Advocate insists customary land under threat
The President of Ole Siosiomaga Society Inc. and customary land advocate, Fiu Mataese Elisara, is adamant.
Contrary to assurances from the government, he warns that customary lands are not safe under the Lands and Titles Registration Act (L.T.R.A.) 2008.
“The law needs to be repealed,” Fiu told the Samoa Observer.
“There are so many loopholes and we will eventually lose our rights to our communal land.”
Fiu’s comments come days away from a peaceful protest march being organised by Samoa Solidarity International on Saturday.
The protesters plan to use the opportunity to voice their concerns about the threat of alienating customary lands.
Fiu said it is relatively important for members of the public to attend the March.
“I have huge concerns about Samoa and the dangers of these land reforms targeting customary lands. It is why the public need to heed the call to join in on the March slated for this coming Saturday.”
The protest march is set to begin from Vaisigano at 10am and proceed towards Mulinu’u.
According to Fiu, aside from the March this Saturday, there will be another March scheduled for when Parliament resumes its work on 19 December 2017.
“This is to address the members of Parliament and submit formally to the Speaker of the House the concerns on the L.T.R.A. 2008 and related legislations.”
Fiu told the Samoa Observer the same concerns raised by members of S.S.I. have been addressed with the Customary Land Advisory Commission.
He says it has been a month and yet there is still no response of their past correspondence on the issues of customary lands and L.T.R.A. 2008 concerns.
“Despite requests to share documents and in particular the draft Bill on land reform, they have continued to ignore the requests,” he said.
According to Fiu, members of the public need to be aware of the context and background in the retrospective attempts and ongoing processes that poses a threat to Samoa’s customary lands.
Last weekend, Attorney General, Lemalu Hermann Retzlaff, reassured Samoa that customary lands are not under any legal threat.
He said recent questions asked of the Attorney General’s Office about the alienation customary land under freehold land legislation are ill advised.
“I respectfully pose this question: what customary land has been legally converted to freehold land and/or 'sold off', since the enactment of the Lands Title Registration Act 2008? (L.T.R.A.). The answer is none,” Lemalu said.
“That is because it is a legal impossibility.”
Lemalu pointed out that the Act deals only with freehold land. It can never be utilised to interfere at all with customary land rights that are protected in the Constitution, he said.
According to Lemalu, the L.T.R.A. was introduced to help protect and increase clarity for transaction for freehold land only.
“I emphasise that it actually therefore states in its own body in section 9 as follows:
Section 9(4) and (5) of the LTRA:
“(4) No provision of this Act may be construed or applied to:
i) permit or imply the alienation of customary land in a manner prohibited by Article 102 of the Constitution; or
ii) permit or deem ownership in any customary land to vest in a person otherwise than as determined under any law dealing with the determination of title to customary land.
(5) Nothing in this Act permits the exercise of any power or affects any interest in customary land that could have been applied by law prior to the commencement of this Act.”