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Op-Ed Samoa's Lands and Titles Court decisions

The more we think of the lingering disputes between the government on one side and Satapuala and Magiagi villages on the other, the more we think of the judges of the Land and Titles Court and how, over recent times, they have been using the power at their disposal to rob unsuspecting members of the public of their rightful land and title inheritances, ostensibly to suit their warped purposes.We’re thinking that some of these judges clearly believe there are members of the public who are so gullible they will not consider complaining against any ruling they’re delivering, and even if they did, so what? Just recently two of them reportedly disagreed on a ruling their panel was about to deliver, a quarrel between them ensured and dragged on, but then just as quickly the matter was silenced. Although the matter was later confirmed by the court, no explanation was given.In any case, the land disputes in question have once again shifted the focus squarely on the Land Titles Registration Act 2008 that the government had successfully forced down this country’s throat, and with it came what is known as the “Torrens system of land registration”, which effectively makes lawful the lease and sale of all customary land in this country.In fact, a case study that looked for possible effects of the “Torrens system” in Samoa’s Land and Titles Registration Act 2008 points out that “the operation of Torrens system, in this regard, could permanently deprive customary land owners of their land.”It says: “The Act might be an attempt to keep land re sold by the government as customary land.“However, the Act is very general, and the attempt can only be implied. The government still enjoys the power to take land and convert it into freehold land.”And then the study then makes its telling conclusion: “… the application of the Torrens system to customary land is detrimental and unnecessary,” it says, “the drafting of the LTRA 2008 is confusing, and the effect of the registration of title could be more far reaching than has been expected.”Interestingly enough though, the study’s warning echoes clearly the concerns expressed by both the former Western Samoa Chief Justice, Hon. B. C. Spring, and Samoa’s second Prime Minister, Tupua Tamasese Lealofi IV, when they addressed this country’s Land and Titles Court in separate occasions, back in the seventies.Wrote Hon. B. C. Spring: “In presenting this article, it was thought that it may be of interest to other Nations in the South Pacific to know something of the Land and Titles Court, and the system of land tenure in this country.“It should be stated at the outset that the Land and Titles is a most important Court, if not, the most important Court of the Independent State of Western Samoa.”