A week of “fake news” and missing the opportunity for dialogue

AR
By Alexander Rheeney, 11 January 2019

It has been a long week in Samoa, which started with the first ever visit to the country by the Asian Development Bank President Takehiko Nakao, and ended with a verbal tirade by the Prime Minister.

Just over a week after the New Year, and Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi was back to his best or worst — depending on which side of the political spectrum you sit when it comes to Samoan politics. 

“The concerns are fake,” Prime Minister Tuilaepa insisted during his weekly media conference at his Office. 

“The final proof of what we say is that since 1962, none of the customary lands have been alienated. With that, what more can you say? All that has been said is all garbage.”

Those who continue to fear land alienation despite his assertions, the Prime Minister believes are choosing to remain ignorant to the facts.

“They have decided not to understand,” Tuilaepa said.

“There are people, regardless of how much you explain, they decided to remain ignorant no matter how much you try.

“All they want is to push on with their stupid arguments. The facts are there, and all they talk about is unknown things in the future. It’s all fiction.”

But the reaction from Samoans — to concerns of becoming alienated from their customary lands through policies formulated by the Government — should not come as a surprise to seasoned politicians such as the Prime Minister. 

In fact customary land has always been a contentious issue in the Pacific Islands for thousands of years. Even before the arrival of the first European explorers on our shores, the lives of our forefathers revolved around their land and its spiritual, physical, social and cultural connection. Our land identified us as a people, as a community, and as a nation.

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So do not fret Mr Prime Minister, with a New Year upon us, perhaps it is time for consensus and dialogue. 

Fiu Mataese Elisara, a big critic of the Asian Development Bank (ADB)-supported land reforms, has declared he will not use the language that the P.M. used.

“We still have to keep the integrity of the process and the substance of the argument and try as best to be factual as possible, by learning from what has been happening in our own country” he said.

And seeing him making comparisons of Tuilaepa’s language to that of the American President Donald Trump, does not augur well for Samoa in terms of trying to promote an objective fact-based discussion.

“If we allow that kind of talk to continue without being challenged then our own cause can be affected too.

“The perception is too powerful to ignore in terms of what people will read into that. 

“We owe it to not only ourselves, but to the people of this country, and the people who believe in our cause to actually give some response to what they say,” Fiu added.

Therefore, it is perhaps time to have a sensible discussion about the issue. Why not use the recent visit of the ADB President as a foundation to push for discussions on the issue between the two sides? Of course without the diatribe, the name calling and the animosity surrounding the issue. 

Failure to move towards consensus and dialogue on customary land, and land reforms promulgated by multilateral financial institutions, has had fatal consequences in other parts of the region. 

What do you think? Have a wonderful Saturday Samoa and God bless.

AR
By Alexander Rheeney, 11 January 2019

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