You don’t have to be “Samoan enough” to see that these bills are wrong

The public consultation process for three highly controversial bills proposing an independent Lands and Titles Court and monumental changes to the judiciary as well as the Constitution of Samoa is coming to an end.

Judging from what the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Tiatia Graeme Tualaulelei told us on Saturday, we could expect the Special Parliamentary Committee tasked to review the bills, to table its report when Parliament reconvenes on 27 November 2020. From there, it’s probably a foregone conclusion in terms of what will happen, which the Government would be keen to wrap up as quickly as possible with the dissolving of Parliament for this sitting, not far off.

Indeed, it’s highly unlikely that the Government would change its mind about the bills and withdraw them. Still, there is faint hope that somewhere; somehow, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi would reconsider.

The phrase “faint hope” is quite accurate looking at his latest public comments on the issue. When Parliament convened last Tuesday, the Prime Minister congratulated the Special Parliamentary Committee and said he was looking forward to their report. But any hopes of a more conciliatory tone were immediately crushed when Tuilaepa declared that anyone who has opposed the Government’s bills is “not Samoan.”

Said the Prime Minister: “Anyone that does not support [these bills] is not Samoan and does not understand our tradition and culture and certainly does not want to be Samoan.” Well that’s a very strong statement especially when we stop to consider the caliber of Samoans who opposed these bills. But coming from Prime Minister Tuilaepa, it’s hardly surprising.  

This is the same Prime Minister who once said that opponents of the bills are not “Samoan enough” and that the concept of human rights was silly thinking from palagis.

 “I suspect that if the matai who are opposing these bills were living in their villages and involved in their village councils, it would’ve been easy for them to understand the intent of the bills,” he said at the beginning of the year. “However none of them sits in a village council of the villages where they hold matai titles. Which means, the last time the village council saw them was the day they were bestowed with a title. They haven’t been seen in the village since, let alone sit in during a village council meeting to observe how matters are dealt with by orators and paramount chiefs of Samoa.”

Now let’s put some names here to provide us a better perspective in terms of what Tuilaepa is saying. So what is the Prime Minister saying about the former Head of State, His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi who has clearly opposed the bills? What about the former Deputy Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa who resigned from Cabinet because she fears what could happen to Samoa if these bills are passed? What about the former Speaker and Cabinet Minister, Laauli Leuatea Schmidt? These are only a handful of prominent Samoans who have opposed the bills, including countless villages that have objected to the measures. You can add hundreds of Samoan names to this list.

Ironically, even many villages who have offered their so-called support are not united on it. That’s because many of these villages never understood what they were in for and understandably so.

These bills are highly technical legal issues that even the educated would struggle to comprehend what they propose to do. Which is why the opinion of the legal fraternity matters.  And from what we have gathered, from Judges to lawyers to international legal experts, they are all united that the bills are a threat to the rule of law not just for Samoa but it also sets a dangerous benchmark for anyone else to follow.

Speaking of legal experts, in an opinion piece printed on page 12 of the newspaper you are reading, the former Attorney General and senior lawyer, Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu, summed up the legal fraternity’s position nicely.  

She writes: “The clear and expressed opposition from lawyers, judges, human rights organizations, and the international community arise from the fundamental concern that the three Bills undermine a number of democratic values and standards, that the founders of our independent country considered of primary importance when they adopted international standards in the form of fundamental rights and freedoms in Part II of our primary Constitutional document, which protects individuals and groups in their dealings with Government and each other.”

Now think about that for a minute. If there is one reason why we should oppose these bills, it is precisely that. We simply cannot stay silent. There is a lot at stake.

From our perspective, we are talking about measina we have inherited from our forefathers including lands, titles, families, language, fundamental rights and freedoms, Constitutional rights, concept of separation of powers and a lot, lot more.

These are worth fighting for. They are bigger than us, you, the Government or anyone else. We owe it to our ancestors who pioneered and paved the way with their blood, sweat and tears.

We also owe it to our children today and the unborn generations of Samoa to continue to speak up with respect and dignity, words we cannot use to describe the personal and petty name-calling so many Samoans, who have showed courage and bravery to speak up against these bills, have been subjected to.

Have a peaceful Sunday Samoa, God bless!




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