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Disputes resolved for now — 18 senators sworn in

The Senate majority has resolved the dispute from Manu’a District #2 by endorsing Laolagi Fonoti Vaeao, per recommendation of a Senate special committee, while there was no mention of the court case pending over the Alataua county seat, whose selected senator, Faletagoa’i Iati Tuiolemotu is certified by the Office of Samoan Affairs.

All 18 senators took the oath of office yesterday as administered by Chief Justice Michael Kruse, while family members and friends watched from a packed Senate gallery. There were also members of the public along with the news media—standing or sitting — on the stairways while still others waited outside for the 90-minute ceremony to be completed.

At the start of the ceremony, Senate Secretary Leo’o Va’a Ma’o—who was later re-elected for another term as secretary— led off with a prayer and afterwards announced the list of selected senators from each county.  But when it came to Manu’a District #2— comprised of Ofu, Olosega and Sili—he pointed out that there is no clear decision on who is their next senator.

After reading aloud the names of the senators  (which are published separately in today’s edition), Leo’o requested Laolagi and Malemo Tausaga—both of whom were in the Senate chambers, to step to an outside Fono office where they would await a decision by the Senate, and allow the ceremony to proceed to the next stage.

In accordance with Senate rules, the next step is to elect a temporary leader to carry out the rest of the ceremony and Nua Saoluaga T. Nua nominated Sen. Gaoteote Tofau Palaie, the Senate President from the previous legislature. The move was seconded by Letuligasenoa Soli.

However, Soliai T. Fuimaono asked the membership to forgo Senate rules and protocol and suggested utilizing traditional Samoan wisdom and respect by allowing the two Paramount Chiefs in the chamber—Senators Galeai Tu’ufuli and Mauga T. Asuega— to make a decision.

Mauga spoke at length in traditional Samoan salutation and said there should be no vote on this issue but instead they should utilize Samoan  “fa’aaloalo” or respect. He then called on Gaoteote to take up the post and reiterated that there should be no vote at all on this issue. He said Samoan traditions and customs have been affected by politics.

Mauga told Gaoteote, “this is your post” as Senate President, and recommended Soliai to be the Senate vice president, or Senate President ProTemp. He called on Galeai to join him in making this official.

Galeai said he supported the call by Mauga that selection of the two leadership positions of the Senate should not be through a vote, but through Samoan tradition and custom. He said this moment should be recorded and be part of Fono history that Gaoteote was selected instead of being elected to again serve another term as Senate president.

Gaoteote, who was standing next to Mauga in front of the Senate chamber while Galeai stood behind his desk, was emotional as he acknowledged the honor given him by the two leaders, but said that the final decision on who is to be Senate president must be in accordance with Senate rules when it comes time to electing officers of the Senate.

Gaoteote then proceeded to appoint a three member special committee to review credentials of all of the selected senators as well as the communication from the Office of Samoan Affairs, who provided the certification letters signed by the county traditional leaders and fa’alupega, or county chief.

The ceremony went into a five-minute recess while the three-member committee—Nua (chairman), Tuiasina Siolosega and Alo Fa’auuga — met in the Senate President’s Office for their review. They returned to the floor with Nua announcing that for 17 senators, their credentials are in place.

Regarding Manu’a District #2, he said, the certification documents for Malemo were signed by the fa’alupega and traditional leaders of Olosega, who attended a meeting there.  Nua said for Laolagi, the certification documents were signed by leaders of Ofu and Sili but no one from Olosega. However, Nua noted, Laolagi had been certified by the Office of Samoan Affairs.

Nua said the committee recommends that the Senate endorse Laolagi as the next senator. Gaoteote pointed out that there were also other letters from District #2 leaders, who stated that no consensus had been reached for their senatorial seat.

Soliai suggested that this issue be returned to District #2 for further consideration and to reach a consensus. He said the last meeting for this District was held on Tutuila and he believes this was not appropriate. This was supported by Mauga.

As previously reported by Samoa News the first meeting of District #2 was held on Olosega where Malemo was selected and certified by the fa’alupega while the second one was held in Tafuna where Laolagi was selected and certified by Samoan Affairs.

Gaoteote pointed out that this is not the first time the seat for District #2 has come before the Senate with two chiefs as their senator. He said that such an issue presented to senators is something that can be resolved by the Senate, which is made up of the territory’s traditional leaders.

After further discussion, Gaoteote called for a vote on Nua’s motion for the membership to vote on supporting Laolagi as the next senator. The final vote was 12 voting ‘yes’, and one ‘no’ vote.

Samoa News should point out that there were no discussions involved in the Alataua seat and no mention that the Senate is a party of interest in a complaint filed last month by county traditional leader Faletogo Tafavalu Taliloa, who claimed that he was duly selected during a Dec. 8 county meeting as Alataua’s next senator, while alleging the Office of Samoan Affairs’ interfered by certifying another county chief, Faletagoa’i - who is also another party of interest in the complaint.

Defendants listed in the suit are Samoan Affairs Secretary Lefiti Pese Atiulagi, Samoan Affairs deputy secretary Afuola Nanai Kalasa.

Meanwhile, there was no opposition or any other candidate offered as Senate President. Nua nominated Gaoteote and the decision was unanimous. Besides Leo’o regaining his role as Senate Secretary, Amituana’i Vini Atofau was re-elected as Senate Sergeant at Arms.

See full list of Senators in ‘More Headlines’ section.