Parliament should proceed with caution

Amidst the coronavirus pandemic response and the state of emergency orders, the Government has made some monumental announcements we’re all going to wake up one day and realise just how significant they were.

If you blinked you would’ve missed it. Whether it is impeccable timing or just a sheer coincidence, what we cannot deny is that these decisions at any other time would have created a tidal wave out there in the court of public opinion. Given the fact that all eyes are fixed on the pandemic, these developments have hardly registered a ripple. Which is understandable.

But they are worth being given some serious consideration. We say this because these decisions strike at the core of who we are as a nation, as a people. They are the sorts of decisions with serious ramifications on what happens to this country today and tomorrow that we should not take them lightly.

Let’s also not forget that history exists as a reminder of why the Government needs to exercise caution in its decision-making. Take for example the Government’s proposed measure to amend the Constitution to allow Parliament to reshape Samoa’s judicial system by establishing a Land and Titles Court independent from the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration.

A memorandum accompanying the Constitution Amendment Bill 2020 tells us that the law is an “attempt to further emphasise the importance and uniqueness of Samoa’s tu ma aganu’u (culture and tradition) and her customary land and Matai titles, by affording it the specialist nature it was intended to have.”

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi also assured that the Government has given the bill a lot of thought. He pointed to the outcome of a Commission of Inquiry into the work of the Lands and Titles Court, which investigated complaints from individuals, families and villages about the delay in Land and Titles Court rulings.

He advocated that the creation of a specialist Court would speed up dispute resolutions and create a judicial institution specialising in the preservation of Samoan culture.

On the face of it, it’s hard to argue against the intentions of such a bill. From what the Government is saying, they have some legitimate points. Not one Samoan will argue against the preservation of our culture, language, titles, land and values. As custodians of such treasures, we have a sacred responsibility to our ancestors to protect and pass them on to future generations of this country for their benefit and that of the unborn.

But this is where Parliament has to slow down. This is why such decisions shouldn’t be rushed; especially at a time when the world is on the brink of a catastrophe no one seems to have an answer to.

In times like this, we must pause and ask ourselves some tough questions. Is this the best decision for Samoa? Does the perceived end justify the means? In a democracy and when it comes to the separation of powers, where does this plan fit in the grand scheme of things? How important is this now on a list of competing priorities?

We agree that Members of Parliament are the appointed representatives of all Samoans in Parliament and that they speak on their behalf when it comes to making laws.

But in a one-party-state where the voice of the minority is often always drowned and ignored, the process becomes diabolical. Which then raises more questions. How much do Samoans actually know about what is happening, especially when it comes to such a serious matter as lands and titles? Do they know at all? What do the villages think? What do the matai councils think? What about the women and children?

The Land and Titles Court is not just for matai, politicians, legal heads and a particular group of people. It is for all Samoans. Ole fanua ma lona tapuafanua, ole tagata ma lona fa’asinomaga. 

Think of our ancestors; remember the blood sweat and tears behind the Constitution they placed as a guide that is now being amended relentlessly by this Government like they are changing shirts.

Are we ignoring their wisdom, wishes, vision and guidance? What will they say if they were given the opportunity to offer an input?

Lastly, we want to remind that the issue in question is an issue of the separation of yet another Ministry, let alone a critical one when it comes to dealing with the Judiciary.

The history of this Government is littered with such separation experiments that have failed. We only have to look back a few years.

How can we forget the disaster that was the separation of the Attorney General Office’s and National Prosecution Office?

What about the millions wasted in the separation of the Ministry of Health and the National Health Services?

Most recently, the Government’s decision to bring the prisons back under the Samoa Police Service was ultimately an admission that the decision to separate them, only a few years back, was another failure?

We can go on but lets cap it there.

One major outcome of the Government’s so-called reforms is the fact they cost millions in terms of wasted taxpayers money and public resources that could have been spent on the country’s more pressing needs.

Looking at the Land and Titles Court proposal, one gets the sense that unless this one is planned properly; it is only going to become another case of de javu.

What do you think? Have a safe Thursday Samoa, God bless!


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