Taotasi: Work of the House is the work of the people
Thursday during the House confirmation hearing for ASG Treasurer nominee Falema'o Phil Pili, tensions rose when Ituau Faipule Rep. Taotasi Archie Soliai was given a chance to question the witness but instead, addressed his colleagues first and said that work in the House of Representatives is the work of the people, for the people.
(Taotasi's remarks were sparked after a motion was put forth to excuse the witness, meaning all questioning would cease).
Obviously concerned about how the confirmation hearings have been conducted this week, Taotasi reminded House Ways and Means committee chairman Rep. Fatulegae'e Mauga that confirmation hearings are very important and therefore, each faipule should be given the opportunity to ask questions and express whatever concerns they may have.
"The importance of these confirmation hearings is not only to review the qualifications and the capabilities of each appointee. It is the responsibility of the House and each committee to ensure that the task that these people are about to undertake is clearly understood because once the nominee is confirmed, it is a 4-year appointment," Taotasi remarked. "We must maintain the integrity of these confirmation procedures."
In response, Fatulegae'e said Taotasi has been given a chance to question the witness and he should use his time to do just that. Rep. Fetu Fetui Jr. intervened and reminded chairman Fatulegae'e that a motion to excuse the witness was already put forth and seconded, meaning the hearing was basically over.
Taotasi replied that he is familiar with House rules and how hearings should be conducted, and all he was asking for was a chance for each faipule to address the nominee.
Committee vice-chair Rep. Atualevao Gafatasi Afalava then hesitantly addressed the committee chairman and members, telling them that the floor is open and to allow Taotasi to continue, which Taotasi did. (See tomorrow's edition of the Samoa News for full details of Falema'o's confirmation hearing).
Everything seemed to be smooth sailing after that. However, during a separate confirmation hearing for Homeland Security director Utualii Iuniasolua Tului Savusa, the issue was again raised by Rep. Fagasoaia Lealaitafea, Taotasi's colleague from the Ituau District.
Fagasoaia is one of the 13 lawmakers who is a member of several House committees and serves as Chairman of the House Committee on Commerce and Retirement.
Fagasoaia stood in defense of Taotasi and the others, saying that work in the House should be a collaborative effort and to allow all the lawmakers to participate in the confirmation process. Chairman of the House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security Rep. Su'a Alexander Eli Jennings who presided over this particular hearing did give everyone a chance to ask questions.
Taotasi and six other faipule who sided with him during the race for House Speaker were not selected to leadership roles or granted membership status for any of the House's 13 standing committees.
Since the confirmation hearings began this week, it has become obvious that the seven faipule in question are not being afforded the chance to speak and/or ask questions. This, of course, is at the discretion of the committee chairman.
Taotasi said that he and the others feel like outsiders, as they are being ignored and not being treated as equals.
The entire confirmation hearing process, so far in the House, is raising a lot of eyebrows from onlookers. The way they are being carried out is being questioned as, before the start of each hearing, faipule are instructed by the committee chairman to ask only ONE question, and they can hold the rest of their inquiries until AFTER the nominee is confirmed, then a follow up hearing can be scheduled.
Taotasi said, logically, each lawmaker's vote depends on how their questions are answered and if they are not allowed to ask questions, how can they be expected to decide which way to vote?
Samoa News has observed that Rep. Fetu is the most antagonistic of the faipule, who voted for the current Speaker of the House, as he has been seen pushing to close a hearing before a chance has been given to all to ask their even one question.