What will they do with those people at Sogi? Will they become homeless in Samoa?
The message from the Government, through the Minister of Samoa Land Corporation (S.L.C.), Lautafi Fio Purcell, is quite clear.
For the residents remaining at Sogi, they have this week to move or they will be removed. It’s that simple.
Which is quite a frightening prospect if you put yourself in those people’s shoes. Imagine the Government officials – or the Police for that matter - turning up and telling you and your family you have to move?
What if you refuse? What will the Government do? Will they drag them from their homes and throw them on the streets of Apia? What about their homes? Will they just get a bulldozer to demolish them?
That’s a likely scenario this week out there at Sogi, for those people who have continued to remain there.
Minister Lautafi has made the Government's position succinctly clear during an interview with this newspaper.
“I do not accept what they are saying that they knew nothing about it and were not aware of a timeframe to leave the area,” Lautafi said about the reaction from some Sogi residents to the Government’s plan to relocate Savalalo market there.
“That is not true. They are well aware of the government plans on those lands and have been served letters to relocate or leave the government-owned land.
“Now they are given until next week (this wee) to leave so that works for the development can start rolling out.”
Technically, Minister Lautafi and the Government are correct.
You see, this issue at Sogi is not a new one. The clash of opinions between the Government, who ordered all residents to leave Sogi and move to Falelauniu has been a constant battle over the years – including a Court hearing when the Government was sued by one of the families.
For the uninitiated, in 2011, the Government asked about 30 families that lived on S.L.C. land in Sogi to leave the area because of its vulnerability to sea level rise. They were given the option to relocate to a quarter acre land at Falelauniu where they could lease to own for $30,000. They were also offered $3,000 as relocation cost.
A number of families have taken the option. But others have refused and that’s where the problem lies.
When news about the project surfaced several weeks ago, some residents told the Samoa Observer they were unaware about the details and they want to negotiate with the Government. Among them were Rasela Iakop, a 51-year-old and Tala’i Lina, 49-year-old whose families are well established on the land in question.
"The thing is they did not give us a specific amount of time or when we are supposed to move,” said Tina.
But Minister Lautafi is not interested in hearing their stories. He said the Government would not stop its development plans for families who refuse to leave lands owned by the Government. He insists the families have been given more than enough time to vacate the area.
“The families that lived in Sogi have been living on those government land for free for the past years they have been there,” said Lautafi.
“The government has been wanting to move ahead with its developments and now is the time to implement those developments and the lands are needed to do that.
“The families have been given support with options to relocate to and majority of the families have agreed to take that option.”
Again, Lautafi has got a point. Legally also – judging from the outcome of the recent Court hearing between the Tokuma family and the Government, those lands at Sogi belong to the Government.
Lautafi has obviously indicated that the Government wants to move ahead with its development plans. Those plans include the relocation of the Savalalo Market there as well as the bus depot – among many other developments. Which is fine.
The Government has a mandate to come up with projects and developments to improve the lives of all Samoans.
But here is the issue, what are they going to do with those people at Sogi who have refused to move? And where will they go? We repeat, are they just going to chuck them on the streets so that they become homeless in Samoa? Or are they going to round them all up and throw them at Tafa’igata?
Let’s hope and pray for a peaceful end to this long drawn saga.
Have a wonderful Wednesday Samoa, God bless!