Debating the stupid hand drive

By Cherelle Jackson

The debate on whether Samoans should be driving right-hand, instead of left-hand drive cars was yesterday renamed by the Prime Minister of Samoa, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, as the "correct hand drive".

During a press conference on the issue, Tuilaepa referred to the current left hand drive that Samoans are using as stupid hand drive.

"If you think about it, we refer to the right hand as the smart hand, and the left as the stupid one, currently Samoans are changing gears with the smart hand, the right, and driving with their stupid hand, the left," he said.

According to the prime minister, switching from left to right is therefore the logical choice.

"Things would finally be put right if we switch to using the right hand, or the correct one," he said.

His explanation comes after criticisms from various respectable members of the community accusing the current government of dictatorial leadership by imposing changes that are not necessarily endorsed by members of the public.

The debate which has been raging in the past few weeks is intriguing to say the least.

For the first time, some who previously supported the government are standing up and voicing their objections to the possible change in legislation.

"The world is moving forward and we are looking way ahead of us," Tuilaepa said yesterday.

Six leaders of local organizations who represent more then 50 associations, professional bodies, civil societies, non governmental organizations and businesses, with a collective membership of more then 10,000 people drafted a submission to the government expressing their dismay at the sudden change.

"On behalf of our members, we write to formally record that we do not support governments proposal to change from left-hand drive to right-hand drive and respectfully seek your reconsideration of the government decision," the submission stated.

The projected write off value for vehicles if the change goes through amounts to close to $300 million tala, but that is the minimum estimation according to the submission committee.

Tuilaepa however insists that this is the best decision for Samoa.

"The switch to right-hand drive will make vehicles more accessible to the people in the rural areas, and means relatives can buy them cars and send them back to Samoa from New Zealand," he said.

The submission clearly indicated that the importation of vehicles from New Zealand or Australia will be far more expensive then the current importation from America, Japan and other further destinations.

By the end of the press conference yesterday, Tuilaepa had linked the switch from left hand drive to climate change.

According to him, if more people in the rural areas have vehicles, it makes it easier for them to move inland, therefore saving them from the rising sea levels and ultimately from the impacts of climate change.

Far fetched perhaps, but an intriguing link nonetheless.

Asked as to the difference between driving up the hill in a left-hand drive or a right hand drive he said: "Well more people in the rural areas can get access to right hand drive because of their relatives in New Zealand."

Today [Friday] will see members of the public gather to express their views on the issue, it will make for a fascinating debate.

This will be an interesting test for the Samoan people, how vocal will they be, and how passionate are Samoans to impose the changes they wish to see?

According to Asiata Saleimoa Vaai, current Member of Parliament and Leader of Samoa Democratic United Party, Samoans need to make their voices heard.

"The apathy of our people has led the government to make decisions without their approval," Asiata said.

If the right hand drive goes forward without the approval of the people, what does this mean for Samoa?

We are currently being hailed internationally as the shining star of the Pacific in terms of stability and good governance.

Indeed this issue will put the shining star to the test, what will prevail in the end will determine the fate of our good governance status.

Tuilaepa reminded the media yesterday that he has won an award for his efforts in transparency, accountability and good governance.

This will be a good test for that award.

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