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Vailoata interrupts Vui, who says, “Faipule are equal” — even a woman

Tualauta faipule Rep. Vui Florence Saulo [SN file photo]
Female faipule says she'll continue to be the voice of her constituents

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A ‘war of words’ erupted in the House of Representatives this week, after a male faipule interfered while a female faipule was speaking.

“All faipule are equal and we were selected to voice issues that can benefit our constituents and the people of American Samoa," said Tualauta faipule Rep. Vui Florence Saulo after Rep. Vailoata E. Amituana'i cut her off while she was trying to garner support for a hearing with the Office of Samoan Affairs regarding an additional mayor for her district.

No faipule has the authority to dictate what his/her fellow lawmaker should do, said Vui.

When the floor was hers, Vui voiced two issues. She acknowledged the services of the American Samoa Power Authority (ASPA), in reconnecting the electricity in her district after Tropical Storm Gita and she voiced the need for an additional mayor for Tualauta — specifically Tafuna.

Vui said Tualauta doesn't have enough village mayors and this impacts assistance provided for residents who suffered major losses following Gita. She said she has asked for a hearing on this issue in the past, but there has been no response from the Office of Samoan Affairs.

As she was trying to elaborate more on her request, Vailoata interrupted, saying Vui is raising an issue that has been discussed before, and it's taking the House backwards, having to deal with matters that have already been raised.

Vailoata said the issue regarding an additional mayor for Tualauta is something that needs to be dealt with at the district level — it’s not an issue for the House to discuss.

Vice Speaker Fetu Fetui Jr. — who led the House sessions this week in the absence of House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale who is off island — supported Vailoata’s statement about the Fono having no power to discuss matters regarding mayors; however, if Vui insists on a hearing with Samoan Affairs, he will support it.

Vui however, expressed her disappointment with the way Vailoata interrupted her, saying his statement was out of order. “My request for a discussion about an additional pulenuu was not acted on, and you shouldn't speak like that when your fellow faipule are talking — you have to show some respect.”

Her remarks didn't sit well with Vailoata who then stood up once again and said that once the leader of the House has spoken, that is the end of all discussions. He then told Vui that she should show some respect to the House’s leader.

Vui did not let the comment slide, replying that she doesn't like the way Vailoata responded to her request because it's not right for one faipule to speak up on issues that pertain to another's district.

She then dropped the issue regarding a hearing with Samoan Affairs and changed the subject to setting up a hearing with Public Works director Faleosina Voigt, to discuss matters pertaining to road conditions during post-Gita.

Among the witnesses she wants present during the hearing are the directors of the Health Department and the Dept. of Commerce.

Two other male faipule, Faimealelei A. Fu'e Allen and Lavea Fatulegae'e P. Mauga, then added their two cents in the war of words between Vailoata and Vui. Both sided with Vailoata.

Lavea said lawmakers must understand that once the House leader responds to an issue that means it's the end of discussion; while Faimealelei expressed his sadness with Vui, for carrying on and speaking on issues, even after the House leader had voiced his opinion.

“I’m one of the few faipule who talks too much during hearings and sessions; but once our leader gives his final say on a subject — out of respect —I will never go further,” the Aua faipule said.

Faimealelei told lawmakers that no directors would appear for any committee hearings, as their schedules are tight. He recommended putting a hold on all hearings at this time, and placing focus on other issues pertaining to government development.

Before she took her seat, Vui apologized to the House leader and her fellow faipule if they felt that she had gone too far.

She then emphasized how important the role of a representative is, to fight for things that benefit their constituents and the territory as a whole.

“I have been given the authority to be the voice for my district and I will continue to pursue my responsibilities to make sure I’m serving the people I represent. We are leaders and we need to set good examples for our young generation,” Vui concluded.