Govt. has failed to define customs in L.T.C Bills, Academic says

An academic, who has studied the origins of the Lands and Titles Court (L.T.C.), says the Government has failed to define customs and traditions in three Bills that proposes the restructuring of the Judiciary.

Senior Lecturer at the National University of Samoa’s Centre of Samoan Studies, Ta’iao Matiu Matavai Tautunu, told the Samoa Observer that the three main points being highlighted in the debate on the proposed laws is Samoan customs, traditions and Christianity.

However, he said it is his view that the Government has failed to define what and where Samoan customs and traditions lie in the proposed laws and how they can be applied if and when they are enacted. 

“Why (has the Government failed)? Because every village has their own customs and traditions,” he said. 

“For example, if there’s a case of a certain village and the lawyer from another village with their own different customs and traditions, and using those customs and traditions to base his decisions on, then that’s where the problem lies.”

Putting the current turmoil over the three Government-sponsored Bills in perspective, Matiu said he believes the L.T.C. not only relies on the decisions of the judges on the customs and traditions of the district concerned, but also on the submissions put to the Court by the plaintiff and the defendant in a proceeding.

“We can never remove an attitude from our being as Samoans which is biased,” he added.

Matiu said this is why he is of the view that only persons with higher understanding and knowledge of Samoan customs and traditions, should become part of the recruitment criteria of L.T.C. judges.

The Bills in question are the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, Land and Titles Bill 2020 and the Judicature Bill 2020. The legislation have passed the first and second readings in the Parliament and are currently at the Committee stage before the third and final reading.

In an appeal to the Government, the academic urged leaders to look deeper into the origins of the L.T.C. and get the views of the people prior to making any decisions on the the legislation. 

“It is very important for the Government or the (Special Parliamentary) Committee to gather the perspectives of every Samoa both residing in Samoa and overseas about this issue,” he said. “Majority of the Samoan families residing overseas are only there to look for a brighter future for their families in Samoa so their opinions matter just as much as us here in Samoa do.”

Speaking of his research into the origins of the L.T.C. during the colonial period, the academic said a question that remains unanswered is whether foreigners had good intentions to establish the predecessor of the L.T.C., Land and Titles Commission in 1903.

According to Matiu, the establishment of the Land and Titles Commission in 1903 by the Germans, was made possible with the adoption of the principles and constitution of the 1889 Land and Titles Commission.

He added that the questions that remain unanswered from his research is whether the foreigners had pure intentions in 1903 when establishing the Lands and Titles Commission, the predecessor to the current L.T.C.

“The purpose of this commission was Germany trying to keep the customary traditional lands of Samoa from being sold illegally,” he added. 

“What I mean is the value for a gun and the value for a land are two very different things.”

In terms of the value of the land, Matiu said he believes the Germans’ intentions were to protect local land because they wanted to promote its economic use and develop their economic potential.

“Back in the days, the only main uses of the lands were for farming for food and survival. There was no such thing as using the lands to earn income,” he added.

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