Lawyer takes campaign against L.T.C. bills to Savai'i
Senior lawyer and the President of the Samoa Solidarity International Group (S.S.I.G), Unasa Iuni Sapolu, has taken the campaign against bills currently before Parliament proposing to overhaul the Judiciary and the Lands and Titles Court (L.T.C.) to Savai'i.
On Saturday, she was among the S.S.I.G. members giving out pamphlets to members of the public, highlighting why Samoa should reject the bills that are currently before a Special Parliamentary Select Committee.
The bills in question are the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, the Lands and Titles Bill 2020, and the Judicature Bill 2020.
Unasa, who is also the leader of the Samoa First Political Party, said their goal is to ensure members of the public understand the ramifications of the proposed changes.
"We are here (in Savai'i) to explain to our people from Savai'i (about) the changes or bills before Parliament," Unasa told the Samoa Observer.
"I believe they (the Special Parliamentary Committee) are coming over to Savai'i next week and Government lawyers are also coming, and I am sure they will explain to them their side of the bill.
"(That) is why we are here, so we can show our people the other side of the coin," said Unasa.
"The L.T.C is the most dangerous [bill] because it gives the Government of Samoa power over the customary lands through the decisions of the Land and Title court.
"So it does in my opinion breach and violates the rights of customary landowners."
Unasa went on to say that the new L.T.C bill also violates the right of families (aiga) to their suafa matai (matai title)
"So why is it that it's been controlled by the Government? Its always been up to the suli (Descendents) of the aiga as to who they nominate or choose who to become a matai.
"The titles are tied to customary lands; these are dangerous bills and Samoa should collectively stand up and say no!
"We do not want our customary lands taken by the states; this is a violation of our rights as owners of these lands and titles."
Informing the Savai'i residents about the other side of the debate was not their only motive, said Unasa, including aspects of the bill that would limit the number of paramount chiefs that can be bestowed with a single title.
They also wanted to hear and listen to what the people of Savai'i have to say.
"When people are informed, they will understand and say and stand up for what they want to be done with their land," said Unasa.
Unasa said that not everyone has access to media in Savai’i, providing extra challenges to their information campaign.
"So we needed to come and tell people what's happening so they are aware.
Unasa said the introduction of the bills to coincide with the coronavirus state of emergency had cut short opportunities to scrutinise and debate the implications of legislation.
Nevertheless, according to Unasa, the bills are similar to the L.T.R.A 08 legislation which changed regulations relating to customary lands.
"(And) where do you think these customary lands will go? It will be used to secure loans, and if these are not repaid? What's going to happen to our customary lands?,” Unasa said.
Finding justice is the main drive behind her efforts, said Unasa.
"I've been asked, what my motive is," she said smiling.
The lawyer denied any intention to run for politics herself.
"This (S.S.I.G) political party was born out of Savai'i. Savai'i wanted a party, and a group of people set it up and I just happened to come along and joined the founders and help set it up,” she said.
"I have no interest in running, I just want justice. I am doing this out of love. Love that does not fear."
Limoni Mata'afa from Palauli said he strongly opposes the bills.
"We don't want to be homeless or lose the rights to our lands," he told the Samoa Observer.
"My advice to the government is, "Stop" That's the best thing to do.
"We don't support these new bills.
"I've been getting updates from different forms of communication, on the radio and television. But it seems like they are forcing it and it's coming in like a disease.
"And if they are coming to Savai'i, we will be happy to attend and raise our concerns to the Committee."
Leali'ifano Peni from Vaito'omuli, echoed the same sentiment.
"I don't agree with the bills and the changes," he told Samoa Observer.
"There are so many new changes we can't keep up. Let us deal with one problem at a time.
"It's unfair to bring in these new bills without the views of the people of Samoa because we were all on lockdown and did not pay attention to these bills."
Leali'ifano suggests that we slow down and try not to change our Constitution.
"Our Government should think hard before anything else and I hope they will listen to what our people will have to say.
"We are a democratic country and the voice of the people matters most.