Samoa’s first female prime minister seeks to install cabinet on Tuesday

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Samoa’s first female prime minister seeks to install cabinet on Tuesday

By Colin Packham
Updated

Samoa’s first female prime minister, Fiame Naomi Mataafa, said on Saturday her government would formally take office next week, a day after the country’s Court of Appeal affirmed her government was legal.

In her first comments to the media following the court’s decision, Mataafa said parliament would meet at the earliest opportunity next week to pass a temporary budget to keep the government running, giving her and her cabinet time to review the country’s financial and economic circumstances.

Samoa’s Prime Minister-elect Fiame Naomi Mata’afa.

Samoa’s Prime Minister-elect Fiame Naomi Mata’afa.Credit:Samoa Observer/AP

“Cabinet will formally take office on Tuesday next week on an expected smooth transition with the outgoing caretaker government,” Mataafa told reporters after meeting with key officials.

Samoa, which relies on subsistence farming along with tourism and fish and coconut product exports, has had to depend on foreign aid and is heavily indebted to China, which offered to back a port development by the previous government.

Fiame told Reuters in May she would shelve the Beijing-backed port development, calling the $US100 million project excessive for a small country already deep in debt.

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The Pacific country’s politics descended into crisis this year after the incumbent, China-friendly prime minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, refused to give way after losing a parliamentary election in April that ended his 22 years in power.

“My administration is committed to returning this country to the special place dreamt of by our forefathers, when they grabbed the mantle of independence almost 60 years ago,” Mataafa said.

Samoa’s Court of Appeal ruled on Friday a makeshift swearing in ceremony for the country’s next government was legal, officially installing Mataafa.

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Fiame held her own swearing-in ceremony, but Samoa’s highest court ruled this to have been illegal - a decision overturned by the appeals court on Friday.

“The practical consequence of the declaration is that the FAST party, having been constitutionally sworn in on May 24, are entitled to take office,” the judgement read.

It is not clear whether Tuilaepa will honour the ruling, setting the scene for further political instability.

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison congratulated Fiame and urged an end to the political instablity.

“It is important that all parties in Samoa respect the rule of law and the democratic process and comply with the directions of the court,” Morrison said in an emailed statement.

Tuilaepa’s Human Rights Protection Party did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Reuters

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