The Asian Development Bank (A.D.B.) is taking the concerns voiced by a group of matai about customary land seriously.
Last year, the group raised a number of concerns about the A.D.B. assisting the government in promoting the use of customary lands for economic use.
The group, spearheaded by Lilomaiava Ken Lameta, of Vaimoso and Safotu, has since filed an official complaint against the A.D.B over a project they say “could alienate 80 per cent of all land in Samoa.” Other group members include Teleiai Dr. Sapa Saifaleupolu, of Samatau, Fiu Mataese Elisara, of Sili Savai’i and Leulua’iali’i Tasi Malifa, of Afega.
Initially, the Bank was somewhat dismissive about what the chiefs had to say.
But there appears to be a change of heart. In an email sent through to the matai, Special Project Facilitator Office of the Special Project Facilitator (O.S.P.F.) for the A.D.B., Jitendra (Jitu) Shah is now proposing a field a mission to conduct a review and assessment of the complaint.
The mission is scheduled to start from 15 November to 6 December 2014, subject to governmental clearance.
“The mission will comprise of myself, Jennifer Francis, Lea Robidillo, and assisted by a local consultant,” Mr. Shah said.
“We have submitted a mission clearance request to the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Finance in Samoa. “Kindly let us know your availability for a meeting during November 17-18 and we do hope you can join us at the meetings with the communities in various districts from November 19 to December 5.”
The local consultant has been confirmed as lawyer, Leota Tima Leavai. She will be working with the A.D.B team.
Mr. Shah also attached to his email a Terms of Reference (T.O.R) document titled Complaint on Samoa Promoting Economic Use of Customary Land
Technical Assistance and Samoa Agribusiness Support Project 17, and a proposed list of meetings.
According to the T.O.R., the mission’s purpose is to conduct a review and assessment of the complaint lodged on 9 September 2014. “The review and assessment seeks to accomplish the following, understand the history of the complaint, confirm all stakeholders involved, clarify issues of concerns and options for resolving them,” the T.O.R. reads.
“(Also) to explore the stakeholders’ readiness for joint problem solving and recommend how the problem/s can be solved.”
In regards to specific terms of reference, the A.D.B. plans to meet with all stakeholder groups involved in the projects.
According to the document, this is so it can introduce the O.S.P.F. and its purpose, describe the review and assessment process, discuss issues of the complaint and possible remedies.
The T.O.R. also state that the group plans to meet with A.D.B. project staff and consultants responsible for the Technical Assistance 8481/7387 and Grant 0392, orient them on A.D.B.’s 2012 Accountability Mechanism Policy specifically the
Problem- Solving Function, and discuss the purpose, schedule and roles/responsibilities of the staff and consultant during the review and assessment.
“(In addition to this) conduct site visits to meet with communities (sample to be identified) to better understand their knowledge of government’s efforts in promoting economic use of customary land,” the document reads.
“(Also) verify if communities have been informed about these efforts; and gain insights into community expectations and suggestions on the economic use of customary land.
“Conduct de-briefing, if required, with the government, complainants, and ADB to share OSPF’s preliminary findings and discuss possible next steps.”
This back flip from the A.D.B. comes after the group approached the Sunday Samoan, after it appeared their concerns fell on deaf ears at the Bank.
Group member, Fiu Mataese Elisara said as the group submitted an official complaint to the A.D.B. on December 19 2013 regarding the A.D.B.s technical assistance to the government of Samoa on promoting economic use of customary lands.
“And where we believed contrary to the policies of A.D.B. as this was in our view tantamount to alienation of customary lands through allowing customary lands to be used as security and collateral to achieve this,” he said.
“Laws in this country were passed to enable this to be implemented and we have ‘voiced’ our concerns about this in a number of avenues such as publicity in Samoa Observer.” He said when they submitted their initial complaint they were treated with indifference from the Bank.
“As you know, we received a rather dismissive response from A.D.B. two months later on 21 February 2014,” said Fiu.
“We then re-submitted a comprehensive complaint to the O.S.P.F. of the A.D.B. dated August 29, 2014, which you kindly published in full in your Sunday Observer September, 28 2014.
“As a result of that, the A.D.B. in its letter to us dated September 29 2014, found our complaint eligible for investigation by the O.S.P.F. in order to try and find a solution to our discourse. “This letter from A.D.B. O.S.P.F. was published in Samoa Observer of October 07, 2014.”
Fiu reiterated, that the group of matai are not objecting to the use of customary lands for economic development.
“However, we cannot accept the way the government has gone about it to achieve this, allowing customary lands to be mortgaged, tantamount to alienation of customary lands despite their assurance that this was secure under the constitution,” he said.
“In our research, we find that A.D.B. policies have been compromised by it giving assistance to the Samoa government to achieve this.
“Hence their mission to investigate our complaint as in the email below and the attachments.”
He said he and his colleagues believe the government information sharing process that facilitated this failed the meaningful consultation test and we will discuss with the A.D.B. mission of its O.S.P.F. team our action plan and strategy where we are confident required to achieve this.
“The final decision is up to the people of this country out in the rural villages who own 80 per cent of customary lands,” said Fiu.
“And that requires proper and meaningful consultation in order to enable them fully understand the long term impact of a decision that supports or rejects the goals of the government and A.D.B. in the key matter of collective and cultural ownership of customary lands in Samoa.
“The mission is therefore here to spend three weeks to review our complaint.”