Time is irrelevant Mr. Speaker, the future of Samoa is at stake

The Speaker of Parliament, Leaupepe Tole’afoa Faafisi, is correct to say that “time and tide waits for no man.” He is also not far off the mark when he continued that “those who think about the benefit of their country do not wait for a certain time (to make something happen).”

But here is the thing, given the negative ramifications on families, villages and this country of three highly controversial bills the Government is pushing through Parliament, somebody needs to remind Mr. Speaker that time at this point is irrelevant.

What’s more, if Speaker Leaupepe and all Members of Parliament “think about the benefit of their country” – which should always be their priority - they should immediately withdraw the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, Land and Titles Bill 2020 and the Judicature Bill 2020. Bin it.

But if they want to persist, they must give it back to whoever drafted them and tell them to do their work properly. They need to ensure wide ranging public consultations with all relevant stakeholders so that the final bills, if they still see them necessary, reflect Samoa’s respect for the separation of powers, fundamental principles of democracy and most importantly our Samoan customs, traditions and usage.

The content of the bills in question have been the subject of public debate for a few weeks now since the Government sprung this latest stunt in Parliament. And while the biggest focus has been on the creation of a separate Land and Titles Court, therefore dividing the Judiciary, there is much more to be concerned about.

These bills strike at the core of everything we stand for and know as Samoans. It’s not just about the Judiciary and Judges and democracy, this has ramifications on our lands, titles, language, culture, village laws, village life and anything that is remotely Samoan – including the unborn generations of this nation.

The question is, how much do ordinary Samoans know about this? Did someone tell the village chiefs, women and children in Aleipata, Falealupo, Falelatai, Apolima and all the far-flung corners of Samoa that this is what is going to happen? Did the Government even consider asking the legal fraternity to offer an opinion on what they were doing?

This is why we find the story “Speaker rejects Bills rushed” published in yesterday’s Samoa Observer hard to believe. In denying the bills are being rushed, Leaupepe said the notion that the Government has found a diversion in the coronavirus pandemic lockdown is wrong.

 “There was a Commission before,” he pointed out. “We called the Judiciary and they did not want to come before the committee to discuss this. What time was that? That was before the pandemic.”

Well okay then Mr. Speaker. But let’s quickly revisit the Commission of Inquiry he is referring to. Back in 2016, the Commission merely focused on addressing grievances that members of the public had about the delay in decisions from the Lands and Titles Court.

What clearly stood out at the time was the lack of confidence members of the public had on the integrity of the Lands and Titles Court decisions. Another issue highlighted was the excessive delays in decisions, with some people waiting for more than 20 years. They had legitimate concerns.

In response, the Commission made a number of recommendations including the appointment of two Vice Presidents of the L.T.C. to help speed up the process and address the concerns by members of the public. From the Commission’s report, a proposed law called the Land and Titles Court Bill 2019 was formulated and tabled in Parliament. This law was mysteriously withdrawn by the Minister of Justice and Courts Administration, Fa’aolesa Katopau Ainu’u, in Parliament last month, only to be replaced by the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, Land and Titles Bill 2020 and the Judicature Bill 2020.

Why was the Lands and Titles Court Bill 2019 withdrawn? We don’t know.

What we do know is that looking at that bill and the bills in question, there are major changes – including the proposal for a separate L.T.C. Court.

Now let’s get back to the Speaker of Parliament and his claims about consultations. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that what he is referring to is in relation to the mysterious Lands and Titles Court Bill 2019, not the three new bills that have since been rammed through Parliament like someone’s life depended on it.

Leauepepe also asked the question of why the Judges refused to appear before the Commission of Inquiry in 2016. We find this question extremely odd, especially coming from the Speaker of Parliament of all people who should know the answer. Let us refresh his memory. At the beginning of 2017, a response co-signed by the then Chief Justice, His Honour Patu Tiava’asu’e Falefatu Sapolu and the President of the Lands and Titles Court, Fepulea’i Attila Ropati, was tabled in Parliament under the watchful eye of the Speaker. It clearly stated their reasons.

 “We would like to clarify the position of the Judiciary in its decision not to participate in the Commission's inquiry as requested and as has been widely reported in the mainstream media,” they wrote. “We were wary of criticisms and queries over Court decisions that may inevitably arise over the course of the Commission's hearings. It is our belief that the Court is not answerable to anyone over its judgements. Our concern was over the independence of these judgements…”

Let’s pause here and take this in slowly. Think about the principles of the separation of powers. Think about the importance of ensuring those checks and balances are kept in place for these branches of government to know where to draw the boundaries. This is about ethics, mutual respect, best practices and doing what is right.

Sadly, this is what has been completely ignored by this Government in its pursuit of these destructive and damaging proposed legislations.

But then again, what do we expect? This is a country where the Speaker blatantly and openly goes to bat for the Government and their policies – regardless of the consequences. What happened to the need for the Speaker to maintain impartiality in line with the norms of the Westminster system of government that Samoa’s Constitution and our ancestors put in place?

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