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Samoan Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, has declared that anyone who opposes the Government’s plans to reform the Judiciary is “not Samoan”.
It is Tuilaepa’s strongest attack yet on opponents of the three bills, which are currently before Parliament at their second reading stage of the parliamentary process.
Together, they would create an autonomous Land and Titles Court (LTC) and have caused dissension within the ruling Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP).
The former Deputy Prime, Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, tendered her resignation after she described the bills as having “too many gaps, and many uncertainties which may cause some conflicts."
But Tuilaepa said by seeking to pass the bills into law the Government would be striking a blow for Samoan culture and its emphasis on village, or communal rights, over those of the individual.
“Any MP that does not support these changes does not want change and refuses to be a part of a solution to a problem,” Tuilaepa said.
“There are a number of criticisms targeting me, the Cabinet and the party over making these difficult changes and it begs the question: if not us, who will make the necessary changes to solve these problems?
“God has given us the might and strength to make the necessary amendments that previous parliamentarians were unable to make.”
The Prime Minister made the remarks during his Ministerial speech in Parliament on Monday.
One critic of the laws, who was previously said they were brought in with undue haste, Olo Fiti Vaai, declined to comment about the Prime Minister's remarks.
Neither Fiame nor La’auli Leuatea Polataivao could be contacted for comment on Thursday.
The Prime Minister said the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, Lands and Titles Bill 2020 and the Judicature Bill 2020 were recommended by an earlier parliamentary commission investigating complaints about the court’s backlog of cases.
Tuilaepa further challenged lawyers to bring forth evidence that the three LTC would have an impact on customary land.
“Why? Because there is nothing like that in the [proposed bill] and yet there are people making these false claims,” Tuilaepa said.
“I challenge any lawyer that knows of any aspect of these bills that will affect communal land, to inform the [Special Parliamentary Committee investigating the proposals] and have it removed.
“The Government, Cabinet and the Human Rights Political Party cannot reject the public’s plea for help or refer them back to the Judiciary: that will portray that we have no sense of helping for our people,” he said.
Tuilaepa said concerns about a backlog of cases were the motive behind unanimous support for a March 2016 inquiry into courts, the recommendations of which were deliberated in Parliament.
He said the Government was obligated to help Samoans who were frustrated with unresolved family cases at the LTC.
“The [LTC bills] were formed from these concerns and the bills are to strengthen the independence of the Lands and Titles Court as indicated in the bills that [are] currently being deliberated with the public,” he said.
The Prime Minister reiterated his denial of frequent criticisms of the bill having negative effects on customary land.
“There is nothing like that in the law and there are many [peo[le] making these false claims,” he said.
He also spoke to concern about new aspects being added to the bills, beyond those recommended by an earlier committee. But, Tuilaepea said, that was merely evidence of the Government’s foresight and regard for the importance of protecting the Samoan customs and culture.
The only new measures to be added to bills are to promote the rights of village councils and to have their importance as organisations officially recognised.
The Prime Minister referred to public comments by former Chief Justice Patu Tiavaasu’e Falefatu Sapolu on the issue of individual versus village (or communal) rights.
Every time village and individual rights come into conflict in the Supreme Court, the rights of the village council are lost in what he described as a “Technical Knockout”.
That, the Prime Minister explained, stemmed from an imbalance in the Constitution and one that could only be remedied by amendments.
“And so 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,” said the Prime Minister.
He said village councils play important roles in the governance of the village structure and maintaining peace in their respective villages.
“There are village councils that have no control over their village affairs and this is the end result of court matters, where the court only recognises the rights of individuals over the rights of the village councils,” he said.
“But keep in mind, the Government depends on the village council for development projects in the villages; the Churches also rely on protecting Church Ministers and the governance of a peaceful village.”
He said that chiefs who do not support the proposed changes were not raised in the villages and do not sit within their village council and do not know their processes.
Consultation on the bills is currently being sought by a Special Parliamentary Committee, which is expected to report back to Parliament by the time it next sits in November.
SOURCE: SAMOA OBSERVER/PACNEWS
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