Truth, customary lands and what the Constitution tells us to do

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

The truth will eventually be revealed. That much we know. 

Whether that happens in this lifetime or the next, the fact is the truth cannot be hidden forever.

Which means that whatever is said today, tomorrow will be the judge. Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his administration will do very well to remember that. 

You see, just because they are in such positions of power that they feel they could do anything, say whatever and get away with it, it doesn’t mean that one of these days people will not be able to see the bluff for what it really is. 

The biggest worry is that if they get it wrong - and nobody gets it right all the time - they will not be around forever to suffer the consequences of their mistakes.

It is their children, our children and the unborn generations of this country who will have everything to lose. Now just imagine them living as exiles in their own country? Imagine being controlled on our own land – and at worse having nothing to give our children as their inheritance if the leaders of today screw up our customary lands? 

Which is precisely where we are heading as a result of desperation and greed.

Ladies and gentlemen, these thoughts have been hard to ignore during the past few days, especially listening to Parliament’s deliberations over the Alienation of Customary Land Amendment Bill 2017. 

The issue has been well debated for many months on the pages of this newspaper and we will not delve into the details in this piece. Suffice to say, judging from Parliament’s session this week, just about every Member of Parliament who spoke about the Bill, including some very hardcore H.R.P.P. members, expressed concerns about the future of customary lands. 

All Samoans should get copies of those Parliamentary hansards and keep them for future reference. When the stuff hits the fan, they should be able to pull these records out and find out what their representatives in Parliament did and said. After all, they are in Parliament as the voice of the people they represent, not to toe a party line that could potentially lead to destruction and desolation.

From our standpoint, we applaud the Members of Parliament who had the courage to speak up, especially against what appeared to be a conspiracy by the powers that be to keep them quiet. 

It would not have been easy; it would have taken a lot of effort and strength. 

But understand this folks, having being an avid follower of Parliamentary proceedings for the past many years, the debate about the Alienation of Customary Land Amendment Bill 2017 was a rarity, given Samoa being a one-party state. It was a rare session for the fact there were so many concerns expressed about the impact of a bill on Samoans.

Had the Speaker of Parliament allowed all of them the opportunity to elaborate on their concerns, they would still be talking about the bill today and possibly next week.

What does this tell us? Well it’s very simple.  If even the staunchest members of the H.R.P.P. are worried about the implications of the bill on the ownership of customary lands, why should we not? 

Obviously there is reason to be alarmed; there is reason to be concerned. And the mere fact that the H.R.P.P. is divided on the issue; it tells us not all is well. 

But then we knew that, didn’t we? Critics of the Government’s move in relation to customary lands have been highlighting many reasons why we should be concerned. 

We have been giving them space in this newspaper for years to air their views, just as we have been giving the H.R.P.P. government the opportunity to explain themselves. Today, we’d like to think that we’ve played our part in presenting all sides of the story so that you, our readers, are well informed and are able to make a quality decision.

Come to think of it, even the name of the bill is worrying. Why use the word “Alienation” in a bill that is supposed to protect customary land? For crying out loud, the name of the bill is the “Alienation of Customary Land Amendment.” Isn’t that self-explanatory?  

In the end, Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his ally, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, did their best to influence the debate. Prime Minister Tuilaepa was especially vocal, taking every opportunity to shut down any dissenting voice on the subject matter. 

By the time Parliament had moved on to the next item on the agenda, poor Tuilaepa had started to sound like a scratched record. His constant reference to “lauias” in the government, the “fifty of the smartest lawyers” in Samoa at the Attorney General’s Office and the Dr. who is the Executive Director of the Samoa Law Reform Commission was like a joke. It was as if this was the be all and end all solution to our problems. 

Sadly it is not. This is just the beginning.

In times like this, we need to consult the wisdom and vision of our forebears.

We need to look back and see what they had envisioned for Samoa when they laid the foundation for us today.  And according to the supreme law of the land, our sacred Constitution, it is quite simple. Should the government persist with its line of thinking in relation to customary lands, the country needs to hold a referendum. Period.

Have a safe Friday Samoa, stay tuned and God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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