Why Sogi relocation has national significance

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

The legitimacy of the government’s only reason given so far for relocating the people of Sogi does not stand up to scrutiny. If, as they say, the relocation is merely based on climate change fears, this should alarm everyone in Samoa who lives on coastal areas.

The fact is sea level rise and coastal erosion continues to encroach onto our already limited landmass day by day. If the people of Sogi are being relocated because of that, why is the government then not relocating everyone else? What about the people of Mulinu’u, Apia, Vaiala, Moata’a and so forth? 

It just doesn’t make sense, does it?

The problem is although there are positives to the government’s decision to relocate the people of Sogi, no one has ever taken the trouble of sitting down and explaining them properly. Where are the government’s environmental experts? What about the people who conducted environment assessment impact report? Why are they not speaking out? Surely somebody has a perfectly logical explanation for this.

And because they have not done that, the unwillingness and the lack of transparency can be interpreted in many different ways. It’s either they don’t care at all about the people of Sogi – and what other Samoans think - or there might be a sinister motive they’d rather keep to themselves. Either way, we’ve got ourselves a very interesting situation now.

The usual political and sometimes mean-spirited rants from Prime Minister Tuilaepa about the issue every time he is asked during his weekly media programme do not cut it. You see when you give out half statements you expect people to swallow without question, it will only lead to more questions. 

And that’s precisely what’s happening in this case.

In fact, it’s not just questions anymore. 

There is a full-blown lawsuit brought by a family of Sogi against the government, which will end up costing taxpayers money to defend. It would certainly be interesting to see how that unfolds.

But let’s get back to the issue of relocating Sogi residents due to climate change, as is often cited by the government. Looking at the bigger picture, it does have its merits. 

Away from the environmental concerns, providing it all goes according to plan, each family will have an asset to their name in the future. Besides, for people who are looking for a bit more peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of town life, this is a heaven send.

The problem is the whole thing has been poorly thought out and it does give that the impression the people of Sogi are not important enough. It becomes even more insensitive when we stop to consider the history of the people of Sogi – as it has been wonderfully highlighted by Leasiolagi Dr. Malama Meleisea - in a series of stories we’ve been republishing on the pages of this newspaper. 

We are talking about issues of human rights and freedom of choice. And then there is obvious lack of care about how such decisions impact on people. 

For starters, these people are among the poorest in the community.  And yet they have been told to move their houses with such a lousy amount of money provided by the government. In this day and age, what can you do with $3,000 for a home? 

Do unto others as you’d have them do to you. If this were a Cabinet Minister being relocated, would he have walked without a fight? Would he have accepted such peanuts without saying a word? 

Of course he wouldn’t. They wouldn’t even dream of doing it to themselves in the first place. So why are they treating these people very differently?

We have to remember that for most residents of Sogi, their bread and butter came from the sea and what they fished out of the mangroves. 

That’s where the money came from to feed their families, school the children and to cater for the everyday demands of Samoan life. 

So you remove them from their source of income and what is there to replace that? The Tafaigata rubbish dump? It’s ludicrous.

The government has also been advocating that the families can now plant vegetable gardens on their pieces of land at Falelauniu. It’s not as easy as they say. Firstly, you need money to start a vegetable garden if you are serious about its commercial prospects. Besides, there is not much you can plant on a ¼ acre especially when you have more than 10 family members with fales dotting the entire estate.

The point is a government that truly cares for its people would have taken the trouble to ensure these people are not just uprooted and dumped elsewhere. It would have made sure their welfare is looked after and that they feel special enough they would be willing to forego the treasures and memories of the only place that they have known as home.

Alas, what we’ve seen so far has been nothing but insults on these people. As if the $3,000 was not insulting enough, what will happen to these families if they default on the payment of their land? Where will they go then? 

Some form of planning – and community consultation with the people affected the most – would have gone a long way to make this a smooth transition. 

Sadly what we are seeing is the typical behaviour of a government ruling with an iron fist. Which is why we say this has national significance. If the government has found it so easy to uproot the people of Sogi, what guarantees do we have that it will not do the same to you and me? What will happen if they need to do the same with the people of Salelologa, Apia and all the other coastal areas of value to the government and its plans? 

Think about it and share your thoughts with us.

Have a fabulous Wednesday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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