L.T.C. Committee's "misleading" handouts: Law Society
The President of the Samoa Law Society, Lei'ataualesa Komisi Koria, has accused the Parliamentary Select Committee, tasked to review three bills proposing major changes for the judiciary, of misleading the public.
The senior lawyer was asked to comment on an A4 handout being distributed to members of the public before they appear before the Committee to make their submissions.
The handout written in Samoan claims that the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020 will not affect individual rights. But Leiataualesa disputed this saying the information from the Select Committee is an absolute misrepresentation of the proposed changes.
“What the Samoa Law Society is saying is that the changes have taken out the ability of the people with Lands and Titles Court matters to seek enforcement of their rights with the Supreme Court,” he said.
“Therefore everyone else in Samoa has the ability to enforce their rights except when you have a Land and Titles Court matter.
“The Constitution amendment now says those individual rights will no longer apply for people that go before that Court [L.T.C.] and it is a huge change that will affect every Samoan and its future generation.”
The President of S.L.S. said that for a Parliament Select Committee to tell people that individual rights remain unaffected is an absolute misrepresentation of what the bills propose.
“It’s unfair for them to be saying it to people, it gives people the false impression that everything is okay and there is nothing wrong with these changes,” he added.
“So when people come out and say they agree is because they have been given this false representation is what makes this whole Select Committee process problematic.”
Attempts are being made to get a comment from the Chairperson of the L.T.C. Committee, Gatoloai Ma'ana Amataga Gidlow.
The three bills being taken out to the villages for consultation include the Constitution Amendment Bill 2020, Judicature Bill 2020 and Land and Titles Bill 2020.
Following months of consultation in Savaii the meetings for villagers in Upolu commenced this week.
In relation to the Parliament Committee distributing handouts and information during consultation, Leiataualesa said it is unheard of and “new”.
“It should never be the role of any arm of parliament to inform people for the first time about bills that are being discussed in parliament,” he said.
“That is simply not the role of parliament and that is why I say this process is unheard of, new and confusing that this is the kind of process adopted by parliament.”
The President added that the Parliament Committee has also gone further in their functions of holding sessions and explaining the bills, something that the Government arm is responsible for.
“The process of any Select Committee going out and providing materials, explaining bills it's absolutely unheard of,” he said.
“This just confirmed there was never any proper consultation prior to these bills being drafted, this is why there is need for these materials to be given out.
“The problem with the process is there is now a blurring of the line of the role of parliament and role of the Government ministry that proposed the bills in the first place.”
Furthermore, Leiataualesa said this is why it is never the role of parliament to explain any bills or inform the public about it as this is the responsibility of the respective ministry.
He said this is why before any bill is drafted the ministry with the Attorney General’s Office and Samoa Law Reform Commission if necessary, carry out consultation.
During consultation information is provided to those affected before it is drafted and tabled in parliament.
The Samoan handout places a lot of emphasis on the changes giving more recognition to the Samoan customs and practices in the Constitution.
However, Leiataualesa said there isn’t a need for a wide and far-reaching change in the Constitution as proposed by the bills.
“The parliamentary committee and people that proposed the bills are saying that changes are necessary so that the Constitution can fully recognise Samoan culture in our laws,” he said.
“The reason why Samoa Law Society in the past says that is not necessary is because if you look at the law as it is now, there is already recognition of Samoan culture, our practices and are already protected under our law.
“We still question why the need for wide and far-reaching changes, not only in the Constitution but in the core of Samoan identity, customary lands and matai titles…those are already protected heavily under the Constitution.”
Making reference to the Constitution, Leiataualesa said customary lands and matai titles cannot be touched except in accordance to Samoan customs and usages as stipulated in the Constitution.
“Those are words in the Constitution that means that not even parliament can pass a law that can change the way we deal with these things because the Constitution says it can be dealt with in accordance to customs and usages,” he said.
“Parliament don’t pass and make that [customs and usages], its villages and samoan families that create those customs and usages.”
He also pinpointed that even in Criminal Courts recognise decisions handed down by village councils and Samoan culture and traditions.
An example he used is the sentencing Act that gives effect to Village Fono Act 1990.
He said if the village fono has already penalised someone that committed a crime in the village the Supreme Court and District Court has to recognise that penalty and take it into account.
“To say that there is no recognition of Samoan culture and traditions in our law is just wrong and incorrect,” he said.
“There has already been recognition since our Constitution was passed, even with our modern law we already have that mind-set that we have to recognise our culture and traditions.”
Government has maintained that the proposed changes will now recognise communal rights in the Constitution.