Samoa govt unmoved by right hand drive protest

By Cherelle Jackson

Samoa's biggest protest march in five years ended in peace today despite the Government giving no promise to reverse their plans to switch Samoa's road code from left hand drive to right hand drive.

The proposal would mean that 17,000 left hand drive vehicles currently on the road would be driving on the wrong side.

Samoans now drive left hand drive cars on the right side of the road, the switch would ban the importation of left hand drive vehicles and lift the ban on right hand drive vehicles, and ultimately switch the whole road code so that vehicles would drive on the left side of the road.

The move would bring Samoa's road rules in line with those of New Zealand.

More than 15,000 protestors marched to Parliament over the issue from 8.30am local time, lead by members of the business community as well as cultural and traditional village leaders.

The protestors were clad in white t-shirts branded 'No to RHD' with most carrying banners and posters branded: 'Safety Samoa' and 'Why wasn't I asked.'

Singing songs about peace and the original civil movement in Samoa, the protestors were peaceful throughout, with the occasional shout of an impassioned protestor every few minutes.

Close to 100 police guided the protestors from the Government Building where the march began all the way to the Parliament building, where the protestors were contained to one part of the Tiafau grounds.

They were made to wait while the family of the Head of State His. Highness Tupua Tamasese Efi paid their respects to the Government in a cultural ceremony.

When the Prime Minister of Samoa, Hon. Tuilaepa Sailele Lupesoliai Malielegaoi and Deputy Prime Minister Hon. Misa Telefoni Retzlaff came out of Parliament building to meet the people, the protestors stood up and raised their posters and moved forward.

The sudden movement caused slight friction with the police as some protestors tried to push their way closer to where Government representatives were seated.

The situation was quickly contained.

In a surprising move ,the Prime Minister did not speak, however, the protestors were met by the Speaker of the House Tolufuaivalelei Falemoe Leiataua.

"This land is guarded by procedures, Samoa is a land of respect, let us abide by these mutual laws," Leiataua said amid boos by the protestors.

Toleafoa Solomona Toailoa, a prominent Lawyer and instigator of the peoples response made the address to the Government making it clear that the protest was not against the Government but against their decision to change the road code.

"We are not here out of anger, but out of peace, we are not here out of defiance but out compliance to democracy," Toailoa said.

"This is a monumental day in the history of Samoa, many are gathered here for a common cause, for what we believe in. It is significant that we gather in this place, this place that signifies peace, this place marked by the blood of ancestors, this place where our constitution was founded, the constitution that protects our rights, that is founded by God and protected by our culture," Toailoa said.

"This change will have tremendous impact on all our lives, from our elders to babies," this received great cheers from the protestors.

Toailoa continued: "Democracy dictates that the voice of the people be heard, leaders are to ask for our opinion, for our voice, but alas you have not asked, that is why we are here," this received the most cheers by the protestors.

The Government was then presented with petitions signed by over 33,000 people from all over Samoa.

"The people have spoken through those signatures, and those are not all, there are still more to come," Toailoa said.

CDs of presentations and in depth feasibility studies and academic papers written in regards to the proposed switch were also presented.

The Speaker of the House, Leiataua accepted the petitions and presentation by the protestors and said: "I was going to ask if these CDs were of movies that children were not allowed to watch."

Toailoa reitereated: "Well since we know that all Parliamentatrians now own top of the line computers, we thought we would give it to you in a format that you can use."

Leiataua thanked the protestors for coming to Parliament, but said the Government could not give an immediate answer to their plea.

"Give us your faith, we will mull over this issue through the proper Parliamentary processes, you know very well that in Parliament when the Speaker of the House speaks, no one else speaks," Leiataua said, to which the protestors booed in response.

"There is no law yet, no decision has been made, we accept your protest, we accept your opinion, leave it to us now and let us go through the proper procedures, wherever this leads, you will hear of it," Leiataua said.

"Whereever God leads us to we will go, it is the way to the future," he added.

In a strange metaphorical note he ended: "We will not hide from this, we will not move into the shade and leave you out in the sun," meanwhile he along with Members of Cabinet were seated in well shaded tent and the protestors were sitting out in the sun.


The protestors had the last say with Toailoa correcting the Speaker that the protestors were not their in defiance of the law but seeking solace in proper democratic processes.

"We will now end this protest with a song," Toailoa said and then started the patriotic Samoan hymn 'Lo ta nuu' which speaks of freedom, birth and independence.

Parliament will meet tomorrow to discuss the matter.

-NEWSLINE SAMOA

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