P.M. argues Court overhaul recognises village rights
Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, has defended a proposed Land and Titles Court (L.T.C.) overhaul, saying it will give due Constitutional recognition to the rights of communities and Village Councils.
Tuilaepa argues that the Constitution does not currently recognise the rights of communities and Village Councils - something, he said, would be addressed by the proposed reforms.
“We are busy with efforts to protect our people from COVID-19 and yet these issues are in the way and the solution lies with the processes already in place,” said the Prime Minister during a Saturday radio programme on state broadcaster 2AP.
The Prime Minister said the Constitution currently focused on individual liberties but that changes currently before Parliament were designed to enshrine communal and village rights, something which he said critics had failed to appreciate.
The Prime Minister was particularly critical of a Samoa Law Society (S.L.S.) awareness programme, aiming to educate the public on the ramifications of proposed changes to create an independent L.T.C.
The bills currently before Parliament are the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, Land and Titles Bill 2020 and the Judicature Bill 2020.
The S.L.S. are objecting to the changes, which they say will damage the position of the Courts in Samoa.
Samoa’s Judges have also signed a bill requesting the measures be withdrawn until due consultation takes place.
“Keep in mind it is the Government that is responding to issues at hand, yet they are causing trouble,” Tuilaepa
“There is a common courtesy between the three arms of Government and the process [for introducing new legislation] is in place.
“They can address the amendments and give their submissions in a peaceful manner to the Committee of Parliament and this process has been in place since 1962. This is nothing new.”
The Prime Minister said public disputes about legislation did not occur under the rule of Samoa’s previous Chief Justice, Patu Falefatu Sapolu.
“They made submissions and publicly aired it before it was submitted to the respective parties,” he said of the S.L.S.’ objections.
“Once you do that, you are now in the political arena and this is our game. They are politicizing the issue.”
He explained there will be a time for this issue to be considered before a Parliamentary Committee, which is the right time to make submissions.
“But what’s happening makes it look like a cat fight,” he said.
The Prime Minister also said an S.L.S. television programme on Friday night suggested that some unnamed members of the Society did not understand the law.
“The issues they spoke about, are addressed in the proposed amendments,” he said.
The Prime Minister then explained the importance of the proposed legislation.
He said the Government had aimed to address two specific issues absent from the current Constitution: firstly to include recognition in the Constitution that Samoa is founded on God and of the country’s forefathers.
“The lawmakers for the current Parliamentary term acted to include [recognition] of our ancestors into the constitution [...which] the palagis (foreigners) [... failed to put] at the heart of the Constitution,” he said.
“At the same time, we sought God’s forgiveness for we have finally corrected our mistake of more than 50 plus years.”
But the second absence the Government had hoped to target was a lack of attention in the Constitution to communal rights such as Village Councils.
“The current lawmakers found out the Constitution doesn't have anything on communal rights such as the Village Council, just individual rights,” Tuilaepa said.
“That is why when the Village Councils penalises untitled men or a Chief, and it goes before the court it’s thrown out.
“The court does not consider the decision by the Village Council but considers the rights of one person, over the village council’s rights and this is happening in a lot of villages; this is exactly what Parliaments does not condone,”
Tuilaepa also agreed that some of the proposed amendments were not part of the recommendations of a 2016 Parliamentary Special Commission of Inquiry conducted into the L.T.C.
“The proposed amendments seek to have two separate courts, the criminal and civil courts [...] headed by the Chief Justice and the L.T.C. overseen by the President of the L.T.C.,” he said.
“The only difference is that it will not be under one person; rather each court will have its own leaders. This is to assure the operation of the L.T.C. is efficient.
“And this is what they (S.L.S.) are against the usage of communal rights such as the Village Council.”