“Bush lawyers,” Tuilaepa downplays $5 m. lawsuit

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 23 August 2018, 12:00AM

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has downplayed a $5 million lawsuit against the Government over the Land Titles Registration Act (L.T.R.A.) 2008.

The Prime Minister, who has been named first defendant in the claim brought by the Samoa Solidarity International Group Global (S.I.G.G.), said the lawsuit would fail.

“I don’t know what that lawsuit is about,” Tuilaepa told the media.

“They are bush lawyers, they were taught in the forest. They wandered around in the wilderness and suddenly they became intelligent.”

The lawsuit seeks to challenge the “legality” and the “constitutionality” of the L.T.R.A 2008. 

The Group’s lawyer, Josefina Fuimaono-Sapolu, filed a statement of claim and motion for a declaratory order last week.

Court documents show that others named in the civil claim are the Attorney General Lemalu Hermann Retzlaff, former Attorney General, Aumua Ming Leung Wai, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and the Samoa Land Corporation.  

But Prime Minister Tuilaepa is confident.

“At the Office of the Attorney General, there are fifty other lawyers working there,” he said. 

“They are among the most intelligent minds in Samoa and then we also have a Doctor of law who is the Head of the Samoa Law Reform Commission. 

“All these intelligent people are in agreement that there is no reason to worry about the Constitution. The Constitution was drafted by the best lawyers in 1962 so there is also nothing wrong with it.”

Tuilaepa added that it “was only Tupua” who was “fooled by these small lawyers who were in New Zealand but they escaped to Samoa.”

While he did not elaborate, Tupua in question is the former Head of State, His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi.

Earlier this year, Tui Atua argued that there is “ambiguity” in Article 102 of the Constitution that needs to be dealt with. 

 Said he at the time: “Today we have the responsibility of admitting that there is a problem with Article 102; that the ambiguity within is serious enough to warrant the attention of our best minds in order to make Article 102 unambiguous.”

The Article 102 in question reads: No alienation of customary land – It shall not be lawful or competent for any person to make any alienation or disposition of customary land or of any interest in customary land, whether by way of sale, mortgage or otherwise howsoever, nor shall customary land or any interest therein be capable of being taken in execution or be assets for the payment of the debts of any person on his decease or insolvency:

Provided that an Act of Parliament may authorise –

 (a) The granting of a lease or licence of any customary land or of any interest therein;

 (b) The taking of any customary land or any interest therein for public purposes”.

Said Tui Atua: “In layman’s terms the Article says that it is illegal to alienate customary lands unless an Act of Parliament allows for 1. a lease or licence to be granted over customary land, or 2. customary land is to be taken for public purposes. 

 “I do not have any problems with the taking of customary land for public purposes, assuming of course that such public purposes are indeed valid public purposes. 

 “What I have a problem with is the ambiguity that arises as a result of reading the sub-clause that states that an Act of Parliament may authorise “the granting of a lease or licence of any customary land or of any interest therein” alongside the wording of the main text of the Article which says no alienation of customary land “…whether by way of sale, mortgage or otherwise howsoever.”

It was not possible to get a comment from S.S.I.G. yesterday. 

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 23 August 2018, 12:00AM

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