Parliament Clerk explains closed doors sessions
The Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Tiatia Graeme Tualaulelei, says the decision to keep submissions on three bills relating to the Land and Titles Court, to a Special Parliamentary Committee behind closed doors, is to avoid “public confusion”.
"The way the Committee holds consultations now, is so the public will not be confused and misunderstand the different submissions made to the committee,” Tiatia told the Samoa Observer during an interview in Savai'i.
The Committee is holding closed-door sessions inviting public feedback on the bills which are in the second reading phase of the Parliamentary process. On Friday, the Special Committee held public consultations at Taga in Savai’i.
Feedback is being sought on the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, Lands and Titles Court Bill 2020 and Judicature Bill 2020 at the Ministry of Women’s office at Salelologa but they were closed to the media and general public.
Tiatia said the exclusion of the media from the venue did not reflect the committee’s disregard for the public’s opinion but rather an encouragement of free expression and compliance with Parliamentary standing orders.
"The Parliamentary Select Committee does take into high consideration the various submissions made by our people,” the Clerk said.
"But because these are very sensitive issues, we have to be very careful and cautious. The Committee has been tasked to carry out public consultations and provide the opportunity for villages to present their views and submissions in relation to the proposed changes.
"We have targeted the village councils (Fono a ali'i ma faipule) but [we have] allocated times for different villages to present their submissions. This has been done so that no opinion is being held back.”
The newly Special Inquiry Committee tasked to review the bills is chaired by Member of Parliament, Gatoloaifa’ana Amataga Gidlow, who serves alongside seven other M.P.s as panel members.
The Clerk said that holding public consultations in public tended to make people reluctant to speak out and defeated the purpose of consultations.
“People tend to hold back their opinions and views because of the large crowd,” he said.
The Savai’i venues are typically held at the Apita o Pisaga Hall and Vaisala E.F.K.S. hall.
Tiatia dismissed claims that the public consultation was veiled in secrecy.
"When we (the Committee) were tasked to carry out public consultations, we made a public announcement on television to inform the communities about the dates, times, and the different villages we were going to start with,” the Clerk said.
"The other main reason why it is done in closed-door venues is that we do not want to publicise or reveal the submissions made to the Committee before we make a final report to Parliament.
"We want to come up with one final decision or report based on these submissions before we can announce and present it to Parliament.
"We want to avoid any wrong assumptions that might arise from these consultations; to avoid any confusion.
"We rather receive all the submissions, then make a final conclusion and report to the Parliament first, before anything else."
Tiatia made reference to Standing Order 158 and 162 for Special Committees that stipulate that submissions made to a committee are not to be made public until the Committee has made a final decision or report.
The orders explicitly prevent committees from publishing summaries of submissions made to them, or quoting from material brought up in the course of its public consultations before their presentation to Parliament.
Despite the Clerk's comments on the Committee following Standing Order 158 and 162, there have been video updates of interviews from the different villages in Savai'i on the second and third week of submissions on the big island.
The video interviews are conducted by officials from the Legislative Assembly in the presence of the Clerk of Legislative Assembly and are conducted after each session where village representatives talk about what their submissions are. The videos are then posted on the Legislative Assembly's website and made available online for everyone to see.
Public consultations will continue in Savai'i on Tuesday.