Like the old Parliament building, the old Court house speaks of our history. It must be preserved

The fight to save the old Court House is not new. It has been in the pipeline for many years with many people involved. 

Those who have followed this issue will know what we are talking about.

If a poll were to be taken about why the building should be saved, there is a good chance the majority will agree that for historical, identity and patriotic reasons, the decision is a no brainer.

On the pages of the Samoa Observer yesterday for instance, Academic and Historian, Professor Leasiolagi Dr. Malama Meleisea, became the latest high profile figure to throw his support behind a renewed effort by a group called Samoa Tofia Mai le Atua (S.T.M.A.) to preserve the building.

“I think all those buildings including the current Court House is part of our history,” said Leasiolagi.

“Never mind who ran the country at the time, but it is part of our history. The old Parliament building, the Court House and as you say correctly there is very little to remind us of that heritage.”

For the record, the old Court building is possibly one of the last historical buildings standing in Apia today. The Government has already demolished the original Parliament house at Mulinu’u, then there was the demolition of another historical building at Moto’otua and now plans are afoot for the old Court building to meet the same fate.

But these buildings are not just structures. It is what they represent, it is the history they contain and why they are symbolic. That’s what matters.

“The Parliament house was the symbol of the struggles of those days by Samoans and whatever the finance and economics of keeping and maintaining it, I think the value of it is its historical evidence in our history outweighs any financial management,” said Leasiolagi

“We would be poorer and certainly the next generation, if they are deprived of those buildings. It is not the same as looking at the pictures, looking at the real structure gives you a different feeling and perspective.”

Well we couldn’t agree more. In fact, anyone who values this country’s history will also agree with Professor Leasiolagi. The reality is that it’s easier said than done.

Which brings us to Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and his Government. Last year, Tuilaepa announced that work would soon begin on the demolition of the building. In making the announcement, he promised that the new building will maintain the same colonial design but would be a lot stronger since it would be constructed from steel and modern materials as opposed to wood.

According to the Prime Minister, the Government has had to step in after many years of efforts by members of the community to find the necessary funding to preserve the building.  He did not name anyone in particular but he added that these people had tried to solicit funding from as far as Germany but they found no luck.

All this time the Government had been a patient silent observer. And now that the efforts have been in vain, the Government has decided to give the Samoa International Finance Authority (S.I.F.A.) the power to do whatever must be done to salvage it.

Ironically, Leasiolagi has been involved for many years in efforts to save the building. One such movement saw the existence of the Court House Trust. Established in 2010 with support from German and N.Z. governments, and technical assistance from UNITEC Institute of Technology, they conducted a feasibility study for the project.

From that study, a ballpark figure of $20 million was floated around as the cost of the project. That was 10 years ago. The cost could have easily doubled over time. Which is why we say the issue of saving the building is not as easy as it sounds.

“After meeting for so many years we just couldn’t get anybody to finance the repair that we needed,” Leasiolagi said. “Unfortunately the deterioration accelerated and the last report from the engineer we had said it was too late to repair and the best option is to try and build something at least a similar façade.”

For the uninitiated, the building in question was built by the German administration in 1902 and it housed the German and New Zealand administrations of Samoa.

Later when Samoa became independent, it also housed Government offices on the top floor. Needless to say, this building is not just an ordinary building. It is a critical part of history – one that is a testimony of Samoa’s struggle for freedom and stands as a reminder of our past.

That past hasn’t always been nice. The building is a constant reminder about the Mau Movement leader, Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III, who was shot dead there by New Zealand police in 1929.

We’ve said this in past and we will say it again here and now. When it comes to the issue of saving the old Court building, there are two schools of thought. The first is why should we care about a building that reminds us so much about colonialism and one of the worst days in the history of Samoa’s journey to independence and freedom?

The second school of thought asks the question: Does this Government not care about our history at all that it would continue its infamous tradition of demolishing these historical buildings as they look to cement a new legacy for themselves? Both questions are valid.

But here is something else to think about. If people knew their history, they would know what is of real value and what is not. The old Parliament building speaks of our history and the struggles of our forebears. The old Courthouse is a constant reminder of that too. In these matters, money is irrelevant.

If the Government has millions of tala they can afford to waste $20 million on the Satitoa wharf and several other millions on useless white elephant projects we see everywhere else, surely it wouldn’t be such a struggle to spend a few millions on this most worthwhile project.

But don’t hold your breath!

Have a great Thursday Samoa, God bless!

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