Title limits' economic impact not considered: Papali'i

Proposed laws limiting the number of paramount chiefs in a family will have major economic impacts on families, villages and the country as a whole, a matai and businessman has warned. 

Papali'i Grant Percival made reference to the Land and Titles Court Bill 2020 that sets out a proposed change to restrict the number of matai Sa’o (paramount chiefs) per family.  

The legislation is part of a suite of bills designed to overhaul the broader Land and Titles Court (L.T.C.)

Under the L.T.C. changes, which has entered into second reading before Parliament, and which the Government says is designed to uphold the integrity of the title system,  only five high chiefs would be permitted to be registered to a family at any one time. 

Papali'i said such title bestowment is one of most villages most valuable economic lifelines and limiting title bestowal will put a stop to much-needed cash injections.

"It needs money. It is the matai's contribution to their families, their villages and churches. These titles are what creates the obligation that keeps them contributing and sending money from overseas," he said.

"I know the community benefits [from title bestowments]. When my wife took a title, the village received $350,000. Because some families have up to more than 20 paramount chiefs and to limit it to five, there is going to be an economic impact.”

In order to be bestowed a paramount chief title, one has to not only be chosen but also fulfil the requirement to pay compensation to the village in cash. Such money requirements can range from $500 to $5000.

For example, for New Years this year, Nofoali'i hosted Tanuvasa Leulua'ititia'i's family title bestowal to 95 descendants altogether. A total of 19 of them were bestowed with the paramount Tanuvasa title. 

Speaking to the Samoa Observer then, Tanuvasa Segi Olo said the family made the decision to open up their high chief title after seven years to help lead and accommodate the growing family numbers. 

Although an economic impact is only the concern that follows concerns that the Government should not have a say in families' management affairs, Papalii added.

Samoan film director, Fa’alavaau Jeremiah Tauamiti, echoed these sentiments saying putting limits on the number of paramount chiefs a family is a direct attack on the Samoan family’s right to manage itself.

The director said he suspects limiting matai titles and affecting how families access the court system will affect Samoa’s youth negatively.

If fewer people are able to inherit their families’ most respected titles, they may either disconnect from their culture or otherwise begin to rebel against it.

Fa'alava'au said the ruling on matters that should be in the hands of a family is a serious encroachment on the Government's behalf and the beginnings of a slippery slope. 

And, should they push through to pass the bills, the practicality of a proposed change to title bestowals could cause major conflict for families, said former Vice-Chancellor of the National University of Samoa, Professor Fui Asofou So’o.

Fui, who is also a Professor in Samoan studies, said the idea to uphold and retain the dignity of the matai system by having one title holder may be a preferred option but in reality, the situation is different.  

“Where is the justice in upholding the dignity of the matai system when there is no peace in families?,” he asked.

“That is the difficulty of putting a number in the legislation."

The other bills part of the plans to change the nation’s legal system are the Constitution Amendment Bill 2020, and the Judicature Bill 2020.

The Constitution Amendment Bill 2020 would create a Land and Titles Court independent from the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration. 

The Bill would create a parallel and independent judicial structure, including an L.T.C. High Court and Court of Final Appeal and Review, removing the option for parties to appeal L.T.C. decisions to the Supreme Court. 

The Bill seeks to amend the Constitution and to replace the current Land and Titles Act 1981.

 



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