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Samoa News Editorial: A Fairy Tale Legacy

There’s a great 19th century fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson titled “The Emperor’s New Clothes” that I first read at the Feleti Barstow Library when I attended elementary school in Utulei. It’s one of those great cautionary tales that remain in your mind, because it highlights what happens when you don’t speak up — about things or issues that you consider wrong.

The tale is essentially the story of a Ruler in a distant land who loved his appearance so much he had a different suit for every hour of the day.

One day two rogues arrived in town, claiming to be gifted weavers. They convinced the Emperor/ Ruler that they could weave the most wonderful cloth in the world. The cloth, they said, had a magical property — and clothes made with this cloth were only visible to those who were completely pure in heart and spirit.

To make the tale short — the Emperor was never told by his advisors and ministers they could not see the new clothes, even going as far as to extoll the beauty of the cloth they couldn’t see.

The Emperor, himself, when he viewed his new clothes, said absolutely nothing. Instead, he pretended to admire the fabulous cloth, inspecting the clothes with awe, and, after disrobing, going through the motions of carefully putting on the new garments.

He then appeared before his people in a grand procession, all of whom cheered and clapped because they all knew the rogue weavers' tale and did not want to be seen as less than pure of heart and spirit.

But, then amid the cheering and clapping, a little child sitting on his father’s shoulders, was heard to loudly exclaim, for all the people to hear, that the Emperor had nothing ‘on’ at all —”Daddy, the emperor has no clothes!”

This tale seems to define the legacy Gov. Togiola Tulafono leaves us after ten years at the helm of our government. (He’s barred, by law, from running again after two full 4-year terms.)

His delivery on his Saturday radio program highlights it — his insistence on being ‘the boss’ (pule) with no room for public dialogue — but oh by the way, he says, “in a democracy, you have the right to say what you want,” ...just don’t waste his time.

Togiola’s phrases of “it’s just the same 4 - 7 people speaking out”, “they did it to just make the government look bad”, “they wasted space in my office”,“they were an eyesore”, “they always show the negative, not the positive of my administration”, “they talk without offering solutions”, “my government is doing fine”, and so on… are actually great fodder for Togi-bashing, and elicits laughter around the kava bowl, but not much else.

The kava bowl laughers see through the 'new clothes' phrases the governor drapes over reality. Thankfully there are some voices, crying like the child in the crowd — questioning this reality— through public dialogue.

Public dialogue, at its best, is the peaceful ‘march’ by the LBJ protesters with petitions and signs in hand; it is the petition signed by those who are against the StarKist cold storage site; and it is the Fagatele Bay Sanctuary expansion proposal public forum and comments solicited by NOAA, to name a few issues the governor has gone on about.

This is the reality of democratic government in American Samoa or anywhere. It’s government by the people, for the people — it’s about the people… not about a governor, not about a person, not about special interest groups — it’s about good governance.

It’s about keeping the questions, the discussions, the protests — petitions, forums and marches going — as a part of our public dialogue about our government. What we want it to be and what we want it to do. Public dialogue holds those we elect, and those who they ‘hire’, to acts of accountability, transparency and honesty  — the tenets of good government —the real 'clothes' of democracy.

When we go to the polls come November — let’s keep this in mind, and go in with our eyes wide open searching for the truth or reality of what’s best for our territory and its people.

Let’s wear our ‘Sunday best’.