Mr. A.D.B. President Nakao, we don’t want the unborn generations of Samoa to be exiles in their own country

Samoa has started the New Year with a bang by welcoming the President of the Asian Development Bank (A.D.B.) Takehiko Nakao on his first official visit to these shores. 

The A.D.B., being the powerful and influential institution around the world especially where lending and development are concerned, the President’s visit is as high profile as they come.

So today, we join the Head of State, His Highness Tuimaleali’ifano Va’aletoa Sualauvi II, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and all the people of Samoa to extend a warm welcome to Mr. Nakao and his delegation. Truth be told, we would have wished for better weather, but then in hindsight, it’s probably a good idea for the President to experience the realities in this part of the world at this time of the year — when bad weather and menacing cyclones breathe fear and threaten many lives.

Mr. Nakao touched down in Samoa on a wet Monday evening to be greeted by the Minister of Finance, Sili Epa Tuioti and the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Finance, Leasiosiofa’asisina Oscar Malielegaoi, at the VIP lounge of the Faleolo International Airport. He didn’t waste a lot of time, kick starting a series of site visits to A.D.B-funded projects with the Pacific Sun Energy project right away. 

Yesterday was just as busy if not more with the President meeting a host of local Government officials including Prime Minister Tuilaepa. They discussed opportunities for Samoa to expand cooperation with the Bank, and they also signed an agreement to establish a permanent A.D.B. Office in Samoa.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa welcomed the assistance by the A.D.B. 

“For more than 50 years, we have worked with A.D.B. and together we have made progress in improving water and sanitation, establishing reliable, clean energy and better internet connectivity,” said the Prime Minister. “A.D.B. has also been a tremendous support in times of disaster, as we saw in the wake of the tsunami that devastated parts of the country in 2009. We will continue to work with A.D.B. and our other development partners, to help deliver better basic social services to the people of Samoa.”  

Mr. Nakao only had good news to deliver.

“A.D.B. is increasing its support to Samoa, and we are committed to helping the government continue to improve access to renewable energy, extend I.C.T. connectivity, and strengthen public sector management,” he said.  “Samoa is well-placed to further expand its tourism industry, which is already a key driver of economic growth and foreign currency earning. It will be important to pursue sustainable tourism, which protect the environment, and ensure local communities to benefit.” 

So how has A.D.B. helped Samoa over the years? Well here are some basic facts.

Since 1966, the Bank has committed US$354.66 million (T$$886m) in loans, grants and technical assistance. The money, we’ve been told, has been spent to improve the delivery of basic social services such as clean water, modern sanitation, reliable energy, better internet connectivity, effective disaster relief, flood mitigation, wastewater infrastructure, drainage projects and much, much more. Wonderful.

 Whichever lens you view it from, that’s quite a substantial contribution to the development of Samoa by any standard. Which is why we are grateful. It would be quite difficult to imagine what Samoa would be like today, without such contribution — that of all our other development partners and donor countries.

But the relationship between Samoa and A.D.B. hasn’t always been roses. Which is what we want to remind President Nakao and his delegation today, as they prepare to depart our country.

Back on 9th September 2014, a group of matai (chiefs) took a stand to highlight their concerns about the risk of customary lands being alienated as a result of Asian Development Bank (A.D.B.) projects in Samoa. In their initial complaint, Fiu Mataese Elisara, Lilomaiava Dr. Ken Lameta, Telei’ai Dr. Sapa Saifaleupolu, and Leuluaiali’i Tasi Malifa expressed deep concerns about the individualization, financialisation and alienation of customary land.  Their concerns arose as a result of a A.D.B Technical Assistance (TA) initiative for Samoa to “Promote the Economic Use of Customary Lands”. 

They claimed that the project had been carried without meaningful consultation across Samoa. According to the group, under a series of projects called Promoting Economic Use of Customary Land, the A.D.B. had driven land and financial sector reforms in Samoa to make it easier to lease customary land and to use those leases as collateral for loans. 

 “The A.D.B. wants to create a system through which a single authority figure can unilaterally lease out customary land, without consulting other members of the aiga,” the group claimed then. “Under the reforms, the lease agreement could then be used by the leaseholder to access credit from a bank. But if the leaseholder is unable to repay the loan, the bank can take control of the lease, which could cover large tracts of customary land for decades.”

The group pointed out that “leasing of land to outsiders for long durations, registering these under the Torrens system of land titles registration through the Land Titles Registration Act 2008 (LTRA) that does not recognize collective ownership of the extended family, and then mortgaging those leases with banks to secure interests of investors, is tantamount to customary land alienation, forbidden by customary laws as well as the Constitution of Samoa.”

On page 14 of the newspaper you are reading, we are re-printing the last known public development about the complaint from a group of matai, to give you an idea about A.D.B’s behaviour thus far.

From our standpoint, we believe Fiu and the group of matai have an extremely valid concern that the Asian Development Bank should consider. We know Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s administration has downplayed and rubbished the concerns repeatedly over the years.

But one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure. We don’t believe the complaint is out of whack. It is certainly not rubbish.

Today, while we are hosting President Nakao and his delegation, we urge them to take another look at the complaint. 

As Samoans, we appreciate the assistance from A.D.B. to advance the development of Samoa and improve the lives of our people. 

But we care deeply for the future of this country and her unborn generations. We want them to inherit a bright future, land as a right and everything our forebears intended for them to have, not a future where they become exiles in their own country.

We wish you a safe return trip, President Nakao! 

As for Samoans, have a wonderful Wednesday, God bless!

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