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Constitution an outsiders' invention a misinterpretation: Justice Lautalatoa

A retired Supreme Court Judge, Justice Lautalatoa Pierre Slicer, says comments by the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, that Samoa’s Constitution was an invention of non-Samoans are a misunderstanding of history.

“Any suggestion that the Constitution was an intrusion and controlled by outsiders is wrong,” Judge Slicer AO QC told the Samoa Observer.

“Historians state with admiration the input and control of the material of the formation of the Constitution.  

“The input by outsiders was but technical translating Samoan wishes into legal language."

Justice Lautalatoa said the comments of the Prime Minister concerning the role played by palagi (foreigners) in framing the Constitution of Samoa and the bestowal of titles on non-citizens, were a reminder that the current important debate should remain civil rather than inflammatory. 

Last week in Parliament, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi during his Ministerial speech noted the constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, Land and Titles Bill 2020 and the Judicature Bill 2020 are designed to ensure the Samoan culture; village and communal rights are preserved and protected. 

He said once the bills are passed, Samoan Judges would finally be able to make rulings on matters only Samoans can comprehend. For far too long, he said, the Courts have recognised individual rights at the expense of villages, churches and organisations.

“Individual rights are in the Constitution and they are in the constitutions of all nations governed by papalagi,” Tuilaepa said. 

“It recognises the right of an individual over a group of people. That’s why every time there is a case between a village council and an individual who has rebelled against village authority, the court ruling always favours the rebel.

“That’s because it is what the constitution written by the palagi and observed by the whole world says. It (constitution) was done by papalagi who have no customs and culture like Samoa.”

Tuilaepa also turned on the concept of common law, saying that it is not Samoan. 

“The rights recognsed by common law are from papalagi, they came from the traditions of Britain. These are their customs; they are palagi customs because they do not have a culture like Samoa where villages are governed by ali’i ma faipule,” he said

Tuilaepa said the Judges of the Criminal Court and the Samoa Law Society do not understand the bills because they are “too palagi” in their thinking. 

But Justice Lautalatoa noted that Samoa is a Christian society with respect for differing faiths. 

“The origin of that faith is not belittled because it reflects ideas and personal values even though it was introduced from outside the emerging nation. 

“If the term palagi is used as a term of derision then it is a betrayal of an idea which binds Samoa together.” 

Justice Lautalatoa saluted the Statements of the Former Head of State , my friend, His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi in correcting the claim that the founding documents did not place due emphasis on Samoan culture. 

“I have read the documents of the debates conducted over a long period of time which shows that it was a product of Samoas. 

“I differ from the view of the Prime Minister that the Constitution was imposed by outsiders. 

“In many respects I regard the Samoan Constitution as better than the Australian model.  It provides for the protection of basic human rights-mine does not.  

“It combines the best of the American model with a Parliamentary form of governance. Mine does not.

“It was a product of Samoan wishes not outsiders. The preservation of customary title is a marvellous product of Samoan ideas not a product of outsiders,” he said.  Justice Lautalatoa also differed from the Prime Minister views of the bestowal of a title on the retired Judge. 

“For me it was a great honour bestowed in recognition of my judicial work, not a grant of power.” He expressed his love for Samoa. 

“Incidentally, my swearing in as a judicial officer in Samoa was by the great Malietoa [Tanumafaili II]. On that day in 2006 I swore an oath of allegiance to Samoa. After the ceremony Malietoa and I discussed history, independence and duty. I re-swore that oath at a sitting of Parliament to celebrate the 50th years since Samoan Independence. I still consider myself bound by my oath of allegiance to Samoa. I retain that oath.” 

Justice Lautalatoa also responded to the Prime Minister’s comments on his weekly radio programme that he should not be involved in this debate as he’s Australian and not Samoan.

“I became involved in this debate as various Samoans from different walks of life contacted me and requested that I speak up,” he said

“I became involved in this debate because I have lived and worked in a country which I call another home, and because I care for the welfare and future prospects of the many friends I now consider family, who have enriched my life and Antonia’s life.” 

 He concluded that Samoa is a Nation State and a member of the United Nations. 

“The Constitution itself provides proof that it represents Samoan culture and tradition and the entry into the International community as a confident and proud Nation State,” Judge Slicer said

“Samoa reflects both custom and tradition and is a member of the International Community. It remains my hope that Members of Parliament will work with the Law Society acknowledge that there may be defects in the Bills and work towards a solution that is acceptable to Samoans,” said Justice Lautalatoa. 

Judge Slicer served as a Judge on the Supreme Court of the Australian State of Tasmania. He came out of retirement to return to the bench at the special request of the Australian state Government to address a serious backlog of cases at the court.

Below is Judge Slicer’s letter printed verbatim in full. 

