Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi was reminded about the fate of the all-powerful “King Nebuchadnezzar”* from the Bible at Salelologa yesterday.
The reminder came from the chants from more than two hundred protesters who spoke through signs and placards that “Samoa is not for Sale.”
The protest, organised by the Samoa Solidarity International Group (S.S.I.G.), called on the Government to repeal the Land Titles Registration Act 2008, which they claimed could alienate customary lands.
Women, children, untitled men, fa’afafine and people of all ages took part in the protest.
Former Member of Parliament, Leota Su'atele, led from the front and hailed the peaceful march a success.
The Group also used the protest to gather signatures for the petition they intend to submit tomorrow before the Parliamentary Committee during the public hearings.
“We marched in Savai’i to ensure that our people start to ask questions and know how dangerous leasing our customary lands to investors is,” Leota said.
“The protest’s objective is to raise awareness and to inform the public of the threats on Samoa’s customary lands via the L.T.R.A. 2008."
Leota was assisted by other S.S.I.G. members, Unasa Iuni Sapolu, and Pa’u Mulitalo. All three of them are lawyers by profession.
The March started at the three corners in Salelologa, where Savai’i’s only traffic light is located, to the market.
Land Transport Authority traffic officers, along with their Assistant C.E.O, Mata’afa Sepelini Poufa, escorted the march.
They ensure motorists were able to travel freely on the main road.
In December last year, a similar march was held in Apia where about 300 people attended.
The protest from Vaisigano to the Mulinu’u gravesite of the late Malietoa Tanumafili II was to raise awareness ensuring customary lands were protected under existing laws.
Leota told the Sunday Samoan the momentum generated by the protests is bad for the Government who are pushing for the legislation, but it is a great success for safeguarding the future of Samoa.
“And the violation of our Constitution is a source of hostilities and when we see overseas people protesting constitutional legislation by their Government, this is exactly the same thing."
“In Samoa, we are doing the same. Our Constitution has been tampered with by the Government."
“No one is above our Constitution, our Prime Minister, you and me we are all covered under the Constitution."
“So when we see that there is something wrong here, we should act and not sit idle."
“Our fight is to repeal the L.T.R.A. 2008 because we know our Constitution has been violated. This March also serves a purpose for the foreigner investors that we do care about our lands."
“It is our identity and our treasures and if we lose it to mortgages, what then?"
“Again the customary land lease issue should be stopped immediately,” said Leota.
Asked as to what is the next move for the S.S.I.G. after their second March, Leota said so far there are 3,000 signatures on the petition.
“We intend to present the petition tomorrow, to the Parliamentary Committee."
“I will be accompanied by Unasa Iuni Sapolu and Pa’u Mulitalo to present our petition to the Committee as a result of the two marches."
“We will not back down from this issue because it is our children and grandchildren who will suffer when our lands are taken from us.”
Pa’u, who was among those leading the march, said the most challenging aspect of the march in Savai’i was the groundwork.
“However I am impressed with the turn out and it is very encouraging to see our people come together to fight a good cause."
“We have people from Savai’i, which is the whole purpose for the people to understand that leasing our customary lands is very dangerous."
“It is a risk, and while life is all about taking risks some risks should not be taken."
“Again this is a gamble,” said Pa’u.
Last month, Fiu Mata'ese Elisara, matai of Sili Savaii, and Executive Director of Ole Siosiomaga Society Incorporated, told the Sunday Samoan the reason behind his full support of the March.
“The right information that envelops holistic and full awareness is always invaluable."
“I personally supported the protest and peaceful S.S.I.G. organised marches in December last year around the world, but was unable to join the Samoa activity because I was away to attend to the funeral arrangements of my dear 90-year-old mother in Pago Pago who was put to rest and buried the same day the march took place."
“So any effort to inform our peoples on L.T.R.A. (both the benefits and risks), be it with S.S.I.G., S.U.N.G.O. community awareness work, our group of four, our village advocacy work, information sharing in Samoa and overseas, use of every media avenues to inform, etc. can only be positive to ensure people are fully aware, adequately informed and catalyse them to make clear and informed choices.”
Fiu said it is unfortunate that many take these actions as dissenting voices to Government when these are people taking their rights to voice concerns on proposed and ongoing activities of Government.
“But as long as these stakeholders and rights holders voices are prudently structured, visionary constructive, socially balanced, and politically neutral, they can only be invaluable as part of our collective responsibilities to contribute to the much needed transformational changes arguably the Government need."
“I have written before to sound out Government on their leadership responsibility to ensure they not only promote the benefits of development initiatives, but more importantly the risks, which for me is the more relevant and pivotal information for the people of this country to better align."
“This is because they are the ones who will inevitably shoulder the burden of the impacts of developments and national policies emanating from government."
“These calls have unfortunately been ignored, but their inaction should not be a reason for us to stop holding our Government to account."
“It is imperative. It is a call for all of us to try and help Government integrate some balance to their hell bent focus on sustained economic growth at the peril of a balanced treatment and respect for the other pillars of sustainable development - social equity, ecological integrity, and cultural diversity."
“Personally, I hope that this is an added effort to go beyond the L.T.R.A. and inform the people of Savaii, indeed Samoa, why the collective wisdom of our forefathers who authored of the Samoa Supreme Law under Article 109 of the Constitution requirement for a referendum is now even more non-negotiable."
“We assert that the right and only forum to decide on customary lands issue is as our forefathers and framers of the Constitution dictated under Article 109 through the imperative of a referendum.'
“Let the people decide. This independently conducted referendum process without political influence, with clearly articulated questions, associated international integrity checks, secured principles of accountability, and to ensure free prior and informed consent of all Samoans, is the only way this discourse can be and should be addressed."
*King Nebuchadnezzar was one the greatest king of ancient Babylon but he was driven away from human society, ate grass like oxen.