Support for L.T.C bills grow in Savai'i
Four villages in Savai'i have thrown their support behind judicial reforms being proposed by the Government as a Special Parliamentary Committee continues its consultation on the big island.
This is the fourth week for the Committee – which has been tasked to consult the public on the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, Lands and Titles Court Bill 2020, and Judicature Bill 2020 – before it presents a report when the legislation returns to the Parliament for the third reading.
Convening a hearing at the Bayview Resort on Tuesday, the Committee heard submissions from Gagaemauga No. 1 constituency which comprises the villages of Samalaeulu, Mauga, and Patamea.
Submissions from Saleaula of the Gagaemauga No.2 constituency followed with the representatives of the four villages expressing support for the bills.
The villages’ support for the bills was confirmed by a senior matai of the constituency, who is also a lawyer and politician, Tuala Tevaga Joe Ponifasio.
"Yesterday's meeting went well for everyone," Tuala told the Samoa Observer. "I was able to sit in and listen to the exchange of views between the Parliamentary Committee and the villages of Samalaeulu, Patamea, and Mauga.
"There was also a good turn out from the Saleaula in support of the three bill's. My role was to observe and listen to what was being discussed."
Tuala went on to say that there was a need for a thorough explanation by the Committee in relation to the bills as well as the proposed changes.
"Most of the villages welcomed the opportunity to hear an explanation from the Committee on the bills," he added. "Most people find it hard to understand the complexities of changes being proposed, so most of them were only concerned with what was relevant to them, in particular where customs and traditions were a concerned and matters pertaining to each village, authority, and family and for the law not to interfere like the five sa'o (high chief) as proposed."
"The village of Samalaeulu supported the Bills and gave the Committee their blessing that the Committee will do what is good for Samoa.
"The matai of Samalaeulu also offered cautions to the committee in carrying out their functions to be careful and be prudent in how they frame their advice to Cabinet.”
In return, according to Tuala, the Committee thanked the village of Samalaeulu for their views and support of the bills.
In the previous weeks, there were cases of villages opposing the changes. However, they came out saying they have made positive submissions and are supporting the bills.
Asked if this was the case for the villages of Gagaemauga 1, Tuala said misunderstanding was the main issue for some matai.
"Yes, when I came to our village meeting on Monday before the seminar on Tuesday some matai (Chiefs) have been swayed to oppose the bills and the Government.
"So I tried to explain opposing the bills does not mean you have to oppose the government too. "The Law Society's and the Judiciary's attempt to explain the bill and the possible effects of the Bills if they do come into law, does not mean they oppose the Government.
"They are just doing their job as guardians of the constitution and as a branch of Government.
"I told my village not to mix things up. They said that they have been confused by other political organisations that have come before the Parliamentary Committee." Finally, as a matai and citizen of Samoa, Tuala believes that "there is good behind the changes."
"In my personal view as a matai, there is good behind the changes and the reason for changes which are to expedite proceedings and to give importance to our faasamoa."
However, as a lawyer, Tuala said the changes being proposed may be a "little excessive and unnecessary" to achieve such objectives.
"I like the idea of empowering the Lands and Titles court to function well to help our people.
"Perhaps if the changes are made then we need to strengthen and build capacity gradually over time so we are not forcing these changes upon us, with not enough resources to support the implementation of these changes.
"If we fail by rushing these changes or for whatever reason, then we are toying with what is at the heart of every Samoan.
"Its Lands and Titles. (And) no one wants to see that happen.
"I am optimistic the Government will put in place the right mechanism to empower this court and my village is fully supportive of that.
"As a lawyer, I am concerned about the proposed changes to the appeal and review level of our courts and the capacity of our Land and Titles Court in handling matters of law at this level.
"This is the level that most of our matai are having difficulty in understanding.
"It can work and I wish that detail of how it will work in practice can be in front of us now.
"A court's jurisprudence, in this case, the L.T.C. is developed and continues to develop over a period of time.
"I am concerned about the inherent jurisdiction of our supreme court being compromised when the changes happen but all these arguments are now before the nation "e saili i ai le tofa ma le fautuaga".
"But I believe all this will work out in the end, our legal minds and the resources of the Government put together we will end up with a reliable and trustworthy L.T.C.”
"This L.T.C. has existed for some time now and there are systems already in place to build on and recently we have seen a great improvement in how the L.T.C. is run but requires more hard work and perseverance.
"Resourcing our L.T.C. starts from the selection and Professional development for our L.T.C. judges, raise their pay, proper recording of proceedings so we can build precedents, build the capacity of the administration and so on, so the new changes also come with a genuine commitment of the Government to resource this unique and important court for the Samoan people.
"I think after today (Tuesday) the dialogue is now healthy and balanced despite some of the issues that lie ahead for those who will implement these changes.
"At the end of the day, I am happy about the initiative to revitalize the L.T.C., and all four villages from the district of Gagaemauga No 1 have supported the bills."