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Village's slap in the face hits democracy too

For a veteran politician, the former Finance Minister and current Member of Parliament for Palauli-Le-Falefa, Faumuina Tiatia Liuga, has a strange idea about what representative democracy means. 

The front page of yesterday’s Observer carried a story (“Village worried by bills' impact on the courts”) about a deeply thoughtful submission made by the Gautavai Savai’i village about proposed changes to the Land and Titles Court.

The submission itself is a credit to the great intelligence and powers of argument and analysis that reside in this village.

It considered the effects of the three bills currently before Parliament, in their totality, and made some very nuanced points against them.

Where other villages’ objections have rested primarily - and understandably - to the bills’ limitation of matai Sa'o (paramount chiefs) in each family to give, Gautavai raised such concerns, but distinguished itself by taking a long view on the bills’ impact on the country. 

The village made a highly sophisticated critique about the encroachment of the executive branch of Government upon the judicial branch, in writing that was crafted with a rare elegance.

By Judges being answerable to a Judiciary Services Committee staffed mainly by appointments made by the executive - instead of a vote of two-thirds of Parliament - it makes the courts more easily influenced, the village argued.

“It appears from these sections that the Prime Minister – from the executive makes the appointment of the Chief Justice and when removed the Parliament makes the decision,” the village council argued.

“This is an example of the inconsistency in terms of decisions made by the Government and it can create doubt over the appointment or removal because of the different branch of government that makes the decisions.

“It appears these changes show the executive arm will have a lot of influence over the Government branches trinity by ruling and dictating its three branches of Government.”

They also questioned the role of the Chairman of the Public Service Commission serving on the Judicial Services Commission and its potential to give rise to conflicts of interest in matters involving public servants who may come before the courts. 

“There is a big contradiction of [their] role in the P.S.C. and role in the [J.S.C.] Commission,” the village said. 

“The additional duties for the Chairperson of P.S.C. means more work for him while neglecting what he was appointed to do as the Chairman of P.S.C. 

“The P.S.C. Chairman should be independent and should not be involved in any Commission or Committee outside of his role.”

We thank the village for their thoughtful contribution to the public debate on the issue of the L.T.C. changes and for their eloquent argumentation which raised matters such as the problems stemming removal of the common law as a frame of reference for judicial decisions.

They also pointed out the nine steps required for a land and titles matter to become completely resolved under the new system as one example of what they characterised as a time-consuming and wasteful process. 

The village’s astute and intelligent contribution is one sign that gives us hope that grassroots democracy in Samoa is alive and well. 

Contributions such as theirs live up to the democratic ideal of reaching policy decisions only through reasoned public debate. 

The response of their M.P., Faumuina, gives us precisely the opposite feeling.

Faumuina acted with arrogance earlier this month when he said he would be supporting the L.T.C. bills regardless of the fact that two of the four villages that compose his constituency oppose the bills, including Gautavai.

“I do what I can for [my constituency], irrespective whether they vote for me or not, I will do what is right,” the veteran M.P. said. 

“I know it will benefit us in the long run especially my constituency, they will know it later, but not now. 

“I will not base my vote over the objection of some of the villages in my constituency. I will not do that, I will do it for the future of my Constituency, they may not see that now, but they will see it later.”

One wonders whether Faumuina has given serious thought to Gautavai’s objections, as is his duty as their representative in Parliament.

But for him to high-handedly dismiss their opposition and suggest that he knows better than his constituents is to get precisely backwards how representative democracy is intended to work.

It is a great shame that a work of powerful reasoning such as Gautavai’s submission should be dismissed out of hand in advance by the very man who should be most obliged to read it.

That the village bothered at all to outline its objections so thoroughly and thoughtfully is a credit to them but also to Samoan democracy.

But it seems unlikely ordinary Samoans will keep making contributions to the democratic process, so long as they received so dismissively. 

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