Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has been named first defendant in the $5 million lawsuit against the Samoa Government over the Land Titles Registration Act (L.T.R.A.) 2008.
The lawsuit was filed last week Friday by the Samoa Solidarity International Group Global, where they are questioning “legality” and the “constitutionality” of the Act.
Others named in the civil claim are the Attorney General Lemalu Hermann Retzlaff, former Attorney General Aumua Ming Leung Wai, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and the Samoa Land Corporation.
Feagaimaali’i Bruce To’omalatai is also named as the second applicant in the civil claim.
The S.S.I.G. is seeking the Court to void the L.T.R.A. 2008 and that any and all customary land leases be returned to their original and traditional state of ownership prior to 2008 and all customary land owners be returned their rightful ownership status immediately and others occupying the said land be illegally removed.
There are six cause of action outlined in the S.S.I.G. claim.
According to the lawsuit, the S.S.I.G. asserts the Government is in violation of Article 102 of the Constitution by implementing, authorising, passing and enforcing L.T.R.A. 2008 that alienates the traditional landowners of their legal rights to their customary land.
“By using the Land Torrens System, which required the L.T.R.A. 2008 and the Government have for all intents and purposes, alienated customary land from the traditional and legal owners’ possession without case notice or compensation.”
Another issue noted by the civil suit is that Article 109 of the Constitution was violated by the defendants passing a law that allows alienation of customary land without satisfying the requirement for a referendum vote before submitting the said amendment of the Constitution to the Head of State’s signature.
The third cause of action indicates the Government passed the L.T.R.A. 2008 and enforcing for 10 years violated Article 2, which states the constitution shall be the supreme law of Samoa and also the Government violated article 14 pertaining to rights regarding property.
“Many traditional customary landowners under the L.T.R.A. 2008 were deprived of their ownership rights without any form of compensation.”
Another cause of action is the freedom from discriminatory legislation where “the Government passed the L.T.R.A. 2008 and enforcing the arbitrary elimination of customary land ownership rights based on the availability of space on a registration document and by selecting owners based on their matai privilege as Sa’o of the family is in violation of Article 15,” says the civil claim.
The last cause of action is that defendants in their roles from time of drafting and passing the L.T.R.A. 2008 to drafting and passing L.T.R.A. 2015 to permitting the Bill in 2017 before Parliament, have all conducted themselves with either recklessness or gross negligence to the Samoa Constitution.
“There are numerous breaches of particular articles in the Constitution as a result of these legislations,” says the civil claim.
The plaintiffs seek the court’s relief for an order of Declaration Judgement Act 1988, determining the construction or validity of the L.T.R.A. 2008 and the L.T.R.A. 2015 as being null, void and illegal.
Furthermore, the S.S.I.G. pursues a court order declaring the alienation of Customary Land Bill 2017 as being null, void immediately, pursuant to Articles 2, 14, 15, 102 and 109 of the Constitution supreme law over the L.T.R.A. 2008 and its subsequent amendments.
The lawsuit also seeks an order for inunction effective immediately suspending any and all of the application of the L.T.R.A. 2008 and any other amendment’s or Bills being proposed at this time, including the Lands Amendment Bill 2017 until the matter is completely resolved.
Also the S.S.I.G. hopes the court compensatory damages for loss of use of customary land by those who lost their ownership rights under the L.T.R.A. 2008 and those who have lost their rights to reclaim their customary lands.
“Exemplary damages upon the defendants due to their deliberate recklessness and or gross negligence in authorizing and allowing the passage of legislations which breach and violate constitutional customary land rights for the sum of $5 million tala.”