The Editor

Samoa Observer

Sent by email to [email protected]

5th May 2020

Dear Editor,

I have delayed my response to the comments of the Prime Minister concerning the role played by palagi in questions involving the Constitution of Samoa and the bestowal of titles on non citizens, in order that the current important debate should remain civil and considered rather than inflammatory. I am not sure what the term palagi or papalagi is intended to convey. My dictionaries define Europeans as papalagi , papa’a (part European) or afakasi. Papalagi is interpreted as a foreigner as in “’o lana papa lagi”. 

Samoa is a Christian society with respect for differing faiths. I acknowledge the strong faith held by the Prime Minister. The origin of that faith is not belittled because it reflects ideas and personal values even though it was introduced from outside the emerging nation. If the term palagi is used as a term of derision then it is a betrayal of an idea which binds Samoa together. 

Any suggestion that the Constitution was an intrusion and controlled by outsiders is wrong. I salute the Statements of the Former Head of State , my friend, His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi in correcting the claim that the founding documents did not place due emphasis on Samoan culture. 

I have read the documents of the debates conducted over a long period of time which shows that it was a product of Samoas. Historians state with admiration the input and control of the Matai of the formation of the Constitution. The input by outsiders was but technical translating Samoan wishes into legal language. 

I differ from the view of the Prime Minister that the Constitution was imposed by outsiders. In many respects I regard the Samoan Constitution as better than the Australian model. It provides for the protection of basic human rights-mine does not. It combines the best of the American model with a Parliamentary form of governance. Mine does not. It was a product of Samoan wishes not outsiders. The preservation of customary title is a marvellous product of Samoan ideas not a product of outsiders.

I also differ from the Prime Minister in his views of the bestowal of a title on me and to me. For me it was a great honour bestowed in recognition of my judicial work, not a grant of power. There can be no inheritance of my title, it is simply a gift of recognition. Over the years I have been awarded:

  • The Order of Australia

  • The Australian Defence Medal

  • The Australian Centennial Medal

  • United Nations ‘Citizenship of Humanity’.

  • The use of the word Honourable in my Name.

I regard these awards as matters of pride. I have equal pride with the Bestowal of Title from my village of Sataua. 

I love Samoa and Samoans. Incidentally, my swearing in as a Judicial officer in Samoa was by the great Malietoa. On that day in 2006 I swore an oath of allegiance to Samoa. After the ceremony Malietoa and I discussed history, independence and duty. I re-swore that oath at a sitting of Parliament to celebrate the 50th years since Samoan Independence. I still consider myself bound by my oath of allegiance to Samoa. I retain that oath.

 The Prime Minister previously indicated that I should not be involved in this debate as I am “not Samoan”.  I became involved in this debate as various Samoans from different walks of life contacted me and requested that I speak up. I became involved   in this debate because I have   lived and worked in a country which I call another home, and because I care for the welfare and future prospects of the many friends I now consider family, who have enriched my life and Antonia’s life. 

I regret that the contributions of many persons from other nation states are treated with disdain simply because they come from elsewhere. Their contributions reflect an understanding of mistakes made by their own people. After all it was not until 1968 that my own country recognised the rights of citizenship for the aboriginal people who were the owners and original custodians of the land which is now called Australia.

I have had the advantage of reading the article by Joyetter Feagaimaali’i concerning the Law Reform Commission Report. There is much wisdom in the article. I agree that the retention and strengthening of customary practice is necessary. There are other ways of achieving this goal. But there should be one head of State, one Prime Minister and Parliament and one final Court for the Judicial arm of Governance. The proposed  legislation will destroy uniformity in the rule of law, to the detriment of the nation State.

When I lived in Samoa I often gave my time (outside of my work hours) to work with members of the Samoan community, to take part in Seminars and Training events. On many occasions people would request I raise a matter or ask a question which they were afraid to ask for fear of retribution. 

The Prime Minister will recall that the first detective course requested me to present their certificates since I had done much to help them through the court and legal processes. Was that wrong?

Over the years, I have had a number of interesting conversations with the Prime Minister. One concerned democracy and the absence of a strong opposition. He pointed out to me that there was considerable opposition within his own party to balance any debate.  It was a valid point. I listened to him and understood that his Government could work as a productive democracy notwithstanding no real opposition. This as I understood him occurs when members of His Party the HRRP are free to express differing viewpoints and take legislation to the Parliament. 

Samoa is a Nation State and a member of the United Nations. It is entitled to express its views and pay respect to the International Community.   The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides in its preamble “as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for those rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, National and International, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of member states themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.”

The Constitution itself provides proof that it represents Samoan culture and tradition and the entry into the International community as a confident and proud Nation State. 

Samoa reflects both custom and tradition and is a member of the International Community. It remains my hope that Members of Parliament will work with the Law Society acknowledge that there may be defects in the Bills and work towards a solution that is acceptable to Samoans.

Yours Faithfully

Lautalatoa Justice Pierre Slicer A.O. Q.C

 

 

 

 



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