L.T.C. outcry can be explained: Clerk
A previous parliamentary review into the Land and Titles Court (L.T.C.), answers “numerous” concerns about proposals to amend the Constitution and the court, the Legislative Clerk, Tiatia Graeme Tualaulelei, said.
Tiatia referenced a 2016 Report of the Special Inquiry Committee over Lands and Titles Matters as evidence of the deficiencies of the system and long-planned reform of the L.T.C. brought before Parliament last month.
The Constitution Amendment Bill 2020, Land and Titles Bill 2020 and Judicature Bill 2020 would, if passed, create the L.T.C. as a new self-contained branch of Government exempt from Supreme Court oversight. It has drawn criticism from existing and previous jurists and opposition Members of Parliament.
“We anticipate the content of the  report should address some of the concerns and issues raised by the public with regards to the Constitution Amendment and the Land and Titles Bill 2020,” he said.
Tiatia further noted the Inquiry report should guide the public as to what prompted “some” of the proposed changes.
The Legislative Clerk also noted that amendment proposes to limit the registration of High Chief title to five members.
“The proposed bill says that to maintain the integrity of the institution of the Samoan Matai Sa’o [High Chief]: only five matai sa’o for a family may be registered at any one time. And this is outlined in the inquiry,” he said.
In the inquiry report recommendation 22 for Family High Chief (Sa’o) says it is quintessential for an elected Sa’o to reside within the village and family the title belongs to.
“The heirs to the title have the collective authority to remove the title from the titleholder if service is not rendered to the family and village.
A Sa’o title is highly dignified if held by a maximum of five matai at one time.”
According to the report, many witnesses to the Committee were dismayed at the removal of Sa’o titles held by their families.
Following domestic disputes, the rightful heirs to the titles consented to have the titles removed.
“Another witness submitted that it has been forty years since the Sa’o of their family has not returned to their village nor has he rendered any service to the village.
“Many attempts beseeching the Sa’os approval to have a title bestowal ceremony was denied maintaining his sole authority as Sa’o.”
The report says that one family has tried to petition a case against their Sa’o for more than 20 years.
The report says the witness was persistent and mediation was held on September 29, 1995 however, the Deputy Registrar stated that “an untitled male cannot petition against the Sa’o”.
“The question therefore is, where else can such grievances be heard if there is a lack of responsibility on the part of the Sa’o elected by the family as caretaker of the family heritage in accordance with Samoan customs?”
The Committee is not oblivious to the many grievances against the Sa’o and the abuse of power attached to the title.
The Court is advised to recommend the Sa’o to maintain harmony within the family if there is a hint of corruption amongst the family or in the relationship with the village, according to the report.
Tiatia noted from the Inquiry report the Committee emphasised the need for new rules and procedures to expedite the efficient processes of the Lands and Titles Court:
“Such rules and procedures should make this Court's processes transparent, accountable and fair,” the report reads.
“In accordance with the Instructions from the Legislative Assembly, the inquiry should seek appropriate measures to reduce lengthy adjournment of cases and establish guidelines and provide a performance review system for the Judges of the [L.T.C.].
“What is certain as stated by the Leader of the House in his Ministerial Statement is that justice is not easily found when the seeds are sown amongst the thorns, thus the initiation of this inquiry.
“Harmony within and amongst families and villages is dependent on the effective and efficient processes of the Lands and Titles Court; for an error in judgement affects the deceased (resting places will be exhumed), the living and their harmonious existence with their relatives and the future generation who will not have an identity or connection with their family heritage.”
The Legislative Clerk emphasised these are proposed amendments and have not been approved into law yet.
“There is a time to members of the public to express their concerns to attend the Committee hearings and voice your concerns.”
Tiatia concluded that some of the Committee Recommendations have been addressed with the current L.T.C. Bill 2020 before the Parliamentary Committee and been raised in the past by the public.
The Special Inquiry Committee will reconvene starting next week after Parliament and public submissions are invited.