Land Group accused of misleading land owners

By Joyetter Feagaimaali'i

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) has blamed the Samoa Solidarity International Group (SSIG) for the lack of interest from Samoan customary land owners to apply for leases in the last financial year.   

This is according to the MNRE Annual Report for the financial year in question, which confirmed that the Ministry received only 20 new lease applications, which is lower compared to previous years.

“Even though we reach the target but it is less compared to last financial year," the report says. 

“This is due to the fact that the SSIG has misled a lot of customary land owners not to lease their lands.” 

Attempts by the Samoa Observer to get comments from the SSIG local representative, Unasa Iuni Sapolu, were unsuccessful.

MNRE manages the customary land leases and licenses and is responsible primarily for the administration of customary lands through the licensing and leasing systems. The Ministry does this on behalf of the Minister, who is the sole trustee for beneficial owners of customary lands in accordance with the provisions of the Alienation of Customary Land Act 1965.

In the previous financial year, the MNRE conducted 25 site inspections of new and current customary leases in both Upolu and Savai'i. 

In the 2016-2017 financial year, the Ministry conducted meetings with new lessees and new land owners to discuss the determination of lease agreements conditions for a lessor’s endorsement. For the financial year 2017-2018, the MNRE collected $76,876.59 from the customary land lease section. 

The highest revenue collected in 2017 was in July when $18,629.61 was collected, followed by the month of September with $14,423.22. In April last year, a total of $14,406.38 was collected.  

The Customary Land Lease section works with the Customary Land Advisory Commission (CLAC) and provides a supporting role in arranging for the leasing of customary lands to both local and foreign investors, which the CLAC continues to promote through the economic use of customary lands in Samoa. The main focal drive behind this movement is economic growth, not only for Samoa as a country, but are perceived as largely beneficial to landowners of customary lands and their extended families.

Promoting the economic use of customary lands is the primary task or core function of the CLAC, which is seen as a vehicle for improving the economic fabric of the country, by encouraging the opening up of this type of land tenure market for foreign investments. Customary land comprises the majority of lands in Samoa or about two-thirds of land composition in Samoa at roughly 81 per cent. 

These lands are largely under-utilized and are therefore in dire need for use, as collateral to ensure not only a sustained economy for Samoa in the long run, but more importantly beneficial to landowners and their extended family members. 

With this mindset behind government thinking, it then led primarily to the establishment of the Customary Land Advisory Commission (CLAC) as a seven year project to deal directly with the promotion of customary lands through licensing and leasing purely for purposes of enhancing economic development of customary landowners and the rural communities. 

The CLAC under its mandate reports direct to the Cabinet through the Minister of MNRE. 

By Joyetter Feagaimaali'i

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