Court overhaul to interfere with families: M.P.

Proposed legislation to restrict the number of matai Sa’o (titular head) to five per family will give the Government control over decisions that rightfully belong to families and villages, a senior Member of Parliament has warned. 

The former Speaker of the House and senior M.P., La’aulialemalietoa Leuatea Polataivao, is referring specifically to the Land and Titles Court Bill 2020 that proposes to limit the number of matai Sa’o to five per family. 

Other proposed changes in the Bill also set out the grounds for the removal of a matai title and criteria that one must fulfill in order to hold a title. 

The amendment, if approved by the Parliament, denies the opportunity for anyone convicted of a serious crime the possibility of becoming a matai. 

But La’auli said the Government has no business in meddling with family and village affairs. 

“Every one of us has our own identity and where we come from; our fathers’ and mothers’ families will be affected by this,” he said. 

“These changes mean that the Government can interfere and control your family decisions 

“The Government has no right to make decisions on behalf of your family of who should and should not hold this matai title based on your service.”

The M.P. for Gagaemauga no3, said family matters such as to decide whether to have five matai Sa’o or more, were ultimately business for families themselves. 

“It [matai title] belongs to your family and they have the authority over it and make decisions concerning those issues,” he said.

The M.P. urged his parliamentary colleagues to stand up for their local communities and voice their concerns about the Bills' impacts on private and family matters.  

The three pieces of proposed legislation before parliament are, the Constitution Amendment Bill 2020, Land and Titles Court Bill 2020 and the Judicature Bill 2020. 

Since their tabling in Parliament last month, the package of legislation has raised serious concerns from the judiciary and legal experts who say the changes will destroy the separation of powers by reforming the role of the Land and Titles Court (L.T.C.). 

Aside from the title limits, the Bills will establish a parallel and entirely self-contained Court structure for the L.T.C., which will not be subject to judicial review from the Supreme Court but instead have its own Court of Appeal. 

But La’auli said the package of amendments including the changed Constitution is going to bring real change to how Samoans will live their lives. 

“It's going to change the system and everything from our families to extended families to the village and the whole of Samoa,” he said. 

“I feel like we are heading into the wrong direction with these changes. 

“The Prime Minister and Cabinet should reconsider it and listen to the voices of the people, the judiciary and their concerns.” 

He pointed out the establishment of the Land and Titles Court in 1981 took seven years of drafting and consultations that also went as far as New Zealand and American Samoa. 

The M.P. added that Samoans who are also residing overseas should be given the opportunity to understand the proposed changes because they are also subject to a lot of matters that become before the L.T.C. 

Speaking about the proposed changes claiming to split the judiciary, La’auli said the Government should listen to concerns from the Samoa Law Society and the nation’s Judges which were earlier expressed in a letter. 

He said there was no point in passing the legislation when the judiciary which is meant to administer the laws understand that they will not work in practice. 

La’auli urged the Government to set aside the legislation and instead focus on the global coronavirus pandemic that is occupying the minds of people. 

La’auli urged Members of Parliament to speak up for their constituencies. 

He warned that the political party system in Samoa has become so powerful that it has undermined democracy in Parliament. 

The M.P. made reference to comments from the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi that voters’ sentiments are reflected in the Parliament and through their local parliamentarians. 

But he disagreed. The M.P. said that his colleagues in Parliament have been suppressed with rules that require a party vote on an issue instead of allowing M.P.s to vote in line with their constituencies’ interests. 

La’auli was booted out by the ruling Human Rights Protection Party in 2019 after he voted against Constitution amendments to which he objected because it affected his electorates. 

At the time, Prime Minister Tuilaepa had called for a “party vote” in parliament to support the amendment in which La’auli was the only M.P. from the political party that voted against it.   

Tuilaepa continues to dismiss concerns raised by the legal fraternity over the proposed Bills that are currently before a Special Parliamentary Inquiry Committee. 

He maintains the amendments are to protect and preserve the Samoan culture and traditions. 

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