In an extraordinary political move, Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuila’epa recently named and shamed the anonymous Samoan blogger Ole Palemia (OLP). A hugely controversial ‘spirit’ that has risen to to fame (or infamy if you are within the Samoan establishment) OLP has been taking the Prime Minister to task by revealing corruption within the government he leads, particularly in the last 2-3 years. Oops! No wait . . . the online reports have been “pulled” by the government-friendly media who trusted the PM & published his words! OMG! As they say, “Only in Samoa!” This is my take on things as they stand. Enjoy.
A huge broohaahaa has been brewing in the small island country ‘Founded Upon God™’ – Samoa (Western Samoa to the older readers) – with the rise in popularity of an anonymous blogger, OLP. Palemia is Samoan for Prime Minister. Ole is “Of/by/on the” close enough to mean, “The” ∴ “The PM”.
A vociferous opponent of the long-sitting PM, Tuila’epa, OLP has been revealing information supplied to him by a network of dissidents within the Samoan community that shows the massive extent of corruption within the ranks of Samoan political and bureaucratic circles.
This corruption of course is nothing new, in the sense that Samoa has long been recognised as corrupt through the political (Political and cultural through the High Chiefs) and religious scenes (a thank you to Albert Wendt et al for that commentary) but what is new is the extent that the dissident blogger has gone in this exposure. He has scored repeated and huge hits on the political establishment with a string of claims and revelations, particularly making hay simultaneously with my publication of Corruption in Samoa in 2016/2017- no relationship BTW.
OLP’s sources appear to be from deep within the establishment and sound; his claims are generally hugely credible and his following online reached a significant level particularly a couple of years ago. The way I see things, he got to a tipping point in the last couple of years with his credibility, thus this has affected those with the power and pursestrings. Even many of the older generation who have largely bought into the corruption are starting to question the way things are.
It is notable that with a few exceptions, none of OLP’s accusations are directly challenged. There is a broad defensiveness and ad hominem response from the challenged parties.
Tuila’epa’s recent revelation naming US-based Samoan and another Australian-based Samoan as the people behind the OLP blogging is extraordinary in that this is the leader of a democratic country naming in an open public forum (outside of parliamentary privilege) two individuals in foreign countries as essentially criminals or criminal masterminds.
There are several aspects of this development that are interesting to me and worthy of comment:
- Samoa Observer did not run with the story – neither repeating the PM’s claims, nor even running the story that the PM had named individual Samoans offshore as OLP. Neither did they pass comment on the retraction of the story by Talamua – the government-friendly publication who ran it then retracted it. This is a huge red flag for me and lends weight to my previous take that the local rag, built on the meme of “tackling corruption and speaking it like it is” has gone soft on HRPP and the PM. For those that do not know the history, I’ve previously blogged that the founder, owner, and Editor-in-Chief Savea Sano Malifa (with another title added to his name more recently) is an aging fool and a crook. His consistent long-term sparring with the PM seems to have gone seriously off the boil an election or two ago, just when there is MORE evidence of corruption in the winds than there ever was before!
- The Prime Minister names multiple identities as the writer “OLP”. This is a subtle change in the Prime Minister’s line taken for the last two or three years. I think the PM is right and have suggested for quite a while that there is more than one entity involved. I think that, as the PM claimed in his radio broadcast, there are people very high in government ranks who are involved in a network. I suspect that these people are politically motivated as well as ethically motivated.
- It shows very serious concern on the part of the Prime Minister and this is justified on multiple levels. This OLP saga, let alone the actual contents of what OLP has revealed, has been a hugely disruptive voice to his power stranglehold. Retaining power as he has will have been a huge challenge for the Old Man. He’s been up to it so far, but it has been a massive fight nonetheless. I think to say that he’s been concerned is an understatement. He’d never admit it, but the shame and hits he’s been taking in the twilight of his career will seriously hurt him. I see two things central to this – the naming and shaming of his floosey Sonja Hunter (CEO of Tourism) has to be hugely damaging to his moral reputation. Secondly his involvement and probably central role in the extermination of a political opponent some years back (while it has the chilling effect of bringing ‘sense’ to his subjects today) will forever mark his legacy as one of dictator, albeit in the guise of democracy.
