New opposition party fully supports L.T.C. overhaul
The newest political party to contest next April's national election, has pledged their full support for the Government's overhaul of the Lands and Titles Court, saying it “meets a need".
Three bills proposed to separate the Lands and Titles Court from the rest of the judicial branch include the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, Land and Titles Bill 2020 and the Judicature Bill 2020.
The changes have already passed second reading in Parliament and have been heavily criticised by the legal fraternity, other political parties, and prominent Samoans. But the Sovereign Independent Samoa Party (S.I.S.) does not share their objections.
The party’s founding member and leader, Fesola'i Logomalieimatagi Toloa, says one the most pressing issues at the village level she intends to contest next year’s election on is legal land matters.
Fesola'i, who contested in the 2006 General Elections, stated that legal land cases involving lands in the village of Faleasi'u have been through lower courts and appeal but involved parties remain unsatisfied with the decisions.
She said the L.T.C. proposed changes will ensure better welfare for local villagers who live adjacent to the neighbouring village.
"When our people are not good, then all of us are not good. And that's why we agree to the law that had just been overhauled," she said.
Fesola'i argued that L.T.C. and common law courts should never have been under one rule as they were never “compatible”.
"We agree to that and we agree to the amendments, we agree wholeheartedly. Because it was independent all along. They are saying it would make it independent for the first time, [but] no it was always independent," she said.
"It could never be put together with common law, it was always different. So why are we causing a fuss? It's still under the umbrella of the [Ministry of] Justice while the Parliament is doing its role to make laws according to the needs [of the population].
"And I see it as meeting my needs. The word is independent but it was never a part of common law, because it is to do with our lands and matai titles."
Fesola'i said the Lands and Titles had long been established as an independent institution and one which is "not part of democracy."
"We have a matai system that is ours; that is not part of democracy; actually it is against democracy because democracy upholds individual rights; but for us, we are communal," she said.
"We belong to communities, we live in villages, we care for each other."
One of the most contested aspects is the L.T.C. Bill 2020 is an amendment to limit the number of matai Sa'o (high chiefs) to five per family.
Fesola'i made a reference to the old tradition of only one paramount chief making decisions, saying families should be thankful the Government is permitting five paramount chiefs and not one.
"Only one paramount chief speaks and makes family decisions, but now there's not only two, three, four but five, so why? What's the big deal? Hallelujah it's not one anymore."
By contrast, other political parties are standing united against the three proposed bills saying such changes will provoke familial conflict.
Samoa National Democratic Party leader, Asiata Tafito Valasi said the Government has no right to impose restrictions on families.
"These bills will affect Samoan families' rights to their treasures, including matai titles. What is their business to restrict the number of certain title holders within a family? Descendants will be left out, families will not be at peace as we have already seen in many cases."
The Samoa Law Society has also warned that the bills are “defective, dysfunctional” and “racist.”
But the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, had dismissed the claims as false” and designed to “mislead” members of the public.