The government’s decision to relocate Sogi residents – which has led to a legal action against them – is not only “unfair,” it is also “insincere.”
That’s the opinion of the President of O Le Si’osi’omaga Society Inc, Fiu Mataese Elisara, who has urged Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi to tell the truth as to why they have evicted people from Sogi.
“The first one is the fact that the government is using climate change as an excuse and the main reason why they asked the people to relocate,” Fiu told the Sunday Samoan.
“It seems that there is a conflict in the reasoning by the government when in fact they are actually talking about the Waterfront project. They already have a plan of the project as well."
“The decision seems insincere. They’ve used climate change as an excuse at the same time, they are planning to have the Apia Waterfront project and it contradicts their decision. That’s the first issue.”
According to Fiu, the government needs to stop making up excuses.
“They should tell them the truth and say that they are asking Sogi to relocate because of the waterfront project and not because of climate change. They need to be honest with the people of Sogi.”
Fiu, who is a strong advocate for indigenous rights, said he understands the government has the power to take away people’s land under the ‘Taking of Land’s Act 1964’ to remove people from their lands for public purposes."
However, Fiu he warns that the decision for the people of Sogi to relocate will have a huge impact socially.
“The decision will surely cause stress for the people of Sogi,” he said.
“But no one is doing an analysis or a research on the impact assessment of resettlement. A lot of global policies we have now require the donors who have projects involving people, to carry out an Environment Impact Assessment (E.I.A). But they also need to look at the Social Impact Assessment and how it affects the mentality of the people.
“These people have been there for hundred years. That community is made up of generations and generations from hundred years ago. That is home for them.
“And if we ask them to relocate, that’s violating their rights and that’s an element of injustice."
“Because they finalized their decision without adequately consulting the people first.”
Moreover, Fiu believes that with this decision, the people who have been living together closer to each other will be divided.
“This community has been a very closed-community for years, asking them to leave will divide the community.”
Adaptation is another challenge the residents will face if they relocate, said Fiu.
“If they move out of Sogi, it will take them time to adapt to this new place, new lifestyle and new environment,” he said.
“It’ll be just like a life of a new born baby; it’s going to be hard for them."
“The other thing is, most of these people have families and relatives buried at Sogi. This is going to be one major issue for these people."
“Again, this needs to be covered during a Social Impact Assessment. Unfortunately, they don’t carry out researches on the impact of these decisions and projects on people.”
Fiu said the government should have an integrated approach with regards to the Waterfront project.
“The question is, this is such a small community. If they are talking about integrated approach, why aren’t they able to actually plan and integrate with this community during their plan?"
“That would be an innovative thing to showcase the sincerity of the government on an integrated approach."
“That would save these people from having to relocate and also keep their rights from being violated.”
Sadly, Fiu said “development” and “money” are dictating our country.
“Because that’s what happening in our country. They (govt.) don’t care anymore about what happens to the people of the country. The only thing that matters is that for the people to listen and follow whatever decision they make depends on the policy of whoever will be funding the projects.”
Fiu said he is speaking up for the sake of those who do not know about these problems and also for the benefit of our children.
“We need to raise these issues because a lot of people do not know and realize that this is happening in our country. And that’s why we are standing up for those people. They are depending on people like us who have some sense of concern and sincerity for justice, and also our concern for the rights of these people.
“Okay, for example look at P.U.M.A; they have a P.U.M.A Act, where they are very clear on development consent. But the question is, have there been development consents in regards to these projects?
“You see the thing is, they do away with developments by the government, but if it’s just an ordinary man building a new house, they will quickly run to him with their development consent.
“We are just raising the flags for those who do not know about some of these things we talked about. Because if we put ourselves in their shoes, you would feel that this is not an easy thing to go through.
“The saddest part about this is that these people voted those who are in parliament at the moment, but they don’t care about them anymore because they (M.P’s) now have power and other things.
“But the very people who put them there in the first place are actually the ones who are shouldering the burdens of their decision making. So where is the justice in that?
“And in five years time, they will go back to the same people and ask them (community) to vote for them (M.P’s).
“So some people have to raise flags. Unfortunately, there are not many of us who are raising flags, most of them are scared. But I know that there are some people in the government who agree with what we are saying, but too scared to express how they feel about this issue.”
He also added that his views are not basically against the government’s decision.
“We are just flipping the other side of the coin for people to know that there are always two sides of a story.
“I mean why would we object if we know that they are doing something nice for the country.
“This is also not just for the people of Sogi who are living there and have been living there for a lot of years.
“This is also for our children and the younger generation. They will grow up and say, “My parents and grandparents fought for the rights of those people. Because we don’t want them to grow up and blame us for not doing anything to save the people.”