Lafaele's House confirmation hearing cut short

House Speaker: “…Senate does not dictate the way the House conducts business”

Words were exchanged and tensions rose in the House of Representatives during the regular session yesterday morning, when it was time to vote on the nomination of Keniseli Faalupe Lafaele as Department of Commerce director.

At the heart of the issue was the Senate’s wish for the House to cut their hearing short, because they were waiting to hold their own confirmation hearing of Lafaele.

Lafaele’s confirmation was scheduled for 8:30 a.m. in the House and 9:00 a.m. in the Senate. Not all lawmakers were given a chance to ask questions as Committee Chairman Rep. Fagasoaia Lealaitafea who presided over the hearing said the proceedings had to be cut short, per a request from the Senate side.

Secretary of the Senate Leo’o Ma’o was on the gallery steps signaling to Fagasoaia that the senators were waiting.

The hearing ended abruptly and this didn’t sit well with some of the faipules. Immediately afterwards, when the committee had gathered, Vice-Speaker Rep. I’aulualo Talia Faafetai told Fagasoaia that the work of the House is important and therefore, they don’t need to rush through things to satisfy the Senate’s schedule. Fagasoaia nodded and I’aulualo continued by saying that if the senators have to wait, they should, because the work of the House is as just important and needs to be carried out, regardless of time constraints.

When the regular session convened less than a half hour later, a motion was presented by Rep. Fagasoaia to confirm Lafaele. The motion was seconded and House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale instructed the Secretary of the House to start the voting process.

Rep. Pulelei’ite Li’amatua Tufele Jr. then stood up and said DOC is an important government department and he asked the House Speaker to delay the voting process and set another hearing date for Lafaele so all the faipules, even those who are not committee members, can have a chance to address the witness.

Pulelei’ite said this needs to be done because once the nominee is confirmed, they will be in office for the next four years. The Sua faipule put forth a motion to change the motion already on the floor, to stop the vote and recall Lafaele for questioning. The House Speaker brushed off Pulelei’ite’s comments, not offering a response but instead, told the House Secretary to proceed with the vote count.

However, Rep. Fetu Fetui Jr. stood up and attempted to make a statement, but the House Speaker, in his usual monotone voice, told Fetu that instructions on the way things are conducted in the House come from the podium where he is standing.

Meanwhile, the ballots were still being passed out.

The next faipule to take to the floor was Rep. Taotasi Archie Soliai, who asked Savali why there wasn’t a vote for the motion put forth by Pulelei’ite.

Savali said nobody seconded the motion to which Taotasi said that it was he who seconded the motion. Savali told the Ituau faipule he needs to speak up because he didn’t hear him.

The motion was then put up for vote and to nobody’s shock, the majority of the faipules did not want to recall the witness. Pulelei’ite’s motion was quashed.

Pulelei’ite stood up one last time and reminded his colleagues that the chairman of each committee has the authority to conduct hearings, and there is a need for the secretaries of the two Fono chambers to collaborate on the scheduling of the confirmation hearings so there are no time constraints. He said his intention is not to oppose Gov. Lolo Moliga’s cabinet nominations — all he wants is a chance for everyone to be able to ask questions and address the nominees.

The House Speaker in response to Pulelei’ite said, “I just want to make it clear that the Senate does not dictate the way the House conducts business.” (“E le lima ta’ita’ina ele Maota Maualuga galuega ale Maota o Sui.”)

In the end, Lafaele was confirmed with a vote of 12-7 in the House, with one abstention.

The House continues to have problems with its confirmation hearings for one reason or another. At first there was the issue of not giving ‘all’ members a chance to ask their one question of the nominees, and now is the issue of the Senate scheduling their confirmation hearings at a time that makes it necessary for the House to ‘cut theirs short’.


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