I’d like to take your memory back to an event that occurred in your office on the fifth floor . . . the event in which you showed me for the first time that you had been compromised . . . by a woman I later found out to be as they say over there, “close to you”, Papalii Sonja Hunter – your CEO of Tourism.
It was the defining moment for me when I realised for the first time your true nature . . . as a typical politician.
Earlier that year we [the SWAP Foundation] had presented you with a proposal to develop a Samoa Day. You liked it and gave us instructions to proceed with the marketing initiative working closely with the Samoan Tourism Authority. Your exact words on official Prime Minister’s letter head and posted to P O Box 55, Apia, Samoa I am sure you will be able to find when or if it all goes to court. I memorised the text of it as it was the first time I had received official endorsement of our creativity from the Samoan goverment and it meant a lot to us. I trusted you in those days!
You asked us to proceed with Cabinet approval a formality the following week and we did so. We brought up Social Media experts, introduced them to you and started work.
But as you know we struck a problem . . . your CEO, refused to work with us. Sonja and her team at STA gave us the run around and cold shoulder. Six times over the following five months Debbie (my Palagi wife) and I wandered into your office to report monthly as was our custom at the time. You pretended to be puzzled at why Sonja was dragging the chain and gave us four different reasons why perhaps she was playing games with us all. “Leave it with me!” and “I’ll have a word with her!” encouraged us to continue to invest time and money into something that we all know now was never going to happen unless it was over Sonja’s dead body.
But you knew Tui. You knew all along that it was never going to happen. You didn’t know at the outset that Sonja hated us with a passion and that for whatever reason she would never work to bring about an International Samoa Day as we had all agreed.
Until the day I die, I will never forget the time that Debbie and I walked into yoru office and sat down. It was your custom to greet us with a Malo! or “How’s it going?” and sometimes a handshake, but this day, the sixth monthly visit in the fifth month after you instructed us to proceed you didn’t move a muscle. We sat down at your desk and waited for you to speak. You raised your right hand with pointed finger as if to say something but paused. You did it again then lowered your hand for the second time.
Then, incredibly, you looked up and straight at us, shrugged your shoulders and said the words, “I can’t make people do anything!”
No greeting. No discussion. No apology. No explanation. Nothing but . . . [implied] “Bugger off Palagi. Can’t you see that it’s not going to happen. Can you leave me alone now . . . please?”
Tui it took me a couple of days to work it all out, and a couple more months to understand the true “inappropriate” nature of your relationship with Sonja in which you would be prepared to risk your entire credibility as Prime Minister of Samoa for by ripping us off, but work it all out I did.
You were compromised, and badly so too it appeared. Oh we know the story that you tell – a Prime Minister cannot interfere in the operations of his CEOs who all have full autonomy to conduct business as they see fit. Yeah right! That’s the drivel you feed out to the ones who don’t understand how things really work in Samoan politics.
Tui, I gave you many opportunities to rectify your mistake over the aborted Samoa Day and I gave you many warnings that I would not let the matter rest. I write to you here in an Open Letter so that the world can know the reason why seven years after the late Bev Barlow from Aggie Grey’s encouraged me to take the idea she had been touting for years forward, and six years after you had given us formal instruction to proceed with it, that Samoa still does not have an annual International Samoa Day is because your CEO of Tourism over-ruled you and refused to work with us to make it happen.
You, sir, have been compromised. A woman actually rules Samoa – not you.
In my next letter, I will be sharing how I found out about you and Sonja, and then I’ll help you to see things the way I and many other people both Samoans and Palagi see them knowing what we know.
It’s not good, Tui. It’s not good!