Several high chiefs from different villages yesterday threw their support behind the government’s initiative to promote the economic use of customary land by leasing customary lands.
At the launch of the Policy Paper for promoting the economic use of customary land at the T.A.T.T.E Building, more than a hundred stakeholders including village representatives were present.
One of the matai there was Aufai Uesile Amuimuia.
The high chief from Salamumu said leasing customary land has many benefits.
“I have four acres of land leased by Sa’Moana Resort in our village,” said Aufai.
“That land was unutilised for many years but if you go there now, you see people working on it and making use of it. I’m getting money from it through the agreed lease and its very beneficial.”
Aufa’i said the lease started in 1998 and after five years there was a change of ownership.
The Resort, which is run by Australians, has a lease of 30 years on Aufai’s land and the right to renewable of lease for another 30 years.
“For the first few years such businesses don’t make much profit until later on,” explained the matai.
“So the 30 years lease ensures they build the business and get some returns and at the same time I get payment and we can review the rent after five years.”
Aufai applauds the initiative from government. He stressed that “customary lands are protected under the Constitution and to me it’s only being leased, it’s not being bought and taken away.”
A former employee of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Aufai said his time in the Ministry had helped him understand the process better.
“The customary lands cannot be leased without an order from the Land and Titles Court,” he explained.
“Your lease has to be advertised for three months to ensure that no one interferes in the middle of business and it assures the person leasing that the land is secure for them to lease.
“It benefits us in many ways like getting paid for the lease and there is also lease of access road.”
Aufai said he has not had any problems with the lease since it started.
Taufao Maiava Lo’i from the village of Piu Faleali’i agrees.
The high chief said the Samoa Water Authority has leased his land for water projects.
“I support the idea of leasing customary lands for the sake of us from rural villages who are not wealthy,” said Taufao.
“The Electric Power Corporation are also using about more than 20 acres of land for their biogas project. It’s good because it gives our village of Piu free units while E.P.C. sells the rest.
“At the moment they are not leasing on the land we have just given them land for their project…it’s for the betterment of our village if we get free electricity.”
On the other hand is Lavea Tupuola Sione Malifa from the village of Siumu.
Lavea said he supports the idea to help with development and economy.
“Most of the customary lands are idle,” he pointed out.
“When remittances and aids dry up in the future at least we can get some percentages from here to improve schools, water and all sorts of developments.
Many people think it’s a risk but we have to take risks so we can measure in the future if its beneficiary for future generations.”