“I think what my ministerial colleagues did not know is that the first guy who was directed to come with a gun at me, was a young man, married to a girl of my family, and I think that was a factor that was not known. And was why the gun was removed from him and given to the son of the minister to execute…” –P.M. Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi
Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, has been in New Zealand promoting his memoir 'Palemia'.
The book details Tuilaepa's experiences from childhood through his time in the public service and his nearly 20 years so far as the country's prime minister.
Don Wiseman of Radio New Zealand spoke with Tuilaepa who began by reminiscing about growing up in his village in the 1940s and 50s.
TUILAEPA SA'ILELE MALIELEGAOI (T.S.M.): At the time when I grew up and then came to the city for the first and yet my village was so isolated and no connection, no car, no electricity, nothing. Thinking back now I suppose this was the way we lived 3000 years ago and the time that we wake up in the morning and enjoying eating shark meat for weeks, when our young men returned from shark fishing and banqueted all day, from so much food, and then you go to have a swim in the river while the sun is very high up in the sky. It seems so much like an island of joy, with so very little problems, except the odd clash here and there within our village, as somebody knocking another dead and then the village chiefs summon an immediate meeting to ensure that there is peace. It is all fantastic to think back and write about the lifestyle in the village in those days.
DON WISEMAN (D.W.): Does a part of you regret that that has passed?
T.S.M.: Oh yes. Going back now, every week, passing through the two creeks that flow through and one has hardly any river flowing through, because of the plantation that has encroached into the forest areas, the extensive cutting down of trees, to make way for modern living. These are the things that you have lost. The sight of the trees, the hearing of the birds singing in the morning and also when you go into the bush to catch the wild pigeons for food.
D.W.: When you first came to New Zealand you experienced racism here in Wellington and in Auckland. Have you ever run into those people subsequently?
T.S.M.: No. Remember this was in 1976. That's the worst, the worst time on immigration, when our people were chased, using dogs, and which led eventually to the famous Lesa case which had to be resolved in the Privy Council. It was very extensive at the time when I was here, in those last six months of the year.
D.W.: Another thing you raised in the book was Helen Clark, soon after she became prime minister she apologised to Samoa for the inept administration in the early days of the New Zealand colonial administration, and you had pleaded with her not to do that. Why did you not want her to do that?
T.S.M.: I made the point that we had already forgiven. Samoa is a very Christian society and you hear it all the time, the quote from the Old Testament, "Never, ever allow the sun to go down and you have not forgiven a brother's wrong done against you" and we lived through that Christian principle and for Helen Clark to come back and apologise is sort of opening old wounds, which for us, are better to forget. There are new relationships forged by our Treaty of Friendship and I was placing greater importance to the Treaty of Friendship. If there is anything to forgive you do it through the Treaty of Friendship and there you deal with hard actions, not with words we have forgotten long ago.
D.W.: Another incident, one that I am sure is right at the forefront of your memories was the assassination of Luagalau [Minister of Works, Luagalau Levaula Kamu] and my understanding from the book is you had believed you were the intended victim.
T.S.M.: I was informed from the interview by the police, that that was the case. And I think what my ministerial colleagues did not know is that the first guy who was directed to come with a gun at me, was a young man, married to a girl of my family, and I think that was a factor that was not known. And was why the gun was removed from him and given to the son of the minister to execute
D.W.: In what is generally a peaceful society as Samoa is, there have been one or two brutally violent episodes, such as Luagalau's assassination.
T.S.M.: It is the typical weaknesses brought about by the corrupt practice of these two individuals [cabinet ministers Leafa Vitale and Toi Aukuso] and when I changed the portfolios and removed the Electric Power Corporation from Leafa and put in Luagalau, who immediately discovered this corrupt scheme which benefitted Leafa and Toi. I was informed and I ordered him to terminate. That was the beginning of the end for Luagalau. And as I said I was also a target and I think there were others, including the C.J. [Chief Justice]. But this is a kind of weakness that happens everywhere.