Village consultation process on L.T.C. Bills an afterthought
The Government’s decision to seek views from villagers about the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, Lands and Titles Court Bill 2020 and Judicature Bill 2020 is a noble gesture but only if it was done prior to the tabling of the bills in Parliament.
It is difficult to ignore the nagging thought that the timing raises even more questions about this Government’s intentions to rewrite history and destroy the guiding principles of democracy in Samoa.
If it feels like an afterthought, that’s because it is. Indeed, the concept of public consultation is based on the notion that opinions and views are exchanged between parties, the feedback thoroughly analysed and then used to formulate laws that should strengthen the protection of people, their human rights and improve the quality of life. At least that’s what we understand about the process.
It means the platform should be a safe space, conducive for the free expression of views regardless of what they are. There are no wrong or right views.
On the front page of the Samoa Observer yesterday, Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, announced that the bills would not return to Parliament for the third reading unless a Special Parliamentary Committee hears from villagers throughout the country.
“The bills can’t go through to the third reading without going through this [consultation] process,” assured Tuilaepa. “Ninety days, that’s three months.”
But that’s not all. Member of Parliament for Anoama'a East, Alaiasa Sepulona Moananu, has also revealed that lawyers working for the Government are preparing to visit villages to explain the intentions of the bill.
While the Member of Parliament did not have the details about the planned visit by Government lawyers, he said they are likely to begin in the town area and move out to the rural villages. In the meantime, he encouraged the villages to prepare their questions in anticipation of the visits from the Government lawyers.
Last week, a member of the Parliamentary Committee, Fuimaono Te’o Samuelu, explained that the process they are following now is very unique.
“The intention of the Committee is to ensure that this is not the end,” he said.
“Even in Salafai (Savai’i), the Committee will be going out to the constituencies from village to village to clarify and consult with everyone [on the bills].
“The Committee has decided to give the opportunity to the public to bring in their concerns and thoughts to build this law, because the bill belongs to us and not anyone else’s.”
Well that’s nice, isn’t it? But don’t you think it has come a little late?
We have a classic situation of putting the cart before the horse. It’s a joke, only if the issues involved were not so serious.
The process as they have now set out, including plans to visit villages during the next few weeks, is clearly an afterthought. This process should have been done by the Government even before these bills were penned by the Government’s legal drafters.
The views of the relevant stakeholders and members of the public should have been sought first and foremost and taken into account before. While there is always the Parliamentary bills process, that should be the last resort for opinions to be expressed.
That clearly has not happened in the formulation process of these highly controversial bills. It just so happened that the Government has come across such formidable and unrelenting opposition from the legal fraternity, Judges of the Court, Samoa Law Society, members of the international community and members of the public that they have decided to change their tactics.
Looking at what Prime Minister Tuilaepa has been saying publically during the past month, we also have very little faith in this new “unique” process.
Are they genuinely interested in hearing people’s views or is it just a mere attempt to tick the box so they could ram the bills through Parliament, like they usually do, and be done with them?
Besides, whom does the Committee represent? Parliament or the Government?
And how much do ordinary villagers understand about the technical aspects of these proposed legislations if they haven’t been informed about them adequately? How are they expected to offer an informed opinion if they are uninformed?
As far as we can see, apart from what has been in the media, the Government has done very little, if anything at all, to explain the real ramifications of these bills.
It seems that the only reason the Government has taken this “unique” path is due to the fact so many Samoans have made an effort to read and share their thoughts and fears about the implication of these proposed laws. They have been ridiculed, insulted and called all sorts of nasty names in the process but they can walk tall knowing they have contributed to the process of telling the Government it has got this completely wrong.
That said, we want to warn them that they cannot rest on their laurels and stop here. They need to continue to speak up and reach out to the people in the villages to inform them. So much hard work has been done that we cannot let the momentum die a natural death.
What’s happening is that the Government has realised it has erred and instead of admitting it, they are now on a mission to manipulate the system even more to achieve their purposes. How? By attempting to be seen to do the right thing.
Whose views will be promoted by the Special Committee, keeping in mind that most of the members of this Committee are H.R.P.P. loyalists. That being the case, their impartiality has already been compromised. What we can see is this latest attempt by the Government is another exercise in futility that will only end up costing money and wasting more public resources.
But then looking at this Government’s behaviour over the years, this is hardly surprising. Anything so that the end justifies the means, right?
What do you think?