Group stands by claim

The leaders of Samoa Solidarity International Group (S.S.I.G.) are standing by their claim that land alienation is already happening in Samoa, saying some families are not even aware it is happening to them.

The point was made by the leader of Samoa First Political Party, Unasa Iuni Sapolu, and S.S.I.G. President, Nonu Ueni Fonoti, during an interview with the Sunday Samoan. 

They were asked to explain their reference to Salelologa, Nofoali’i, Asau, and Ti'avea – among other villages - during a previous interview where they made the claim about land alienation.

Unasa said they have Court cases relating to families pending before the Courts and could not give many specific details since the matters are pending. 

For example, Unasa pointed to a case in Nofoali’i where a family believes at least 100 acres of their land was improperly leased 90 years ago. With no copies of the lease to be found, the family does not know who leased it out.

 “That is alienation right there. It’s happened,” she said. “That’s 90 years of alienation of the land which was taken from them with no copies of leases, and never being informed.”

Today, the family believes the original lease from 90 years ago must have expired. They want to return to working the land for their own benefit, but without the lease they cannot regain access to it, Unasa said. 

This is common for families right across Samoa, she added.

“I have not come across anyone who has come to us who has copies of these leases,” she said.

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She pointed to another example, explaining that last year in Ti’avea, a family who thought they were leasing two acres to the Government to build the new airport were shocked to discover they had leased two hectares, or close to 5 acres.

“In their minds they agreed to give up two acres and sought compensation,” Unasa said. “When they brought the papers here and we did a search and found it was actually hectares. That’s alienation.”

Nonu believes families have been swindled out of the real value of their land, and long term leases locked them out of ever using it again. 

Leases were made without full, informed consent from the owners of customary land, and not enough effort was made to seek that consent, Nonu said. 

“Our people didn’t know what a land title is, what a valuations is, they took advantage,” Unasa added.

Another example is a village in Savaii that cannot be named while S.S.I.G. is before the Courts. The entire village is considered freehold land, registered in the Land Titles Registration under the names Alii and Faipule, Unasa said. 

“The danger is, sometime in the future a child by the name of Alii Faipule goes down, fraudulently transfers the land to himself, sells it to a third party and that third party gets all of that village,” Unasa said, laughing. “Go to a lawyer who will facilitate all that, that’s all it takes.”

 Nonu explained how across Samoa, land leased to the Western Samoa Trust Estates Corporation under the New Zealand administration was transferred to the Samoa Land Corporation after Samoa’s independence.

According to Unasa and Nonu, that land should have been returned to the families instead.

“The families try to get their land back but this is one of the biggest problems we have. There are no contracts or paperwork on these things,” Nonu said. 

Nonu said in all the villages they visit to educate on customary land alienation issues, lands has been leased to W.S.T.E.C. and transferred to S.L.C., meaning they all face potential or current alienation problems.

He said until government maps are shown to some families they will never know some of the land they grow food or raise their families on actually belongs to the S.L.C.

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