SAMOA VILLAGE FIGHTS GOVERNMENT CLAIM TO LAND

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By Alan Ah Mu

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, July 20) – The Government has been accused of failing to honour an agreement to settle a long-standing land dispute with the village of Siumu in Court.

The accusation was made by a Siumu matai, Tapusalaia Lautogia, who said the Government has failed to live up to its side of the deal.

[PIR editor’s note: The village of Siumu is located on the southern coastline of Upolu, the main island in Samoa.]

The matai said Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoli’ai Sa’ilele Malielegaoi advised Siumu to take the land grievance to Court, which the village did.

But the Government has applied to the Court for the case not to go ahead, Tapusalaia said.

In doing that, Government broke an agreement it had reached with the village for the issue to be settled in court, Tapusalaia believes.

"Because it was they who said for the matter to be taken to court," Tapusalaia told the Samoa Observer.

It means Government has "lied or thinks lowly of the rights of the people of our village," he said.

He said agreement was reached in discussions after Siumu had forced the issue by blocking off the main road through the area in dispute.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa told Siumu that hiring a lawyer to investigate the issue was the best road to take.

"If the investigation revealed that Siumu was correct, Government would pay for all the land that has been sold and Siumu’s land be returned," Tapusalaia claimed. "But if upon investigation and Government is proved right, and Siumu is dissatisfied, then Siumu can take the matter to court."

After a two month wait, the Attorney General at the time, Brenda Heather-Latu came up with the view that the matter couldn’t be considered because it was too long into the past. So Siumu took the matter to Court.

But when they did, Government via the Attorney General, applied to the Court to reject the matter. This is the sore point with Tapusalaia.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa was not immediately available for comment yesterday.

But current Attorney General, Aumua Ming Leung Wai confirmed that his office "had applied to strike out the Siumu claim.

"The strike out application was heard before Justice Vui C. Nelson sometime in April 2007. We are presently awaiting a decision."

Government has no documents to confirm ownership of the more than 1,300 acres of land in the hinterland of Siumu, which it claims it inherited from the German colonial administration, Tapusalaia said. "Germany did not use the land," he said.

The Government only used the land after Independence in 1962, he said, knowing full well it was customary land that no one individual had ownership of.

Individual residents of Siumu had sold land to the Germans but had no legal right to do so, Tapusalaia said.

But even then there are no deeds to prove such sales did take place, he said.

"The hardest thing is that after agreeing for Siumu to take the matter to Court, they apply for a Court case not to take place."

It was after Independence that the Government granted the land concerned to an individual, whose family has been selling off parcels of it in recent years, much to the annoyance of the village, Tapusalaia claimed.

"Government agreed that no more land would be sold, but they are still being sold."

Tapusalaia, who runs a construction company in American Samoa, said he took part in the road block of several years ago and has helped pay for a lawyer to represent Siumu.

He said they have hired a lawyer from New Zealand who is a Queen’s Counsel.

In recent years, Prime Minister Tuilaepa has insisted the road block was a political ploy, ahead of the General Elections in 2001.

When the Samoa Medical Association doctors went on strike in 2005 over salary issues, Tuilaepa compared it to the Siumu road block, saying both were politically motivated to try and discredit the ruling Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) Government.

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