A hero? Villain? And is it late?

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

The former Head of State, His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi’s decision to break his silence on fears about the alienation of customary lands and Samoa’s land laws will gain him some friends and probably more enemies. That much is undeniable.

While he would be celebrated as the ultimate hero in some corners of Samoa and abroad for his courage to raise his voice given the sensitivity of the issue in question, he would remain a villain in the eyes of some people, who already don’t like him.

Indeed, his enemies will continue to remind him that it is he who signed the Land Titles Registration bill into law and therefore whatever he says now no longer matters. They will argue that he has only decided to speak out because he is no longer the Head of State.

They have a point. After all, would we be having this conversation had the former Head of State simply refused to sign the bill? What would have happened if he rejected it? And would he have spoken out now if he were still the Head of State? Who knows?

For the record, His Highness Tui Atua has explicitly claimed he was assured and reassured by the Office of the Attorney General there was nothing to be alarmed about when he was given the bill to sign.

In hindsight, it was a false sense of assurance and him speaking out now is an admission of that. Looking in from the outside, His Highness Tui Atua must be commended for his courage to step forward like he did last week. 

Some other leaders would have just dipped their heads in shame and take their regrets with them to the grave. Tui Atua has not. He has been man enough to admit he was misled and knowing what he knows now, he has not remained silent. 

Besides, it’s better late than never. We know this much, it would not have been an easy decision to make. But after giving the issue considerable thought, Tui Atua has made his views known. Good on him.

The paper titled “O fea le alofa? Where is love?” published in the Sunday Samoan was a masterpiece in how to articulate value, vision and wisdom. Which is what Tui Atua does better than anyone else in this part of the world, which will remain as one of his lasting legacies. 

The choice of language, the imagery and the indigenous reference was beautiful, pointy and it hit the nail on the head. Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, the Government and the people of Samoa cannot ignore it.

We ought to listen. Tui Atua warns about a significant cross-road Samoa has found herself in.

“Not just in terms of trying to figure out how best to protect our customary land from foreign or alien interests, but also how to protect ourselves from ourselves,” he said. “Since Samoa regained Independence we have taken our faasamoa for granted. We as leaders have assumed that so long as we have governing control over ourselves, Samoa mo Samoa, we will never lose it. 

“But the loss of culture and core values can happen slowly, subtly and stealthily, and on our own watch.

“Today it has become clear that we can no longer escape the reality that as leaders we must take a public stand against allowing the ambiguity of Article 102 of our Constitution to persist. 

“We must admit that in light of the accumulating evidence, this ambiguity has been exploited in ways that now seriously undermines the integrity and purpose of Article 102, i.e. to protect customary lands from alienation. 

“Today I make a plea that as a nation whose faasinomaga (identity) and tofi (inheritance) are inextricably connected to our customary lands that we stand together and demand that this ambiguity be properly attended to, and that following this the Article be accordingly amended. This is our right; it is our right as suli (heirs) of all customary lands in Samoa, whether you live in Samoa or not.”

So what is the problem? Well lets take a look at Article 102 to start with:

 No alienation of customary land – It shall not be lawful or competent for any person to make any alienation or disposition of customary land or of any interest in customary land, whether by way of sale, mortgage or otherwise howsoever, nor shall customary land or any interest therein be capable of being taken in execution or be assets for the payment of the debts of any person on his decease or insolvency:

Provided that an Act of Parliament may authorise –

(a) The granting of a lease or licence of any customary land or of any interest therein;

(b) The taking of any customary land or any interest therein for public purposes”.

Said Tui Atua: “In layman’s terms the Article says that it is illegal to alienate customary lands unless an Act of Parliament allows for 1. a lease or licence to be granted over customary land, or 2. customary land is to be taken for public purposes. 

“I do not have any problems with the taking of customary land for public purposes, assuming of course that such public purposes are indeed valid public purposes. 

“What I have a problem with is the ambiguity that arises as a result of reading the sub-clause that states that an Act of Parliament may authorise “the granting of a lease or licence of any customary land or of any interest therein” alongside the wording of the main text of the Article which says no alienation of customary land “…whether by way of sale, mortgage or otherwise howsoever.”

He added that the debate about Samoan customary land and land laws “is the most dangerous issue facing us since our fight for the return of our” Independence.

“The land law issue we are embroiled in now has the potential to strip us of our soul. There is a divisiveness here that we must avoid at all costs,” he said. 

“But to avoid this we must re-locate, re-inscribe and re-inspirit in the heart and mind of our laws the wisdom of our tu ma aganuu Samoa and our tofi pa’ia tuufaasolo. This we cannot do without finding and reviving the principle of alofa in law. 

 “We have faced many challenges as a nation since regaining Independence but this is the most serious. To overcome this challenge, we must first recognise that the challenge now comes not from outside but from within.” 

Wonderfully said and we couldn’t agree more. 

Our problem today is that the concept of alofa has been crushed by man-made laws, which protect the interests of the powerful and mighty while exposing the poor and the most vulnerable to the point where they risk losing everything they have – including lands and their souls. 

What do you think? Write and share your thoughts with us!

Have a great Tuesday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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