L.T.C. bills "political show," Fiame accuses H.R.P.P.

Former Deputy Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, has accused her old party of making a "political show" ahead of the 2021 General Elections by legislating on customs, traditions and the judiciary. 

Fiame resigned from Cabinet and left the Human Rights Protection Party on Friday after breaking her silence, to oppose the three proposed bills that would radically restructure Samoa’s judiciary. Speaking to Radio New Zealand, Fiame said the Land and Titles Court proposed changes are a “political show.”

“This whole trumpeting of custom and tradition it’s a bit concerning for me," she said. "It’s a show thing with very little substance to support it. Perhaps there are elements of a political show for this time leading up to elections, that we are making important decisions about our customs and traditions and so forth. I think it is a bit of a dangerous game.”

Fiame said with the ruling H.R.P.P. occupying 44 seats in the 50-strong Legislative, both the governing and law making is “more or less taken over.”

“You know of course how prominent the party is now, with full controls on the Executive side and very few checks there... Parliament is more or less taken over because of the majority of the party.”

R.N.Z.’s Dateline Pacific asked the former Deputy Prime Minister whether Tuilaepa’s Government is a dictatorship.

“I would state it more as the absolute power thing and how one can become accustomed to running things as you want it to run,” she said.

“From a rule of law perspective, it’s just that slide away from the rule of law, and people’s opportunities to feel confident that they have that safety net available to them.”

She said if the Land and Titles Court, Judiciary and Constitution are amended as proposed, the newly formed L.T.C. will be flimsy, offer too much discretionary power to judges and will not be independent from the executive or legislative branches of power. 

Under the internationally accepted norms of a rule of law following, democratic society, the three branches of power should be separate and independent of each other.

The proposed bills would have the Land and Titles Court is severed from the authority of the Supreme Court and the Judiciary hiring and firing handed over to the Government.

Fiame said the way the bills “encroach” onto the independence of the Court worries her the most, as well as taking away the powers of the Supreme Court – the guardian of Samoa’s Constitution – from the Land and Titles Court. 

“Apart from dismantling [the court system, it is] also a real encroachment into how the judiciary will be appointed, the looseness of the powers to do with the judiciary, the discretionary nature of [those powers],” she said.

“It’s easily influenced when there are not sufficient provisions, not only to protect those coming into the court system but also to guide the people in the courts how to do their work, not only the judiciary but also with the officials.”

The new court could also have an expanded mandate to rule on not only land and title disputes but also custom and tradition.

Among the amendments proposed in the new bills is to limit families to appointing just three mata’i sao (paramount chiefs) at a time. It is one of very few legal attempts to rule on Samoan custom nationally rather than leaving each village to apply custom as they see fit.

Fiame said attempts to refine the legal space around custom and tradition in order to protect it is valid but described the current attempt as “flimsy.

“The Land and Titles Court, although it’s nearly 60 years [old] now, has never developed rules so they are using Supreme Court rules.

“But now they have taken away the common law base of that court so I am not quite sure on what legal base they will now shift the newly proposed court to.”

An attempt has been made to get a comment from the Government through the Press Secretariat, Nanai Lave Tuiletufuga.

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