Expert accuses Govt. of being contradictory
Environment expert, Fiu Mataese Elisara, has drilled holes in the Government’s claim that Sogi villagers needed to relocate because of the impact of climate change.
The Executive Director of O Le Siosiomaga Society has also accused the Government of being contradictory with their reasons for the relocation, calling for the real reasons they forced Sogi residents, who have lived there for more than 100 years, to relocate.
“If the decision of Government was to relocate them, they needed to be honest with the villages in terms of using climate change as an excuse to relocate them,” Fiu told the Samoa Observer during an interview.
“It does not gel, when they are now targeting that same area for the markets.
“The markets will be used more broadly by the whole of Samoa. If they were saying this poses life risks for a small number of people – the village of Sogi – they are basically contradicting themselves by placing infrastructure to be exposed.”
During a previous interview with the Samoa Observer, the Minister of Samoa Land Corporation, Lautafi Fio Purcell, said that “natural disasters and other natural changes to our climate cannot stop the government from its developments.” He added that while Sogi is unsafe as a residential area, it could be developed as a commercial site.
“So the government cannot let those people live there knowing its unsafe but it can continue with its development and build a seawall or what is needed to mitigate the effects,” Lautafi said. “If a tsunami comes tomorrow, we cannot prevent it and it is out of our control but we still have to make developments to service our people and utilise government land.”
This much is true, Fiu said, but developments need to sit within the reality of climate change, and to genuinely serve people’s needs.
He said the Waterfront Project largely focuses on developing the tourism sector, which while bringing certain benefits to Samoa may not necessarily increase quality of life for everyone.
Since 2016, Fiu has been demanding more transparency from the Government over their decision to move the residents of Sogi, including the Tokuma family who say they had a verbal contract with Samoa’s first Prime Minister, the late Mata'afa Faumuina Mulinu'u II to settle in Sogi, a contract Samoa’s courts decided not to honour.
“I recall very clearly my discussion with a very prominent lawyer at the time, Geoffrey Jackson,” Fiu said. “What he said to me was that he was very impressed with the quality of leadership Mata’afa led the country at that time with.
“He said, on Mata’afa, he was a man of his word. Whatever he says to people is a legal contract, as far as that lawyer was concerned.”
The current version of the Waterfront Plan does not suggest plans to move the market or bus stop to Sogi, and that it must have been changed recently, Fiu noted.
The Planning and Urban Management Agency (P.U.M.A.) has not responded to several of Fiu’s requests for information about environmental impact assessments or development consent for land at Sogi, as required under its Act.
“It’s a pity because they have a legal responsibility to ensure all these things are followed through, but I guess in so many cases they seem to ignore large macro-level development by Government which poses a huge injustice on the people of this country.”
Fiu also believes the Government missed an opportunity to demonstrate a true “integrated partnership” with the Sogi village when they relocated them.
In their place, Minister Lautafi said the Savalalo market and bus stop will be relocated there, as well as more tourist-focused development under the 2017-2026 Apia Waterfront Development Plan.
According to the Plan, Sogi is earmarked for around $2 million worth of improvements including basketball and volleyball courts, communal spaces like picnic tables and rest fales, and eventually a pedestrian pathway to an ‘eco-boardwalk’ to Vaiusu Bay.
Alongside the villages of Apia, Matautu and Vaiala, the people of Sogi are listed in the Plan as a ‘community stakeholder group.’
Fiu said it has been “heart-wrenching” to watch the people of Sogi struggle against their eviction when they could have been a meaningful part of development in the area as tour guides, conservation experts and historians.
“They keep on talking about an integrated approach… there should be some solution in actually engaging these people at Sogi who have 100 years of experience of living in mangroves and that kind of area to be part of their plan,” he said.
“That would showcase the sincerity of Government to really integrate a group of people who are citizens of this country, to be part of the solution, born and bred from the fact that they are experienced and demonstrated resilience over the last 100 years.
“When they are integrating these people into a solution they are further advocating the fact that they respect human rights, these people’s rights to exist in those areas. It demonstrates that they are not violating people’s rights, or bullying their way into exploiting people that have no resources to argue their case.”
Instead, not only is that potential partnership opportunity wasted, but the community of Sogi has been split up through various relocations over the years, with some opting to fight for their right to remain and others negotiating better deals with Government, Fiu said.
What was once a “close knit” community is now scattered, traumatised and physically displaced, he said, and positioned as antagonists against the Government’s development agenda.
It was not possible to get a comment the Government yesterday.