P.M. commends four M.P.s who opposed L.T.C. Bills

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi has acknowledged the efforts of four Members of Parliament, who voted against the three Government-sponsored Land and Titles Court (L.T.C.) bills which were passed into law on Tuesday.

The Lotofaga M.P. and former Deputy Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mata'afa, Leader of Fa'atuatua i le Atua ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) La'auli Leuatea Schmidt, and Independent Members Olo Fiti Va'ai and Faumuina Wayne Fong voted against the bills which were put to the vote on Tuesday during the third reading.

But their opposition votes were overwhelmed by the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.)-dominated Parliament, whose 41 Members voted to pass the laws which amended the Constitution to create a parallel and independent L.T.C. outside the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. 

The bills passed in Parliament on Tuesday evening were the Judicature Bill 2020, Lands and Titles Bill 2020, and the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020.

Speaking on his weekly program on T.V.3. on Wednesday, Tuilaepa defended the decision not to allow debate on the report of the Special Parliamentary Committee on the L.T.C. bills, saying they were only following Parliament’s procedures.

"First of all, the bills have been passed, and talking about it now, will not change anything," he  said. "We are heading towards Christmas and we should all be happy it has been passed."

The Prime Minister then expressed his gratitude to the Members who voted against the changes proposed through the three bills. 

"I want to thank Fiame and La’auli, Olo and Faumuina for their efforts and for trying. They have been trying for such a long time, but at last, we finally passed those bills into law."

According to Tuilaepa, the objection of the four Members is due to their “misinterpretation” of the changes proposed by the new pieces of legislation.

"For the Government, we fully understand what the changes are and why the changes are needed. That's the same for all the villages who showed their support for the changes proposed.

"But we do acknowledge the opinions of those who are against these new laws because it gives us new ideas on how to better these legislations.

"I know that the majority of the villages that did not accept the changes were divided.

"Politics played a part in making that decision. Some people did not fully understand the bills, but they decided to reject the bills because their Members ordered them to, that’s politics.

"But that is done we passed the laws and we thank everyone who supported and prayed for this."

The Prime Minister, when expressing his appreciation, made specific reference of the Government’s lawyers, the Attorney General and staff at the Attorney General’s Office.

"I want to thank all the Government’s lawyers, the Attorney General, and all those working at the Attorney General’s office for all their hard work.

"I also express my gratitude to the Chairperson of the Special Parliamentary Committee and the Members who visited all the villages in the country to collect views from the country to better the legislations."

Tuilaepa also thanked the Minister of Justice and Courts Administration, Fa'aolesa Katopau Ainu'u and the country for their support and prayers.

"After the three bills were passed into law, we (Cabinet) had a party to celebrate and we were dancing and singing," said Tuilaepa. 

And while the Prime Minister articulated that a new era has begun for Samoa, following the passing of the bills into law, he hinted that there might be amendments made to newly enacted legislation. 

"It's just like a newborn baby," he said. "When a baby is born, there are stages that he has to go through before he is matured. 

"They need to learn how to crawl first, then they go through teething before they can walk and run so it’s similar to this situation.

"Nothing is perfect in the beginning. There are some early stages we have to go through before it becomes mature."

When asked why La'auli and Fiame's request for additional time to discuss the Special Parliamentary Committee’s report was denied on Tuesday, Tuilaepa said: "That is the purpose of pre-sitting we have on the eve of parliamentary sittings. That's where we invited all the lawyers and Members of the Committee to discuss, explain and answer questions from Members of Parliament. 

"That is done so that when Parliament convenes, there will be no more questions or confusion.

"So there should not be any questions or issues raised by M.P. during Parliament. Unless a Member did not attend Parliament’s pre-sitting.

"The explanation was very simple and straightforward. But what they (Fiame and La'auli) were asking for, a chance for them to question the report, the time for that is done."

He then blamed his former deputy for playing politics. 

"Fiame and her colleagues were playing politics. They wanted to make it look like we didn’t give them an opportunity to raise their concerns and to discuss the report. 

"But the time for discussion is over. That is why I stood up to remind them that the time for discussion is over."

Tuilaepa went on to say that anyone who still wants to question the legality of the new law will have to face the Government's lawyers. 

"About 85 per cent of the country showed their support for these changes," Tuilaepa said. "The rest who objected were under the influence of their M.P. 

"But starting from now until next year, whoever wants to challenge the law, will now have to ask the lawyers and the Attorney General’s Office will answer to them.

"Because in the past few months, their views were published on the Samoa Observer, the Government’s lawyers kept quiet because they waited for the legislation to be passed.

"So when they answer, they will answer as lawyers."

The Prime Minister emphasised the two major reasons which he said were the reasons behind the changes that were initiated by the Government.

"This parliamentary term is almost over," he said. "We wanted to make sure that we make these changes, especially to our Constitution before that."

The first change, according to Tuilaepa, is the inclusion of the phrase Fa'avae i le Atua Samoa (Samoa is founded on God) within Samoa's Constitution.

"Secondly, communal rights were not inside our Constitution. This will recognise the fa'amatai system in Samoa."

Parts of the amendment include the creation of an independent L.T.C., the decisions of which cannot be appealed in the Supreme Court. 

And the Government also removed one element from the original bills: a plan to place a cap on the number of high chiefs in a family. That cap has been removed from the legislation with the duties placed on families’ high chiefs instead.

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