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Senator Malaepule taken to task for refusing to accept ‘lafo' from Fono building contractor

Senator Malaepule Saite Moliga
Senator Malaepule: “I believe that is my prerogative whether or not to accept the lafo”

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The actions of Senator Malaepule Saite Moliga during a presentation of monetary gifts or "lafo" from the contractor for the new Fono building, Papali'i Lauli'i Alofa, to Senate members last Thursday, was the cause of strong words from Senator Soliai T. Fuimaono, which stunned everyone present in the Senate chamber on Tuesday morning.

Senator Malaepule, according to witnesses, left the premises during the ‘gift’ presentation because he thought it was not proper and he told Papali'i that Senate decisions cannot be bought with money.

According to Soliai, Papali'i gifted all senators with monetary gifts or "lafo" because it was a sign of high respect and acknowledgement in Samoan culture.

Senators received $1,000 each while the Senate President received a higher amount, and even the Senate attorney also received a lafo.

The incident happened after the senators had toured the new Fono building, with Papali'i and DPW Director Faleosina Voigt leading the tour.

Malepule’s actions did not sit well with Soliai and he did not mince words in his criticism of Malaepule whom he accused of being high-minded and arrogant.

The Ituau Malosi senator said it was this mindset that saw Malaepule speak in his role of to'oto'o or orator in traditional sua presentations during the funeral services of Manu'a representative, last year, when he should have given the chance to senior to'oto'o Tuiagamoa Tavai since the deceased was from his constituency.

Then last Thursday, he rudely stood and left the room while the presentation was in progress and told Papali’i who was showing his respect for the Senate, that the Senate’s decisions cannot be bought with money.

"I have been a member of the Fono for many years but I have never seen such blatant disrespect displayed by a member of this chamber," said an incensed Soliai. "You disrespected the President and members of the Fono, not to mention Papali’i, who just wanted to show his respect.

“Don't do it again,” he admonished.

Senator Soliai's tirade did not sit well with Malaepule either, and he immediately defended his actions and made his feelings of discontent known.

First, he rejected Soliai’s accusation of being high-minded and arrogant saying that whenever there is a need for an orator to speak on behalf of the Senate, he approaches Tuiagamoa and Olo first and whatever they decide on, he will follow.

“Malaepule is not stupid,” he said. “I know my place in our oratorical relationship and I will only speak if they want me to.

“Regarding my leaving the premises during Papali’i’s lafo presentation, I believe that is my prerogative whether or not to accept the lafo.

“Each senator should be able to make his own decision regarding the matter according to his own principles and you cannot tell me how to behave as a senator.”

The matter was brought to the fore by Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean who wanted to clear the air because the lafo presentation had been reported on a local radio station's local news bulletin that morning.

Tuaolo said the report posed the question whether it was proper for senators to accept monetary gifts from the contractor for the new Fono building.

He pointed out that people will think what they want to think about the matter, especially with the criticism they (the senators) have been making due to the long time it has taken for the construction of the Fono building.

"But the presentation was done openly in accordance with our customs and we cannot disrespect or ignore our culture for which this chamber is founded on," Tuaolo emphasized. 

He stated that it was not done secretly which would have made it look like a bribe.

"It's not something new," he argued. "How many gifts in the form of money and food have we received from people who come to the Senate chamber for whatever reason?

“One of the recent (ones) was the amount of $4,000 from Save Liuato Tuitele after his confirmation hearing last October.

“Did we reject it?

“No, we accepted it because it was a sign of respect on his part.”

According to information received by Samoa News, Senate President Tuaolo distributed his lafo to the Senate staff.

He stated that whenever they are given lafo from whoever visits the Senate chamber, they must accept it because it is part of the Samoan culture and it would be disrespectful if they reject it.

However, he emphasized it does not mean it will have any effect on their decision making.

He said the fact that they accepted the lafo from Papali’i does not mean that the deadline for the completion of construction on the new Fono building will be extended.

“The June deadline for the Fono building still stands and if Paramount Builders does not meet it, they will suffer the consequences as stipulated in the terms of the contract,” Tuaolo declared.

Tuaolo’s sentiments were echoed by Senator Muagututi’a who said that he had accepted his lafo from Papali’i with thanks in their role as matai.

“It was an act of respect from one matai to another,” Muagututi’a said. “There was no politics involved.

“And I will accept with a clean heart what is given to me with a clean heart.

“That’s mutual respect, which is what our culture is all about.”

The Vaifanua senator also commented on the news report on the radio, which he listened to that morning on his way to the Senate, and he stated that there must be some spies working in the Fono who are reporting what should be internal matters to the media.

Senators were informed by Papali’i last Thursday that the new Fono building will be completed in the last week of June.

Public Works director has stated that while the Fono building will be completed in June, the offices for faipule and senators will be completed in December this year.