Fiu claps back at P.M.'s "hide under a tree" jibe

Environmentalist, Fiu Mataese Elisara, is not backing down from speaking out on the issues of customary land alienation, despite the Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi telling him to hide under a filimoto tree in shame.

Responding to questions from the Samoa Observer, Fiu said it remains the Government’s prerogative to defend its customary land legislation, but he will continue to raise the issues he and others have against them.

“I have no problems with [Tuilaepa] making those comments despite his rebuke and use of derogatory remarks," Fiu said.

“I like hiking up Mount Vaea to exercise and the P.M. will be pleased to know I went looking for his filimoto tree there as he suggested but confused to find his footprints well edged around it! I returned wondering!”

On Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi said that after the Attorney General Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annadale wrote to “correct a number of misconceptions” about customary land alienation, Fiu should be embarrassed.

Savalenoa had written in response to a letter where Fiu alleged the Government’s advertisements about the security of customary lands are misleading and unlawful. 

“If I were this man, I would go and find a filimoto tree to hide under so no one would see me anymore, because the correction was an embarrassment to him,” Tuilaepa said.

But Fiu is not easily defeated. In a letter back to Savalenoa, the executive director of the O le Siosiomaga Society (O.L.S.S.I.) thanked her for her insights and contribution to the discourse.

Tuilaepa received a similar response.

“The seat of P.M. is not a personal property but belongs to the country and as a Samoan citizen I continue to respect the seat of ‘Prime Minister’ as an institution that belongs to all of us Samoans deserving all the respect,” he said.

“I acknowledge, respect and understand the P.M. making that defence for the commitment he made in 1998 to [the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank].

“If I and many others continue to raise our concerns after more than 20 years on the risks customary lands are now exposed [to] as a result of H.R.P.P. government pursuit of land reforms, that in our view amounts to alienation of customary lands, then it shows there are justified ground for it.”

Fiu said he said he and his colleagues will not stop sharing their views, that customary lands and waters are at risk of alienation under current legislation. 

“As long as we believe in our justified cause to protect our customary lands and waters […] we must not be silenced but raise our ‘voices’ and ‘speak’ truth to power,” he said.

“That is our collective right and responsibility as Samoans, those who share our considered positions.

“I only wished T.V.1. was able to accord me the same airtime monopoly opportunity they give to the P.M. every day to at least allow me an equal chance for a response to the P.M.’s comments.

“I guess T.V.1. has their own reasons for not giving people a chance to respond. 

“Still, life goes on and we do our best utilizing every opportunity that comes our way to advocate our own beliefs and justified comments for the benefit of our peoples albeit perceived by many as unsupportive or those of government. But that is inclusive democracy and pray people respect that.”

Fiu has long believed the Alienation of Customary Land Act 1965 places customary land at risk when plots are leased as ‘public land.’

Further, he believes the Land and Titles Registration Act 2008 violates a prohibition in the Constitution that prohibits alienation of customary lands.

New legislation, including the Leasing and Licencing of Customary Lands Act 2019 (L.L.C.L.A.) does little to appease his concerns, Fiu says.

“The L.L.C.L.A. fails to address the fact that Samoa runs the risk of losing their customary lands should people default on their mortgages,” Fiu wrote earlier this month.

“The language to accord beneficial owners rights around customary land leases, and to protect customary land from alienation, that mortgages can only be used for improvements, that secondary mortgages are outlawed, there are some good protections against speculative lending included in the amended LLCLA legislation, but grey areas continue to exist on nature of registration process for customary land leases.

“[We] need clarity and assurance that the Torrens registry under L.T.R.A. cannot be used; no detail on foreclosure process; clarity required on rights and responsibilities of different parties in the event of default; all of these must be made clear and explicit.”

Read the full response by Fiu: 

[Dear Editor...]

I only wished TV1 was able to accord me the same airtime monopoly opportunity they give to the PM every day to at least allow me an equal chance for a response to the PM’s comments. I guess TV1 have their own reasons for not giving people a chance to respond. Still, life goes on and we do our best utilizing every opportunity that come our way to advocate our own beliefs and justified comments for the benefit of our peoples albeit perceived by many as unsupportive or those of government. But that is inclusive democracy and pray people respect that.

For me, I acknowledge respect and understand the PM making that defense for the commitment he made in 1998 to WB and ADB. If I and many others continue to raise our concerns after more than 20 years on the risks customary lands are now exposed as a result of HRPP government pursuit of land reforms that in our view amounts to alienation of customary lands, then it shows there are justified ground for it. 

So I have no problems with the PM making those comments despite his rebuke and use of derogatory remarks. Unfortunately he has been making those kinds of comments for so long that people have accepted it as a norm. His base is also powerfully defending him and again that is expected and that too must be respected as part of accountable democracy.

Nevertheless, the seat of PM is not a personal property but belongs to the country and as a Samoan citizen I continue to respect the seat of ‘Prime Minister’ as an institution that belongs to all of us Samoans deserving all the respect if not abused.

However, that does not mean our views  and principles are compromised nor silenced! 

In this discourse as long as we believe in our justified cause to protect our customary lands and waters (the Waters Resources Management Act 2008 also vests all waters in Samoa under government control and ownership - HRPP government resorted to this when they failed to have our village of Sili agree for the use of their rivers for hydro power generation) we must not be silenced but raise our ‘voices’ and ‘speak’ truth to power. That is our collective right and responsibility as Samoans, those who share our considered positions.

To conclude, time and space is inadequate to recite what we have written and advocated on this in many past years. 

Suffice to say, we respect the PM’s and HRPP government position on this. That is their prerogative to defend it. 

But until they prove beyond doubt the Constitution is not violated in its Article 102 prohibition of alienation of customary lands (and they have failed to do that despite attempts to engage in passing a number of related legislations since 1998) they need to also respect our attempts to advocate the other side of the story in what we believe the demise of customary lands. 

Framers of the Constitution directed through Article 109 the requirement for Referendum when customary lands are threatened and risk alienation prohibited in Article 102. For us, that is the only avenue for a final unified solution and settlement for this ongoing and continuing saga! Ignoring this will only make things worse and the future will continue to at our peril.

God bless Samoa!

Fiu

By the way, I like hiking up Mount Vaea to exercise and the PM will be pleased to know I went looking for his filimoto tree there as he suggested but confused to find his footprints well edged around it! I returned wondering!

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