his personal photographer had taken. I suggested that he develop a personal website. He agreed and we modeled it on John Key’s. Like with much of the big man’s talk though, neither happened – until now anyway with this book and Peter Swain’s involvement!
Peter Swain has spent much of the last 25 years managing development programmes throughout the island nations of the Pacific, and was International Programme Manager for Volunteer Service Abroad New Zealand. Dr Swain has written extensively on the Pacific and is an Honorary Research Associate in Development Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. He is married to Luamanuvao Winnie Laban.
. . . and a Samoan, which makes him rather biased and probably unable to provide any critical commentary, so I’ll fulfill that role. . .
Palemia is a good title. It captures the essence of the subject, but there is a lot more to the ‘Big Man’ than he will ever let on. Samoan’s are divided over Tuila’epa. Those that live by principle or who live offshore generally can’t stand him but those that are on the gravy-train may loathe him (mainly for his arrogance) but in a small island country they have no choice. Cross him, and like me, you’re a goner.
I wrote the book Corruption in Samoa. Only two people on the planet have read it thus far – Tuila’epa and my 88 year old father – both because they asked to read it. Dad said it read well and was “your [my] story”, fair enough!. The Palemia though saw red, insulted me and threatened legal action if I published. “You’ve got a lot to learn about Samoa!” the big man said patronisingly.
“Oh no, no, no Tui. I know all about Samoa now (having lived and survived there for half a decade) and it’s you who has a lot to learn about me!” was my caustic reply. “And I will be publishing too!” I warned.
Fast forward and Palemia got me booted out of the country once and for all – prohibited immigrant. He had to lie, break the law, resort to trickery and get his lap-dogs to do the dirty work for him but in the end, I did get booted out of Samoa – blogger got banned! There’s a whole big story relating to this which goes right up to the top. It will all come out in due course but the real point of this story for now is that the Prime Minister had not a worry in the world about the corruption that I identified in half a dozen government departments . . . he handles that sort of thing all day and every day with aplomb. Ignore, obfuscate, postpone, commence a report or an investigation, blah, blah, blah.
What he couldn’t handle though was the chapter that included his ‘inappropriate’ relationship with one of his CEO’s. That really got him REALLY peeved, and clearly worried . . . hence my unplanned and permanent departure from Samoa in September 2016! You see, while most in Samoa know about this ‘naughtiness’, they also know that if they talk about it; they’re toast, so they can’t, and don’t.
You won’t find those details in this book, I can assure you. Fortunately Corruption in Samoa has it all!
Samoa needs some international positive press . . . after John Campbell’s expose of the missing Tsunami relief funds and Australia media’s write up of the danger to tourists from a repeat prison escapee who raped and robbed a young couple in a premium treehouse resort, Tuila’epa’s book Palemia should do some good in the PR stakes for the little islands. It needs it.
In some ways it’s a pity that my book Corruption in Samoa is being published around the same time but things happen that way sometimes eh?
A bit of Yin.
Now some Yang.