L.T.C. bills push "careless": Fiame

Former Deputy Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa has called the Government “careless” for planning to push ahead with three pieces of legislation completely overhauling the nation's judicial system. 

Fiame’s comments come after the Whip of the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) said it was “most likely” the bills would be on the agenda for the next sitting of Parliament. 

Fiame also questioned the Government’s care for the people of the nation when people’s legal rights could be affected by the proposed changes to the Land and Titles Court (L.T.C.). 

The controversial bills are the Lands and Titles Bill 2020, Judicature Bill 2020 and Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020. Together they would create an entirely L.T.C., the decisions of which would not be subject to review by the Supreme Court.

“In my view as a Member of Parliament, as a Samoan, this is a very dishonest and immoral move by the Government,” the former H.R.P.P. stalwart said during the E.F.K.S. TV 2 weekly Soalepule Programme.

“[They are being] careless, not taking it seriously and underestimating the crucial power of the judiciary.”

Other panellists on the television programme included former Members of Parliament, Lefau Harry Schuster and Afemata Palusalue Faapo.

The Lotofaga Member of Parliament said despite the bills proposing a direct change to the L.T.C. alone, its adverse effects are not confined to that court alone. 

“These changes will completely dismantle the structure of the courts, not only the [L.T.C.], but it also offers uncertainty for the District Court and the Supreme Court,” she said.

“This is in relation to the fact that in anything, there is always a paramount court where a final decision is made. But now with the two High Courts and the uncertainty how the courts connect, one thing is for sure, they will not, the two Courts will clash.”

The next session of Parliament is Tuesday, December 15, 2020.

Fiame resigned from the H.R.P.P. and Cabinet after speaking out about the bills when a Parliamentary committee soliciting public feedback on the legislation visited her constituency. 

At the time, Fiame said the bills were poorly drafted and were likely to sow division within the Samoan community. 

But Alai’asa said he feels that with two-thirds of Parliament’s members being from the H.R.P.P. the proposed legislation “most likely it will pass”

The three bills have passed second reading in Parliament and currently a report from the Special Parliamentary Committee – chaired by Gatoloaifaana Afamasaga Gidlow – is being awaited. 

In the same programme Former Member of Parliament, Afemata Palusalue Faapo, alleged the Parliamentary Committee had displayed lapses in its attempts to solicit public feedback. 

Speaking from experience as one of the participants in the bills consultation session, Afemata said the manner in which the bills were being delivered to the people did not reflect the vast depth of their possible effects.

Afemata also noted that consultations failed to explain the three bills to the majority of people, arguing the bills will affect every single person in villages.

He also said the majority of consultations were hosted only by village chiefs (Alii ma Faipule)

“What I mean is, for most of these villages only about ten show up from a single village and from many of these groups, about only two speak, just the leader of the village and one of the speaking chiefs,” he said.

“When it was the day for our village to meet the Committee, we were scheduled for 2pm, but we were shocked when called that we had been moved forward to 12pm. This means there wasn’t much time that went into these discussions.

“Like I say, there was not enough time given to the villages with the hope of many to turn up to listen and learn about the bills.”

Afemata also characterises the Government’s rhetoric that the reshaping of the judiciary will entrench Samoan culture by placing emphasis on communal rights as dangerous. He says there is no guarantee every village will use increased power responsibly.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has rebuffed criticism of the bills, saying that they redress an imbalance in the nation’s constitution between the rights of individuals and those of villages, churches and organisations. 

Speaking in Parliament in April, the Prime Minister dismissed criticism of the bills.

“Individual rights are in the constitution and they are in the constitutions of all nations governed by papalagi (foreigners),” Tuilaepa said. 

“Every time there is a case between a village council and an individual who has rebelled against village authority, the court ruling always favours the rebel.”

But Afemata said that he asked the Parliamentary Committee how many instances of individual and communal rights coming into conflict had occurred. They did not have an answer, Afemata said.

In response, Fiame cited a report from the Ombudsman’s Office that recorded only five such cases in Samoa’s almost 60 years of independence.

Fiame went on to question the sincerity of the Government’s intentions. 

She asked if the Government really intended to strengthen communal rights, why had they not amended the Village Fono Act 1990 which outlines the legal powers of the village Fono and chiefs, instead of reforming the court system itself. 

Fiame is currently travelling around the country to explain the complexities and the impact of L.T.C. bills not just on the judicial system but people’s lives.

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