A policy paper on promoting the economic use of customary land by the Customary Land Advisory Commission (C.L.A.C.) was launched yesterday at the T.A.T.T.E Building.
The Commission chaired by Seamalepua Oloialii Ailuai was tasked to review all laws affecting customary land and make recommendations to Cabinet on how and what’s needed to facilitate, encourage and promote economic use of customary land.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi was there to launch the document and a website of C.L.A.C. under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment’s website.
In his address, Tuilaepa said the Commission’s work started in 2006 to look into promoting economic use of customary land with technical support of Asian Development Bank (A.D.B).
He reminded that land was given by God for everyone to work in order to serve their families, village, country and God.
“I hear many people talking about (land) being given by God but they sit on it and don’t do anything about it,” said Tuilaepa.
He criticised people who do not utilise the land but take others to the village mayor over a small yam planted on their land.
“But you were lying around not working the land that had overgrown invasive grass on it while other people wanted to work in it.
“There is no secret that our customary lands are needed for the development of our country and 81per cent of customary land which is more than half a million acres of land is under matai. The other 11percent is government and the other 8percent is freehold land.”
According to Tuilaepa, utilising customary land will stimulate the economy.
He explained it’s been 50 years since lease of customary lands was established and licensed.
Records from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment that he read out says that close to 300 leases of customary lands have been registered under the customary land lease license.
“That is .31percent on lease which is only 1743acres of land but more than half a million acres of customary lands are not,” said Tuilaepa.
“It means that 97 percent of customary lands are not under lease and a lot of them are just lying there unutilized. The rights of matai over the lands remain and it is up to them whether to lease customary lands or not but the truth is there are not enough developments conducted on customary lands like hotels, factories and other businesses.”
The Prime Minister said the small number of customary lands under lease limits opportunities for families and villages to lease and license customary lands.
He pointed out that we are all caretakers of our lands for our families but urged matai they need to make use of the lands they are sitting on through applicable laws to earn money for their own developments.
“I want to say this again that there can be and will be no alienation of customary lands as specifically required by the Constitution,” assured Tuilaepa.
At this point Tuilaepa continued by pointing to those who write to the newspaper voicing their unfound opinions. He did not say who and which newspaper.
“There are some people who don’t have jobs but are going around and writing to newspapers to condemn this as if it’s something bad,” recalled Tuilaepa.
“The truth is the country has been consulted but there are people who I thought were smart are writing to the newspaper to badmouth government plans and these people don’t have any developments.
“They came from overseas with PhDs and were sacked from one job and gone to another but they enjoy writing to the newspaper.”
Tuilaepa said if a person writes they should be mindful that there are other smart people that are reading and recording what they are saying.
“But when you write to attack government plans you are going against what is for the betterment of the general public.”
The Prime Minister then raised a question of what happens when a person makes a loan of
$100million from a bank and guaranteed on the land and could not pay back the payments.
He explained it is now up to the bank to take over the lease.
“If after five years and the lease is done then the bank leaves the land but they had to pay the lease,” said Tuilaepa. “The matai will continue to receive money and after ten years of lease they leave the land. This is where there are a lot of confused people because they do not understand. I had advised the committee to be alert and explain and make things clear for people to understand so they can lease their lands.”
Another example used by Tuilaepa is an elderly man from his village who had leased his land to a hotelier.
“The lease was going smoothly until other people came and told him that he would have got $100,000 from other people. He came to me and I told him there are a lot of con people and asked him to tell those people to bring the people they claimed will give him that money. They never came back.”
He also made reference to a trip to the United States where they were hosted by a Samoan family. Tuilaepa said his group lived with the family and two days later their fridge, television and cars were taken.
“They did not pay the part payments and the fridge, TV and car was taken back,” he remembered.
“The cause of all this is due to our people writing to relatives overseas for money. Our families overseas also have their obligations and doing down payments that we don’t know about. That is why I’m saying we are living on undeveloped lands and yet continue to ask those overseas for money.”
The content of the Policy Paper on promoting the economic use of customary land has four parts to it. The first part is Background which covers facts and considerations, previous project objectives and outcomes, the constitutional issues and status of current laws.
On the second part it looks at fundamental policy precepts while part 3 is protecting the rights of landowners.
Part 4 of the policy paper is Protecting the Interests of Mortgagees.