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The Contemporary Pacific 13.1 (2001) 246-255

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Polynesia in Review: Issues and Events, 1 July 1999 to 30 June 2000

The issue that made the most headlines in Samoa in the period from July 1999 to June 2000 was the murder of the minister of Public Works, the Samoa Water Authority, and the Electric Power Corporation. Other important issues included by-elections, the electoral reform commission, the Olympic sports dispute, and the nurses' strike.

Events of the night of Friday 16 July 1999 shocked the tiny Samoan nation and the world. A ceremony to mark the twentieth anniversary celebration of the Human Rights Protection party (HRPP) was being held at St Joseph's College hall at Alafua, about 10 minutes drive inland from Apia. Minister Luagalau Leva'ula Kamu and Tuala Sale Tagaloa, Minister of Land, Survey and Environment, were co-masters-of-ceremony. Luagalau was shot at close range, a few minutes after introducing the prime minister, as he walked to the back of the stage to answer a cellular phone call from a relative. He was fatally wounded by a single shot from a .223 calibre rifle. At about eight o'clock, he was taken to the national hospital, where he died thirty minutes later (SO, 18 Jul 1999). Luagalau's body was laid to rest at his home in 'Ululoloa on 22 July. Among the dignitaries who attended the funeral were the New Zealand members of parliament Murray McCully and Tau Henare, accompanied by the Samoan members of the New Zealand parliament Arthur Anae of the National party and Phillip Field of the Labour party.

Samoa tried to come to terms with its first political assassination in modern times. Well known as a peaceful people who pride themselves in their [End Page 246] culture, which they believed could solve their differences through the exercise of oratorical skills and wit, Samoans found it difficult to believe that the assassination of Luagalau had taken place in their homeland. As one Samoan wrote, "What is happening to our country? What is happening to the heart of Polynesia, the place that we've been promoting as one of the safest countries in the world? . . . I grieve for Samoa" (SO, 21 Jul 1999).

Luagalau was educated in Samoa before entering the University of Hawai'i where he graduated with a master's degree in political science. He returned to Samoa and worked in the foreign affairs section of the Prime Minister's Department before winning a government scholarship to study for a law degree at Auckland University in New Zealand. He returned to Samoa and established his own law firm with his wife, who had graduated with Master of Laws from the same university. After a long involvement in various committees of the Human Rights Protection party (HRPP), Luagalau won one of the two seats of Salega constituency on Savai'i Island in the 1996 general elections. He was appointed to the cabinet by the late prime minister Tofilau Eti Alesana and given the portfolios that he held at the time of his death.

In the next few weeks, events leading to Luagalau's violent death unfolded, and on 27 July, thirty-four-year-old 'Alatise was arrested and charged with his murder (SO, 28 Jul 1999). 'Alatise is a son of Le'afa Vitale, then incumbent minister of women's affairs. On 3 August, the HRPP caucus dismissed Toî and Le'afa from the party (SO, 5 Aug 1999). Earlier the same day, Le'afa's appointment as minister of women's affairs was terminated. On 4 August, sixty-seven-year-old Toî Aukuso Cain, former minister of Post Office and Telecommunication in the HRPP government, was charged in connection with Luagalau's murder, and on 5 August, fifty-six-year-old Le'afa was also charged. (SO, 6 Aug 1999).

Effective from the same day, a security system was instituted at the main government building, which housed most government departments. On 6 August, 'Alatise admitted to the shooting of Luagalau in the supreme court and was given a mandatory death sentence. Toî and Le'afa...