- Tui’s actions are yet another attempt to discredit the OLP character and sectors of Samoan society that support OLP. When, like Tuila’epa is, you are taking hits one after the other through revelations of misconduct by your team, and indeed your own conduct, you have two choices – deal with the issues raised, or attack the messenger. Politicians (especially in Samoa) choose the low road. The reason of course is that denial and ad hominem are easy and cultural norms. Confession or [Western viewed] integrity aren’t.
- Tuila’epa is essentially a politician. Sure, he was trained as an economist but day-by-day he exercises his skills as a politician and he’s good at it. Politicising the OLP and SSIG sectors works to his advantage. The instant he can show that there is political intent by any other party, he wins. This is the art of politics – we play with deception and perception. Facts are to be used, presented in a light that is favourable to ourselves with reality created for the people we gain our power. Evil, I know but this is politics.
- This revelation attempts to show his power through association with FBI. Again the failure to apprehend the OLP blogger despite, now years of trying, will have been eating the PM up. He needs to show desperately that OLP is the bad-egg and that he is the White Knight and victim. This is falsehood of course but as I have explained, Tuila’epa must appear to be in control. Use of the FBI, CIA, ABC, XYZ or ANY authority outside of Samoa gives the impression that he is kosher and that OLP is not. Personally I doubt the majority of the PM’s take. The FBI thing does not stack up in my books at all, at all!
- By keeping the OLP story live it distracts from the core business of covering up corruption. As a rule, I’ve found the more noise, the less truth. One of the things that investigators like I note is that whenever there is some serious sh*t going down, distractions appear. Hugely controversial issues are suddenly dragged up from the pits of murkiness and create mayhem. Think the Samoan road side of driving issue. One minute it was nothing, then supposedly out of nowhere the country was plunged into chaos*. What was happening at the time that the PM didn’t want attention on something? This is why he brought forward an issue that caused a huge amount of energy and attention to go in that direction, which allowed him to do other things unchallenged and unnoticed. With corruption getting exposed more and more at the moment a lot of it coming to the surface, this OLP thing helps the PM somewhat, albeit in a backward manner.
- This public scrap has continued for years and undergone multiple phases with multiple attempts to close OLP down. This latest outburst though brings the Prime Minister down to the same gutter level as OLP. I appreciate the work that OLP has done in the sense of exposing the corruption, extreme nepotism and criminality of the HRPP political machine under Tuila’epa’s leadership but I do not see that the manner in which OLP speaks and his strategic skills as long-term successful. The PM with his naming (yet again from fools in Samoan leadership) brings himself beneath his standing as a High Chief and Prime Minister. It exposes the PM and the Samoan government to further ridicule, let alone court action should either of the named parties so choose.
- The retraction is explained due to a Police investigation. I smell a rat. Yes, of course Talamua and the PM have screwed up alerting the suspects to the presence of a Police inquiry. Do you really think that OLP doesn’t realise he’s being hunted? Nah! Of course he does! Have charges been laid? No. Why could not Talamua let the story stand? No . . . this is a backdown on advice from legal to the PM – you’ve overdone it Tui. Back up fast! My take is that the Police thing is a smokeshield, essentially BS from Lance because as publisher of the defamation, he’s made a [possibly huge] mistake.
But it is not plain sailing for OLP either.
If OLP is/are the people the PM named on his radio show (and more particularly if the PM can prove it) they will have lost their strategic advantage. I’ve warned against this for a while now. With the damage pretty much done as an anonymous voice, the time for retiring the OLP voice strategically has long past.
From now on the PM wins. Every hit on OLP, real, imagined, legal or otherwise matters not the day that OLP’s identity is revealed.
OLP could provide proof that the PM poked 100x girls in government employ over the last 20x years. He could prove that the PM stole everything he owns around the world to US criminal-level proof and it will mean nothing, because he will have been “caught” by naming and shaming him/them.
What OLP ‘should’ have done is contract his information distribution out to namable known sources outside of the establishment. We (for I include myself in this group) have the experience and credibility to share and provide commentary on revelatory information and some of us can offer Shield Law protection to our sources, too. I receive confidential information in the course of my business all the time and provide a credible commentary to boot. Not all agree with me, but the role is there nonetheless.
