Parliament Clerk reveals L.T.C. bills opposition

The Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Tiatia Graeme Tualaulelei, has revealed that most submissions by the public to the Special Parliamentary Committee hearing in Savai’i, have opposed the Government’s Judicial reform bills.

Many of them have also asked that the legislations be withdrawn or re-drafted and revised if they are to be returned to Parliament for the third reading. The bills in question are the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, Lands and Titles Court Bill 2020 and Judicature Bill 2020.

The Samoa Observer interviewed Tiatia at the end of the second day of the public consultation on the big island, after some villages had appeared before the Committee to make their submissions. 

"Some of the villages that have already met with the Committee through the public consultation have asked for a thorough explanation and clarification of the proposed changes," Tiatia said. 

"As you know these are very sensitive matters and we have conducted the consultations so our people can make submissions and raise their concerns. 

"Most of the opinions and submissions are made against the proposed changes; some villages suggested that we withdraw the bills and some have advised the Committee to review and revise some of the changes to the proposed bills.”

The Committee has accepted and received the villages’ submissions and will take them into consideration, added Tiatia.

"They (villages) say these changes should not become law; and the Committee has accepted and received their submissions and will take them into consideration, and are likely to review some of the changes proposed or maybe remove some changes." 

At the time of the interview, Tiatia said they have so far heard and received submissions from the villages of Tafua, Salelologa, Lalomalava, Salelavalu, Sapapali'i, Iva, Vaiafai and Safua.

During the Committee’s hearings, the public expressed concern at the lack of public consultation on the bills, prior to their tabling by the Government in Parliament.

But Tiatia said there are procedures to follow when drafting a bill. 

“Once a bill is drafted, the Executive (Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers) is required to consult firstly with the relevant Ministry and secondly relevant stakeholders," he said. 

"The relevant Ministry then carries out consultation with people that are likely to be affected by a bill. The relevant Ministry then submit these to the drafters who will then include the submissions from the public into a bill before it goes to Cabinet and onto Parliament.  That's the normal procedure if the Executive or a Ministry requires changes to the policies, they consult with relevant stakeholders before it goes into Cabinet.”

As for the three legislation that is the subject of the Committee’s hearings, Tiatia said only Cabinet can withdraw them.

"But at the moment, the (L.T.C bills) are already in the hands of the Special Committee, and the only way that (they) can (be) withdrawn is when the Executive decides to withdraw it. These bills were initiated by the Executive but are now under Parliamentary supremacy."

The task of the Committee currently is to engage in public consultation on the implications of the three bills, emphasised Tiatia, though he also indicated it is also the job of the Cabinet and the relevant Ministry to consult with the public.

"So we are carrying out one of the core components of Parliament, which is community outreach. But for the bills in question and the concerns raised, it has been passed on to us, but that was the responsibility of the Executive and relevant Ministry to carry out (public consultations). We are carrying out our duties in conducting our community outreach."

Tiatia was then asked by the Samoa Observer to respond to comments by senior lawyer, Salma Hazelman on May 22, who was of the view that the three bills bypassed critical steps in a 17-stage Parliamentary legislative process.

And that Parliament is not obligated by law to accept the recommendations of the Committee as part of its report back to Parliament following the public consultation.

Tiatia disagreed and emphasised that the submissions made by the public to the Committee on the bills are very important. 

"Some concerns were made towards these public consultations saying it will not make a difference and will not be considered. I do not agree with that. This is the chance for our people to voice their opinions on these matters. 

"What the Committee will present to Parliament, will be based on these submissions by our people. So the Committee will make a decision based on these submissions; it will include all the different views made by the public and organizations on particular areas they need to review or even remove from the proposed changes."

Tiatia said they received calls from a number of villages in Savai’i, who wanted to travel to Upolu to make their submissions, which is why the Committee Chair and its Members decided that they travel to Savai’i in order to save the villages’ time and money.

"Therefore, our Chairperson and Committee decided that instead of them coming to Upolu, we have decided to come out in Savai'i so they can save money and time,” he said. "So after all the constituencies around the town area, we will then go out to those far from town so they do not have to come all the way to Salelologa."

It is understood public consultations and submissions by the Samoa Law society – which opposes the three legislation – will resume after the Committee has wrapped up its hearings in Savai'i.  

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