The Member of Parliament for Vaimauga Sasae, Sulamanaia Tauiliili Tuivasa, has rejected a plan to allow foreign investors to use customary land lease as mortgage to borrow money from the bank.
He is worried that the loophole gives investors room to manipulate local land Owners, which could potentially lead to the alienation of customary lands.
The Member of Parliament expressed concerns in Parliament last week during the debate of the Alienation of Customary Land Amendment Bill 2017.
“I strongly reject the mortgaging of customary lands,” he said.
“That’s the issue I have with this law. We’ve been leasing customary lands for a long time now and nothing has happened, it is still owned by our families, villages and districts. But I am worried about an investor using the land as mortgage for the bank.”
Sulamanaia said this should not be allowed.
“If an investor comes, he should bring his own money. I understand from the law that this can only be done if the family agrees to have the land mortgaged. Still the allowance of the lease to be mortgage leaves room for a foreigner to manipulate our sa’o (family paramount chief) because the sa’o will find it so easy to approach the investor in advance the payment.”
At that point, the Associate Minister of Health, Salausa Dr. John Ah Ching interjected.
“The customary land cannot be mortgaged, it is the lease that can be mortgaged,” he said. “That is my understanding of what was explained to me, during our seminar.”
But Sula was not convinced.
“Where does the mortgage stand? In the air?” he fired back. “The lease and mortgage are tied to the land.”
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi immediately took the floor.
“The doctor is right,” he said referring to Salausa. “The mortgage is on the land but the mortgage is different from the land.
“For example, if the lease is a 100 years, it has a big value. If 50 years remain and for some reason the bank takes the land, the strength of the mortgage then is 50 years. If that happens again when there is 25 years left, then the person who takes over will only have 25 years left of it. So even if the mortgage sits on the land, the land is separate from the lease.”
Sulamanaia returned to the floor and said: “I understand but these are just my concerns.”
The Member of Parliament expressed concerns about the debt taken out on the land and how easy it is for the Government to amend the Constitution.
But the reference to the Constitution did not sit well with Prime Minister Tuilaepa.
“We don’t just change the Constitution for the sake of it. If you look at the amendments to the Constitution we’ve made, they are issues that are critical to this country and that’s why the Constitution is amended. Land is a treasure for all Samoans.
“Also do not compare us to New Zealanders and Australians, just like what those who are opposing are going on about.
“We are Chiefs of our families and villages and why would be stupid to endorse something that can lead to the loss of our lands.”
He reiterated there is no need to compare Samoa to New Zealand and Australia given their people are not running their governments and their laws.
“Unlike Samoa, it is Samoans who are drafting our laws and it is approved by us who are Chiefs and we as Chiefs will not let anything happen to our customary lands.
“This is what that everyone tends to forget, this is our lands and we own it,” said Tuilaepa.
At the beginning of his address, Sulamaiana said: “For any Samoan, when it comes to land issues, everyone has an opinion. Why? It’s our inheritance, God given inheritance. Every matai has land.
“But I am worried. Why? I’m suffering because of our lands that were taken forcefully during the German administration. I don’t blame my ancestors, but starting from Laulii, Letogo there are lands that had been taken which our constituents are suffering from as a result.”
Prime Minister Tuilaepa corrected the M.P..
“These lands were bought by German business people at the time for their developments. There were purchases that led to Court cases. Some 1500 Court hearings were held in the High Court so a lot of the land purchases were dissolved.”
Tuilaepa clarified that the lands were not forcefully taken by the Germans, rather they were bought and the process was done legally.
“It was business people from Germany who bought the lands to develop and in the process of the purchasing of the lands; the matter was taken to the High Court at the time.
“A total of 1,500 court hearings were held and most of the purchases were not honored by the court and the lands were returned to the owners, while other purchases were verified,” he explained.
“The war in 1914, led the New Zealand Government to take the lands away from Germany.” He said the New Zealand Government passed on these government lands to the Samoa Government.
Parliament continues today.