Protest march, P.M.’s response and our customary land

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

On the front page of the Sunday Samoan of 03 December 2017, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi fired a warning shot at a group of Samoans planning a protest march in Apia later this month.

But rather than saying anything of substance in response to grievances, the Prime Minister appears to downplay the threat by ridiculing and laughing at the people involved. But then what’s new?

If you have been around in Samoa long enough, you would know the infamous tactics by now with the use of those wonderful terms such as the protestors are “off in the head.”

The protest by the way is being planned by a group known as “Samoa Solidarity International (S.S.I.).” The organisation was apparently founded by Samoans based in Samoa, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, to raise awareness around issues affecting Samoan people

From what we’ve been told so far, on 16 December 2017 they are planning a protest march from Vaisigano to Mulinu’u because they are unhappy about a number of issues including what they call “illegal land reform law, L.T.R. (Land Torren System) 2008.” They claim the Act “was passed in violation of the Samoa Constitution by removing the constitutional prohibition against Customary Land alienation.”

The march also plans to “celebrate” the lives of the Mau Movement heroes and to draw attention to issues “destroying the lives of the people of Samoa – corruption and the alienation of customary land rights of Aiga in breach of the Constitution.” (see letter below)

This is serious stuff indeed. 

Now when Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s thoughts were sought about the issue, he laughed and said: “These are the same people who are hiding behind the Ole Palemia and I am happy that I will get to see their faces in public (at the march).

“I know who they are. This is good as it will allow the public to know who these people are, who have been defaming and publicly criticizing our people.”

The protest plan is interesting, the Prime Minister said.

 “Up until now, I have not received anything. They intend to go to the Malae o Tiafau and yet currently the Parliament building is not completed. Maybe they’ll go and give their complaint to the roof of Parliament and maybe voice their concerns to the construction workers there.

“So to me it’s clear they are off in the head. I mean they should bring their concerns directly to me, and then I would say leave it with me, I will pass it on to the Attorney General for a legal opinion.”

As for the gist of the complaint about customary land, Tuilaepa said they have got it all wrong.

“The Torren system is specifically for the private owned land, but does not apply to communal land as it’s prohibited under the Constitution. I am puzzled as to where these unfounded ideas come from,” he said. “Remember these laws are put in place, after receiving clearance from the Attorney General. Prior to introducing any act, the Attorney General goes through the Bill thoroughly and the Attorney General is the only lawyer that we listen to as this is mandated under the Constitution of Samoa. 

“Also at the Attorney General’s Office, there are about 30 lawyers who sort out issues that come to their office. And these people who are opposing are not lawyers. 

“Some of them used to work for the government and they are upset about something and this is their way of getting back to the government. They are the ones who are adding fuel to the fire, yet they used to be a part of the government and agreed to these changes.”

So who is he talking about here? And why doesn’t he just name them? I guess we will just have to wait for the march to find out what Tuilaepa is talking about.

In the meantime, the fact is a lot has been said, written and debated about customary land and threat that the government’s plans pose. 

Back in 26 October 2016, we cautioned against the use of customary land warning in an editorial titled “Without land, we’re all dead.” We believe the concerns expressed then are  still relevant to what’s happening now, despite the persistent reassurance from the government that we have nothing to worry about.

You see, in this day and age where the only thing on people’s mind is money, money, money and more money, nothing is what it seems. Most things we see around us are a lie. They are packaged in such a way where we can be misled – and often we are. Yet once the gloss and the novelty wears off, we find that some things are quite poisonous, they’re deadly. That’s how we see the plan to use customary land. 

This issue is not new, keep that in mind. In 2012 for instance, former Member of Parliament for Fa’asaleleaga No, 2, Papali’i Li’o Masepau asked some very pertinent questions. 

“What about fifty years from now? What about a hundred years from now? Where will the future generations of this country go? Talofa e!,” he said.

At that time, another M.P. for Fa’asaleleaga No 3, Tuileutu Alava’a Voi, made a point that should never be lost in these discussions.

“Samoa is a small country,” he said. “If twenty acres is leased from one village, and then another twenty from another village and so forth, in the end that’s a very large amount of land. If all the land is leased today, what about tomorrow?”

Faleata West MP, Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi, as a member of the Opposition party then, was vocal on the issue: “By the end of seven years, all the customary land in Samoa would have been leased.” 

Former M.P. Aveau Niko Palamo reminded Parliament that customary lands are “treasures” that belong to families and anything that threatens the ownership of such land, should be considered carefully.

Even former Salega M.P., Afualo Dr. Wood Salele, spoke up. 

 “Our customs, culture and land is our inheritance. It belongs to our people.”

We couldn’t agree more. Which is why the issue in question should not be a laughing matter.

That said, we know that the power the government possesses will enable them to do anything they want. And it’s probably a fait accompli that whatever it sets its mind on would be implemented – including the customary land plan.

But we should not be silent. We owe it to the future generations of this country to be that voice of dissent, even if it makes us the subject of ridicule.

Today, let us remind you one time that when we lose our land, we lose everything. You see, our land is a spirit. It is the heartbeat of a people. It is the core of who we are. When God Almighty navigated our ancestors to these shores, he didn’t gift them a five star hotel or a flash plane for their perseverance on the water. He blessed them with abundant, fertile land. And that blessing is meant to be passed from generation to generation.

We are custodians and guardians, we must do whatever it takes to ensure our land is protected. 

How far are you prepared to go? 

Have a great Tuesday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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