Affecting change in a political environment is much more than speaking the truth, especially in an angry and accusatory manner – even with a following. Tuila’epa knows this and has shown his superior skills as a politician. While a coward (shown by his handling of my expulsion from Samoa) and clearly (by OLP’s revelations) a crook at the top of a corrupt political system in a corrupt country, the Prime Minister is a master at politics. I think he’s made a huge mistake in speaking on Samoan radio the names of individuals, and Talamua too knows it has erred in publishing his words, but he knows how to play the game.
I conclude then with the retraction and conduct of Talamua. I noted previously that Samoa Observer didn’t run with the story the PM dished up. Sano is wiser and longer in the tooth than Lance. He knew about the revelations from the PM alright – believe-you-me. Lance though, obviously a government supporter in his publishing activities, has shown his true colours, sucking up to the PM and going public with the juicy bits.
In publishing, Lance’s team made a huge mistake echoing the Old Man’s. Everybody makes a mistake every now and then but Talamua has too, by its retraction and how it did it, made further mistakes – AND, as I just said, showed their hand. “Pulling” a story like they did, simply making it invisible, then some time later issuing an explanation is revealing.
Here’s their belated explanation for silently withdrawing the story:
Talamua explains why the Ole Palemia bloggers story was retracted
By Lagi Keresoma
APIA, SAMOA – THURSDAY 14 JUNE 2018: Given the continuing police investigations into those behind the blog Ole Palemia, Talamua Online retracted its story that identified two overseas based Samoans a few hours it was published yesterday (Wednesday) evening.
The story was based on an interview on Talamua’s weekly news programme with the Prime Minister and Minister of Police, Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi, who named the two persons.
“However, given the police investigations in progress, we decided (a few hours the story was uploaded) to retract the story as it may impact the investigation,” explained Talamua’s Editor, Apulu Lance Polu.
Talamua managed to speak with the Police late this (Thursday) afternoon who confirmed the investigation is in progress that also involves the cooperation of several overseas jurisdictions.
“So we apologise to the police if the story may have jeopardised their investigations,” said Apulu.
“And we also apologize to the two gentlemen who were named by the Prime Minister and carried in our story and what may have impacted on their personal and professional standing in the community,” said Apulu.
“Talamua however will continue to follow up this issue, given the huge impact it has on Samoa and its people both locally and around the world and we will bring this to our readers when the police completes its investigation,” he concluded.
You can imagine the stress in the PM’s office as well as Talamua’s office, indeed pity the poor girl who wrote it – first she has a scoop; then shame!
Talamua will need to talk with its underwriters very fast – retractions AND apologies – OMG! But on the Internet once it’s out it is out.
And the Prime Minister? Was it was a calculated action designed for a political point or was it a mistake? My guess is that Tui overstepped his mark – that he will make the best of it, but that he knows now that he really should have done this under the cloak of parliamentary privilege, and let the media quote him from parliament. That way Talamua and Samoa Observer could have taken the same message out the proper way. It’s not often he does make a mistake of this proportion but this is one of his worst ones the way I see it. Perhaps the devastating stupidity, cultural ignorance and arrogance he showed in the interview following the rape of an Aussie tourist was THE worst. I pinged him for this at the time.
There’s a saying they use in Samoa, like with many backward places where people regularly do dopey things, “Only in Samoa!” meaning that weird things are normal. The PM has screwed this one up. Talamua have shown their true hand too. They’ll do what they can to present it all kosher to cover their butts but, really, as I said in the into . . . OMG; only in Samoa!
* Samoa changed the side the vehicles drove on in 2009. Accusations flew that the issue arose from nowhere, with claims from insiders that Tuila’epa seems to have woken up one day and just decided to do it, announced it and did it, despite the largest protest in Samoa’s history. That the government had just encouraged many to upgrade their vehicles with new LHD ones the year before, this take certainly has legs. I think there is hardly a dissenting voice now – including me; that the decision was ultimately a good one is beyond doubt in retrospect, but the point I make here is that the timing and manner of implementation screams, “DISTRACTION!!”