The Lotofaga position. Resetting the L.T.C. Bills compass

The public consultations led by the Special Parliamentary Committee in Savai’i and Upolu in the last couple of months have been relentless.

The deliberations with the Committee including the decisions of the villages and the districts, which detailed where they stood on three Government-sponsored Bills to restructure the Judiciary, continue to feature in the pages of your daily newspaper.

Close to five months after the establishment of a Committee by the Parliament to collect verbal and written submissions from the public on the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, the Land and Titles Bill 2020 and the Judicature Bill 2020, questions remain on whether the Human Rights Protection Party [H.R.P.P.]-led Government usurped the powers of the Parliament as expressed by the separation of powers principle, following revelations in July of the Committee distributing leaflets promoting the “benefits” of the Bills.

On Wednesday, the Lotofaga Constituency and its Member of Parliament and Deputy Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, dropped a bombshell during their presentation to the Committee on the L.T.C. Bills.

The delegation which included chiefs from Matatufu, Lotofaga and Vavau told the Committee that the Bills are flawed with Fiame adding that the legislation were not “well prepared”, and she would vote against them if her constituency’s concerns were not taken on board and the necessary changes made.

"I am now using my one chance to express my opinions as a Member of Parliament before the Committee as the Prime Minister had sternly advised [members of the public]," Fiame said.

"And as I have said to my constituency and to the Committee, if these concerns are not addressed and no amendments are done, I cannot accept [the bills]."

Fiame also expressed her views on the separation of the common law in the High Courts from the Lands and Titles Court, saying it's a pity.

"It's not America's or New Zealand's Supreme Court, it's Samoa's," she said.

"What worries me is that this will create division among the people of Samoa, which is something we should be careful about. It's not a good thing. This thing where it is said that one is a palagi Court and the other is a Samoan Court is not right.”

The position that was taken by the Lotofaga Constituency on Wednesday only confirmed what the Judges of the Judiciary, the Samoa Law Society, the United Nations Human Rights Council and eminent jurists have said all along, that the Government-sponsored L.T.C. Bills are flawed, divisive and would ultimately threaten the rule of law and democracy in Samoa if passed by the Parliament.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi last month spoke of villages’ “overwhelming support” for the proposed legislation, telling Radio Samoa in an interview that the country has accepted the Bills.

“Only a few villages are remaining and the [truth] is, the country has accepted [the bills],” the Prime Minister said.

But showing up at a hearing of the Committee to express support and thoroughly analysing the implications of the three L.T.C. Bills – based on presentations by the Committee and the Samoa Law Society, who are at the opposite ends of the debate – are two different things.

What guarantee is there that the villages who’ve expressed support for the contentious legislation thus far were privy to submissions by the two different parties? 

And more importantly did the villages understand the proposed laws at all to be in a position to make an informed decision?

These are questions that historian and academic, Leasiolagi Dr Malama Meleisea, raised during an interview with the Samoa Observer on Wednesday when discussing the 2021 General Election.

Leasiolagi is of the view that the L.T.C. Bills are very difficult for an ordinary villager to understand and makes reference to his own village of Poutasi. 

"The other interesting thing about those three bills is, as I gather from the people of the villages that I have spoken with, including my own village in Poutasi, the issues and the concept which is being promoted in the bills are kind of very hard for an ordinary person to understand. 

"And despite my efforts and the efforts of the other people from our community to explain, it really requires a bit of time for things to sink in, and I think there's genuine confusion at the village level."

We are not surprised at all with that feedback from a highly respected Samoan intellectual, who has a Doctorate in History and Politics from Australia’s Macquarie University, authored several historical books on Samoa, and even served as a Judge of the Land and Titles Court.

At the end of the day how can we expect our people in our villages to have basic understanding of legislation that uses language far superior to theirs and makes reference to complex systems and processes of government that most ordinary citizens wouldn’t understand?

Fiame, yet again, has put her job as the Deputy P.M. on the line through her criticism of the L.T.C. Bills on behalf of her Lotofaga Constituency. But looking at the big picture, any rationale and sensible leader would stand up for their people as she has done.

And, as expected, the response from Tuilaepa to the opposition by the Deputy P.M. was swift and instantaneous. 

“I don’t mind if [she] doesn’t approve,” the Prime Minister said in his weekly 2AP program on Thursday. 

“That is her decision which means she is no longer with this party.”

Tuilaepa’s response was confirmation, yet again, that a plurality of views in any form or kind is not tolerated in the ruling party. 

But how can we progress as a nation without inclusivity? Embracing diverse views, even at a political party level, should be the way of the future.

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