I’m not a lawyer and only took a business law class back in university, but even I can spot the holes in the newly proposed Lands and Titles Act Bill that is meant to repeal the 1981 Bill. There are a lot of opinions out there right now – many who are opposed to this Bill, and rightly so. This Bill will give the government power to slowly remove matais from the process, take declared or customary land, use smoke and mirrors as a way for the Head of State to make whatever rules he/she wants to, and so much more. So, with all this I’m going to break down some of my findings and why you should care and start calling your family on the island to protest this Bill. Also, before I dive in, there’s a petition you can sign opposing this Bill. Sign it here.
To be upfront, I believe this Bill was facing reform back in2016. However, it wasn’t until late 2019 that it was first brought with its first draft. Then in early 2020 it was sent for its first reading. Now, I’m not entirely sure what that means in terms if Samoan government. If I was to place it in the viewpoint of the U.S. government ways of proceedings that means the House got to make a decision on it. After it’s first reading, COVID-19 hit, and the government used this as a way to distract people’s attention away from the Bill and it went through its second reading. Which I would say is that it went to the Senate.
Then on May 4, 2020, the New Zealand Law Society issued a statement voicing their concerns about this Bill. Boy, did Samoa’s Prime Minister not like that. Essentially, he told them to mind their own business in New Zealand. When in fact, the president of the Society is Samoan, and all Samoans should be concerned no matter where they are because this is our homeland – our motherland. What really annoyed me about the Prime Minister said was, “It is a matter now at the Select Committee for public consultation, and it is a matter for Samoa. In short, it is none of your overseas presidential business. All the best as you concentrate on the needs of all your society’s members, and we will concentrate on looking after our own country – Samoa. I hope you and your relatives here in Samoa, the President of our Law Society, remember that Samoa has been independent since 1962.” This statement is why we have to speak up because I think the PM has forgotten Samoa’s history and the history of other islands.
History Will Repeat Itself if We’re Not Careful
The PM insinuating that Samoa is not a place for Samoans living outside the island or a place we should be concerned about is not how we do things. We, Samoans, have always been connected to our island no matter where we are. For him to say a blatant and hurtful statement, goes to show his ignorance of the Samoa Mo Samoa spirit that many of us have in the diaspora.
The next part of his statement was trying to take a jab and a low blow at the N.Z. Law Society’s President and their family. In my opinion, that is what undignified people do, it his arrogance shown through because he wants them to remember that Samoa has been independent since 1962. That’s only 58 years. Not a very long time for a country, and if this Bill passes, I fear Samoa will lose its independence. They don’t have to look very far for an example. They only need to ask Māoris how it’s been for them since the government gained more control over their lands and putting more stipulations in place taking away the traditional way of handling land. Here’s a map at what they will show.
This is the future Samoan family land owners will look forward to if this Bill passes. Less land owned by native Samoan and more land owned by the government or say a foreign government who has corrupted the Samoan government. China has had their hands deep in Samoans pockets, dare I say Samoan politicians’ pockets for far too long. If this Bill passes, who’s to say Samoa will become Samoa a territory of China. No longer independent – unlike what the PM try to insinuate.
The Bill Broken Down
So, I decided to try and pick apart the Bill. I’m pretty sure I found the proposed Bill from 2019 and it’s most recent draft from earlier this year. To be honest, there hasn’t been an article or person who has gone out to break down why this Bill could be detrimental. We, the people, don’t need some mumbo jumbo. Give it to us in plain language. That is what I’m going to try and do. Now, if any of you are more familiar with Samoan law or this Bill correct me in my interpretations. I just feel it’s time we put this in everyday language.
The first thing I read and understood was that the judges for this court would be appointed without any transparency. Meaning the Head or State could appoint his buddy and no one could contest him on this. It also means that judges would already have a biased opinion without giving a fair trial. This is corrupt government 101 here. There should always be a checks and balances in place.
2019 CLAUSE 7
Thankfully, this clause was no longer in the 2020 version of this Bill because it would repeal anything dealing with declared or customary land. Essentially, from my understanding, if you had declared or have customary land, the government no longer recognizes that and you would lose your land. While this is no longer in the Bill, that does not mean your land is safe.
These clauses don’t make sense to me, but from what I gather, declared and customary land will only be recognized if it is registered. So, if this Bill passes, for the love that is all good, REGISTER YOUR LAND. If you don’t, the government by law will be able to take it from you. Do not hesitate or wait. I’m dead serious on this. This right here is how many natives across the world from Hawaii, Mainland America, to New Zealand have lost their family land. Get an agreement among all members of the family because if one loose wheel breaks it’s all over. This may sound dramatic but I have seen it happen too many times.
This also means that right now you need to hire a land surveyor to map out the land you and your family owns. Keep a copy oof that map and have it put in a safe place. Whoever is the responsible one in your family ensure they have this. This is going to take family members putting their differences aside to beat the government on this.
SECTION: MATAI TITLES
This entire section is a bit of muddle. There are clauses that talk about the bestowing of a matai title, recognition of one, etc. It’s a bit confusing. However, there is one clause, Clause 14, that needs to be looked further into. It looks like anyone can remove a person’s matai title. It simply states, “provides for the removal of a Matai Title.”
To me, that’s the government saying, “We can take your title and we will take your land cause you no longer have a title protecting your land.” Where are the checks and balances here? They’re gone. Under this section it goes on talking about registrations of the matai title, but there is so much red tape. Stripping away Samoa’s customs and traditions. It’s so bureaucratic and to me is the beginning of a dictatorship.
This clause is extremely fishy because it talks about the “wrongful use” of a person’s matai title. Who is to say what is “wrongful use”? The government? Where are the checks and balances for this? Especially if it’s the Registrar or government. I mean there needs to be some clarity here or more definition. If there isn’t any definition, than any willy nilly person can make a claim that someone is misusing their matai title.
I understand there being a deadline for when people need to have their affairs in order, but the way this this worded sounds as if the government could take their darling time until the limitation period has run out. Thus giving them the power to take the land for themselves.
The Head of State can make up whatever rules they want to without any checks or balances. I mean what is this? A government or a bunch of children playing some school house game where the bully gets to make up whatever rules they want to whenever they want to. I mean really? These things have to be put forth clearly. Oh but there’s an “advisor.” I mean seriously? How dumb do you think the people of Samoa are? This advisor could easily be working with the government without an unbiased viewpoint.
This is a real kicker. A lawyer must be present. What if the family or whoever can’t afford a lawyer? Why is it that a lawyer must be present? We have a matai system for a reason. Sure, it may seem different to the western world, but this is our island – not theirs. We don’t have to work the way the western world works when it comes to our land and preserving our ancestors’ land.
After taking a closer look at this Bill for myself, I can understand why the New Zealand Law Society spoke up and rightfully so. There major and many concerns, and this is coming from a person who knows basic law. I almost went into law, and now I wish I had. However, if anything, I am able to broadcast to the world and to fellow Samoans, why we need to raise awareness and help stop this Bill from passing. One way is to speak to your family members about this. Another is to post about it. Lastly, there’s a petition going around and you can sign it here.