Group fights to stop old Courthouse demolition

By Marc Membrere 24 April 2020, 2:00PM

A group fighting to preserve the old Court building on Beach Road is not giving up. 

Despite reports that the Government is moving ahead with the demolition of the structure, the President of Samoa Tofia, Obed Unasa, has vowed that they will exhaust all avenues – including filing an injunction in the Court.

"The old courthouse is the people's building because it is part of their cultural heritage and history,” he said.

“Now it seems like it only the Government making the decisions without the people's voice. We are trying to preserve our cultural heritage so the Government isn't the only one that has a say in this.”

The future of old Court building has been the subject of public debate for years, since Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi announced plans by the Samoa International Finance Authority (S.I.F.A.) to demolish the structure and replace it with a new building.

According to Mr. Unasa, Samoa Tofia has filed a submission with the Planning Urban Management Agency of the Government to stop S.I.F.A. from demolishing the building.

 “The submission we filed is on behalf of the people and Samoans overseas who want to save Samoa’s heritage. The next part of the process is an assessment that the P.U.M.A. office will assess our submission and our objection to S.I.F.A. for a permit.”

It was not possible to get comments from P.U.M.A. and S.I.F.A. at the time of going to press.

But Mr. Unasa said the Government needs to hear the voice of the people and take their concerns seriously,a especially in relation to such an important piece of history.

 “The question that I wanted to raise is where people’s consultation will happen,” he said. “There have been some changes because the P.U.M.A. board had a community representative for the community’s voice if a new building should be built or an old building should be torn down.

 “So there was a board to decide on these decisions especially when it comes to historical landmarks of this nature.

“The courthouse is a huge historical landmark for the Samoan people. It is the last historical building of its kind in the region that is still standing today. Now there is no voice of the community in this process.”

Mr. Unasa explained the Government had amended the law recently so that the voice of the community is removed with Cabinet making the final decision.

“I think there needs to be a reinstatement of the Board representative for the community because what we are seeing right now is Cabinet making the final decisions for everything,” he said.

"What we worry about is that if there is no voice of the community, then what's the point of having a law that represents or should be some representation of the people and yet we don't get that representation and we don't get that voice in that process?

 “It will be very disappointing if we don’t see a community input to this process. We will wait and see what happens. I am going to ask that there is a consultation with S.I.F.A.”

But Samoa Tofia will not stop with their submission to P.U.M.A.

"If the outcome is not in our favor, by law we can submit a Court injunction at the Court to hold the demolition and then take our submissions and reasons for it under the right of the Samoan people to protect their cultural heritage,” he said.

“It will stop any development on heritage sites until a review is made. The cultural heritage is owned by the people of Samoa and they work in partnership with the Government to preserve their cultural heritage which includes the old courthouse but what is happening is that the Government is not protecting our historical landmarks.

"The old courthouse has survived throughout these years and is a beacon of hope and it needs to be preserved as it will give us a compass for the future."

Mr. Unasa also made reference to the connection between the Courthouse and the Constitution.

"In 1960, the people of Samoa voted for their Constitution,” he said.

“In other words, the people voted for the constitution of Samoa before our independence. We have all the right to actually have a say in any amendment of our Constitution.

“But what the Government is doing is not bringing in the people's voice. People need to have a voice in this process because it is a constitutional right.

"If we wipe all of that (historical landmarks) then there is nothing for our future generations to go back and see where our people worked, how they were able to achieve the things they were able to achieve through those struggles and through those times."

Samoa Tofia Inc is a non-profit organization (based in Samoa, New Zealand and Australia) whose goal is to preserve Samoa’s historical landmarks and heritage.

Mr. Unasa reiterated the need for wide ranging consultations on the matter.

“I think there should be more community consultation because if the Government has power over everything, then there is no meaning to a Government under a democratic process,” he said.

“The people's voices need to be heard and more community consultations should be done. We vote people into our Government representing the people and if the people are cut out then there is no meaning to our democracy."

By Marc Membrere 24 April 2020, 2:00PM

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