Samoa Opposition Queries Land Leases To Foreign Institutions

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Leader says leases will not solve Samoa’s economic problems

By Lanuola Tupufia

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Nov. 1, 2012) – Members of the Tautua Samoa Party have claimed the government is under pressure to lease customary land because the country owes so much money to foreign institutions. The foreign debt, they say, is "nearly a billion tala [US$423.7 million]."

The press conference was called so that members of the Opposition Party could voice their objections against the Customary Land Advisory Commission Bill 2012.

Tabled in Parliament last week, the bill proposes to allow the lease of customary land to foreign companies for economic development. But members of the Tautua Party disagree.

A’ana Alofi No 3 MP, Toeolesulusulu Cedric Schuster said the Government is being dictated to lease customary land.

He said the Government is adamant to proceed with the lease because it is "trapped" and it must fulfill the requirements by foreign institutions.

Asked to name the foreign institutions, Toeolesulusulu named the Asian Development Bank as one of them.

"The government doesn’t need another Commission," said Toesulusulu.

"The only reason why they are doing this is because it’s one of the recommendations under ADB (Asian Development Bank) for Samoa to follow.

"The government was advised by ADB in 2006 and recommended to have our customary lands leased.

"So the Commission is not for the benefit of our country, it’s done for that purpose to meet the banks conditions so we can loan some more."

The first term MP also reminded about the arrangement of lands. He referred to distribution of lands where many acres are put aside for tourism development, others for water and environmental conservation.

"Where is the land for our children to use in the future if foreign investors take over our customary land? The next generation will be working for these foreigners."

Felealupo MP Aeau Peniamina Leavaiseeta was quick to back his colleague.

The veteran MP explained that one or two matai shouldn’t have the right agree on a lease on behalf of the extended family. Aeau said it should be a united decision.

"Imagine two matai deciding on the fate of the lands when there is the extended family," he said. "I advise the Commission to look into this and not to make it easy for families to give up land like that."

Party Leader Palusalue Fa’apo II said leasing customary land is not the answer to the country’s economic problems.

"The truth is that the government has to abide by their rules and principles," he explained.

"Otherwise, if we don’t follow the requirements of the hand that feeds us, the government will have to look elsewhere to loan from. Our foreign debt is a growing concern and we keep cautioning the government about it."

Speaking about the Land Advisory Commission, Palusalue said it’s another political ploy by the government.

"The numerous advisory boards and Commissions is another tactic by the government to employ more public servants to run their political agendas," he said.

"This is all part of their propaganda for the next general election."

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi was not immediately available for a comment yesterday. His office, however, has confirmed an appointment for Friday where he would address the claims by the opposition party.

Speaking in Parliament last week, Prime Minister Tuilaepa said Palusalue’s concerns about money were irrelevant. He asked Palusalue to stop thinking about "peanuts."

"You are talking about peanuts yet the government is moving toward big things."

In another interview where Tuilaepa was asked about the foreign debt, he responded that Samoa’s total debt "has still not reached WST$1 billion yet."

He said it was not the size of the debt that was important but "the country’s ability, the capacity, to pay that debt."

According to the ADB website under Promoting Economic Use of Customary Land (Formerly Facilitating Land Mobilization and Securitization) its description states that "the government requested ADB to support appropriate reforms to mobilize and securitize customary land." It added that "the intended impact of the TA is to increase levels of economic activity (investment and production) on customary land."

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