Proposed Samoa law legally defines what is a "Samoan"
With little fanfare in the Samoa press, the Samoa government is pressing for the Acts Interpretation Bill 2013, a law change that defines among other things, what it means to be 'a Samoan person'. A retired Samoan lawyer is adamant it will have a detrimental impact on customary land rights for many Samoans living outside of the country.
Maua Faleauto, who is now living in New Zealand, says the Acts Interpretation Bill 2013 is an affront to many who fall outside a proposed legal definition of a Samoan person, who must be both a Samoan citizen and have a certain percentage of Samoan blood.
He says this bill, coupled with the Torrens system of land registration passed in 2008 requiring the registration of public land, freehold land and customary land leases, is still a worry.
He says these law changes appear geared towards alienating many people’s rights and entitlements, while paving the way for the state to allow more foreigners access to customary land.
“Laws do not have to be notified in the government paper or gazetted. Now this is a real worry and an indication of a movement away from democracy, because having of course lived in Samoa myself and looked around to read laws, the laws are really only held by the Attorney General’s office or the government. But effectively we are seeing laws being passed that are unconstitutional and are unavailable, largely. Also they are in English. In order to preserve your land rights if your an overseas Samoan, you have to be so aware of what is happening,” Faleauto said.
Meanwhile a community leader in Auckland is also worried about the proposed law change.
The New Zealand based Samoan, Reverend Uesifili Unasa, who also sits on the Pacific Advisory Board for Auckland Council, is urging people to voice their concerns, with many living outside of Samoa directly affected by such a change.
He voices many of the same concerns Faleauto has saying any changes to do with identity and its impact on subsequent entitlements, titles, family inheritances and customary land and its possible implications for future generations need to be debated and carefully considered.
“The issue around what constitutes being a Samoan are around your birthrights, and your bloodlines. But those things are not necessarily going to guarantee the safety and security of people’s inheritance.”
Reverend Uesifili Unasa says he also doesn’t understand why Samoans living abroad are ineligible to vote, given most contribute money and remittances back into the Samoan economy and maintain close ties to families there.
Despite the lack of coverage in the local Samoa media, the issue is getting a lot of chatter on the internet. A blogger on Talofa Lava blog who calls himself 'Guru' says the Acts Interpretation Bill 2013 is much more than an interpretation of law as it applies to all Samoan laws and supposedly to the Constitution, which is highly suspect.
He says, "Like much of Samoa's badly written law it contains a number of nasty surprises" including:
1) The power to delegate government powers to a public servant, company or individual and an immunity for that person or company so it can apply e.g to the Water Resources Management Act 2008 or to all utilities maybe even prisons, police.
2) That immunity applies to all powers delegated under all Acts including the Constitution. It will apply to the tax haven and the discretions by that board as well.
3) it defines Samoans as those who have Samoan citizenship and Samoan blood perhaps to limit government responsibility and end Samoan's land and title's rights.
4) It describes how service of notice in relation to landowners will work - if no address is known no service required. How hard will they look for overseas Samoans?
5) No public notification of laws required.
Sources: Radio New Zealand, Talofa Lava blog, scribd.com