Sasina village rejects L.T.C. bills

Sasina village in Savai'i is rejecting three bills that propose to reshape the judiciary and make the Land and Titles Court autonomous.

The position of the village in relation to the Judicature Bill 2020, the Lands and Titles Court Bill 2020, and the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020 was confirmed by the senior orator of the village, Seve Avaula. 

A Special Parliamentary Committee is currently leading a nationwide public consultation program on the three bills.

"We met with the Committee on Monday," Seve said. "We have also made a submission against the proposed changes. We do not agree with the bills."

He went on to say that there was not enough time for their village to express their views on the bills. 

"We were only given an hour so there was not enough time for us to show our views and we did not touch on the other areas we think are unnecessary." 

According to Seve, the Committee is only presenting the "good side" of the proposed changes during their interaction with the villages.

"The presentation is one-sided, and that is the good side only. But after reading through all the pages of the bills, you will know that a lot will be affected by the proposed changes,” he revealed in an interview. "They are presenting it in a nice and sweet way. However, the damages are hidden underneath and there is more to it than what they are telling us. 

"There were a lot of things that needed to be thoroughly explained by the Committee, like using the right and appropriate words to explain the changes proposed in the bills. 

"For example, the word aiaia in Samoan. They had different translations for it and different interpretations. It was translated to ‘in according’ which can also mean, to stay by. It can be interpreted as negative. 

"It was then translated to ‘to provide’. As you know, a provider doesn't care if it's good or bad, as long they get what they want. 

"But the lawyer used the word "to build up". This means the bills intend to write customs, traditions, and lands into law. 

"In the end, it [the law] will control our culture and fa'a-Samoa. It will mean, whatever the law wants, left or right, up or down, the culture will have to adjust to what the law says."

Seve also dismissed claims that the proposed changes will not affect Samoans’ lands and pointed to the impact that the proposed restructure will have on the Land and Titles Court.

"The Committee is saying that the proposed changes will not affect lands, but the court they are trying to reshape is called Land and Titles Court,” he further added. "That is a concern for us, because more problems will arise in the coming years once these become laws. 

"There will come a time when we will no longer own our lands and we will have to pay for our lands. 

"Another thing is, all lands in Savai'i are customary lands. The land where the courthouse is in Savai'i does not belong to the Government. 

The key concern, emphasised Seve, is the future ownership of the land after the Government moves their offices elsewhere. 

"If these offices are moving somewhere else, what will happen to these lands? Who will own it?” he asked. "Moreover, one of the changes proposed in the bills, for the Lands and Titles Court, is that the President wants a certificate if you want to appeal a matter. 

"The question is, what are the criteria so I can get the certificate? Is it money or skills? Because if there is a price, the unprivileged or people like us with little money will never stand a chance against those with money. 

"You know how it is, it's money under the people." 

Seve said another major concern that arises from the proposed changes is the argument of an  individual right versus the right of the village council.

"The thing we need to remember is the people who take care of the villages are temporary. 

"Once their time is done, new ones will step up,” he added. "However, if these become laws, they will become permanent so the changes will really affect the whole matai system and the Samoan way of life.”

Asked about what the Committee said about their submission, Seve said the Committee was appreciative of their input.  

He is also hopeful that the Committee will walk the talk and consider each submission made by the villages. 

"The Committee thanked us after our submission," Seve said. "Namulaulu Sami Leota personally came up to me and thanked us for our submission. 

"Even though it might be too little too late as the bills have been read twice in Parliament, I hope they really consider the views of the villages as they promise they would. 

"The Chairman of the Committee also told us not to worry as they do value and appreciate all the submissions made to the Committee. 

"So we hope they will reconsider these things and consider our submissions."

Seve also confirmed that the other villages within their constituency, Fagae'e and Letui, both made submissions on Monday rejecting the bills. 

This is the last week of consultations in Savai'i. 

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