Former A.G. responds to P.M's criticisms

Senior lawyer and former Attorney General, Taulapapa Brenda Heather–Latu has responded to the Prime Minister over his criticisms of the Samoa Law Society (S.L.S.) and those opposing three bills before Parliament. 

Taulapapa, who is spearheading S.L.S. sub-committee to review three controversial bills, says the society has a responsibility to raise awareness on the threat of the proposed changes. 

The proposed changes are in the Constitution Amendment Bill 2020, Land and Titles Court Bill 2020 and Judicature Bill 2020. 

Furthermore, the former A.G. asked why Members of Parliament are being gagged from expressing their constituency’s voice in the Legislative Assembly. 

“We have studied the bills and in applying our collective training and experience, we are fearful that the bills will undermine the rule of law and the democratic foundations upon which our nation was built,” said Taulapapa in response to queries.

“Whilst we are still able to enjoy the privilege of freedom of speech, we are committed to raising awareness of the greatest threat to our liberties since independence.”

In previous weeks, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi said the three bills had caused so much commotion, when all the Government wants is to help the people who continue to have issues with their L.T.C. cases. 

He added that the Samoa Law Society and everyone who criticize the bills are misleading members of the public, and praised a former Chief Executive Officer of Samoa International Finance Authority (S.I.F.A.), Tootooleaava Dr. Fanaafi Aiono-Le Tagaloa for her views on the bills. 

“The Law Society should read it, especially the President and the Committee,” Tuilaepa said.

“It seems like it’s only the President and a small committee, no more than six people who just formulate their own opinions and they claim that is the opinion of the Society…. which is very wrong.”

There are more than 150 lawyers that are members of the Samoa Law Society. 

Meanwhile, claims by the Government that the bills will benefit the country is debatable, as both the local and international legal fraternity and jurists warn that the proposed changes will do the opposite.  

Taulapapa said if the bills are so beneficial then why were they tabled without any prior consultation. 

“Why were they advanced during a global pandemic; why the extensive attempts to suppress discussion and debate in the Legislative chamber by selecting five obedient members of the party to speak on each Bill with a prepared statement…” she said. 

“Why is a Parliamentary Committee carrying out the role of Ministries in conducting public consultations, which tell people their rights are not affected and the Bills strengthen their powers, when the opposite is true…”

The three bills are currently being taken out to the villages for consultation by Special Parliamentary Committee comprising seven Members of Parliament. 

According to villagers who appeared before the Committee in Savai’i to make submissions, they initially opposed the bills. 

But after the Committee explained the changes, they have now accepted it, though with assurance from the Committee that they will remove specific provision of the bill relating to matai sao holder. 

Speaking about Parliament debate, Taulapapa questioned why there was a lengthy ministerial statement with no parliamentary debate or right of response by M.Ps “and not just the chosen sycophants”. 

Prime Minister Tuilaepa delivered a more than half an hour statement in the previous Parliament session addressing concerns raised about the L.T.C. bills. 

Tuilaepa told Parliament that the bills are referred to a Committee for their consideration, to ensure that it is thoroughly assessed and considered in its entirety by research background and purpose of all clauses. 

He said this is to guarantee that once it is reported back to the Assembly, it has been made complete with relevant insertions and amendments (or otherwise) on the Bill. 

“This has been the process for all Bills, and it must be made clear to those who continuously complain in the background that Committee stage is just for show and has no value,” he said. 

He emphasised that the bill is never final and complete unless it has been reported back to the House from the Committee, and then considered in detail in chambers and subsequently passed by the Assembly. 

“Only then can a Bill be made final,” he assured. 

Another issue raised by Taulapapa is why Members were stopped from asking questions and making comments, having signed up to the party and its manifesto.

“What about their Parliamentary oaths to the people of Samoa and the people in their electorates,” she said

“And where is the detailed response to the concerns shown by the regional and international community. 

“Why are some of the Committee so aggressive and vocal during the hearings, yet their voices and those of their colleagues are barely heard in the Parliamentary chamber from one year to the next. 

“I believe the recent discussions about the three Bills has simply highlighted the lack of public input or consultation about the important decisions made about our lives.” 

Lastly, the former A.G. posed the question on whether anyone ask about Sunday trading and its benefits. 

“Has anyone asked why there are limitations on trading internally when there is no Covid-19. 

“Did anyone ask why it’s safe to go to school for three days but not five but if someone asks then they are soundly abused? 

“And when did they ask us if we wanted to trade in our Constitutional freedoms for an extra layer of appeal?"

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