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Nothing set in stone. The L.T.C. Bills and the people’s voice

A lot has happened on the political front in Samoa in the last week. The fallout from the verbal resignation of the Member of Parliament for Gagaifomauga No. 3, La’aulialemalietoa Leuatea Polataivao, in the Legislative Assembly last week as well as the sacking of Urban West M.P. Leatinuu Wayne Fong from the Human Rights Protection Party [H.R.P.P.] has galvanised public debate.

But amid these political developments and the fiery exchanges that followed between our leaders – not forgetting a meeting of all H.R.P.P. candidates this week in preparation for the 2021 General Election – there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel for those who’ve opposed the Government's proposed changes to the judiciary.

In an article titled “Nothing set in stone, P.M. assures as L.T.C. consultations end in Savai’i” in the July 9, 2020 edition of the Samoa Observer, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi said in an interview on Wednesday that nothing in the proposed laws are set in stone. 

"This means once they [Special Parliamentary Committee] return from Savai'i, they will review the opinions expressed in Savai'i and the bills are to be revised," he said. "This is where it shows how wrong the announcements have been from those who do not understand and those trying to deceive (the country). 

"They think [the bill] has been finalised, but no, it means they do not understand the processing of a law since 1962. What saddens me is that it seems many other chiefs have been misled too."

The three contentious bills promulgated by the H.R.P.P.-led Government are the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, the Land and Titles Bill 2020, and the Judicature Bill 2020.

It is good to see the Prime Minister finally acknowledging one of the sore points of his Government’s proposed three-pronged legislation: the restricting of matai sa’o for each family to five.

But the long-term effects of the proposed judicial reforms extends beyond a family’s matai sa’o restrictions and will also impact the democratic pillars of this nation, such as the rule of law and the independence of the Judiciary as well as the principle of the separation of powers.

The Samoa Law Society [S.L.S.] and various local and international legal experts, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, have spoken out on the implications that the passing of the L.T.C. Bills will have on citizens, the society and Samoa’s international standing over the last four months.

And we are not surprised to hear that the provisions in the proposed laws, relating to restrictions on a family’s matai sa’o, has had the most public concerns expressed as highlighted by Tuilaepa. 

The provisions in the proposed laws relating to these important aspects of our culture and their implications would be understood by our people, as it is what defines us as a people and has been our identity for thousands of years.

Other than the impact that the three-pronged legislation would have on a family’s matai sa’o and their ability to bestow more than five titles, we doubt ordinary citizens would be able to understand the issues at hand and conceptualise the legal implications of the L.T.C. Bills due to their complex nature.

That is it would be unfair to expect everyone to understand the key features of a legislation, let alone three pieces of legislation, and what it means for them and their families in the space of four months.

The use of the Special Parliamentary Committee to promote the “benefits” of the L.T.C. Bills to villages during its committal hearings, also defeats the spirit of a Legislative Assembly that is modeled on the Westminster system of government to hold the Executive [Government] to account.

The Prime Minister’s highlighting of the public’s concerns about certain provisions of the contentious legislation is timely, especially after months of debate and scrutiny that the L.T.C. Bills have been subjected to.

And we urge him and the Government to take on board all views expressed thus far and consider that together with the submissions put through by those on the other side of the spectrum, led by the S.L.S. and various other stakeholders who have sacrificed their own time and resources to study the long-term implications of the legislation for the love of country.

Sending the proposed laws back to the drawing board for review are not signs of a weak and contemptuous Government, but one that practices leadership with integrity by acknowledging flaws in its own legislation and policies, after hearing from the very people who gave them the mandate to govern.

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