The allegations made by the SDUP and the Samoa Party last week about the HRPP Government signing a secret deal with the World Bank over land registration seem to have hit a raw nerve. Yesterday Prime Minister Tuilaepa ordered the Attorney-General's office to begin legal proceedings against the party leaders who authorised the joint statement.
In justifying his order, Tuilaepa said the statement was grossly defamatory. "In my opinion as leader of the country, they have gone overboard the decency level of political campaigning," he said. "My decision is to protect the electoral system in the future...You can't just make misleading statements about these things and expect to get away with it. What these people have done is that they have overstepped the mark." So it would seem that Tuilaepa is acting on behalf of the Government of Samoa. But on what grounds could the Government take these individuals to court?
On the basis of Tuilaepa's comments, the court action will probably be based on a claim of defamation. Yet, SDUP deputy leader Asiata Saleimoa Va'ai (himself a lawyer) says, "There is no such thing as defaming a government...Only a person may be defamed." If this is true (I have absolutely no idea) then Tuilaepa can really only claim personal defamation. The consequence of which would mean that it would be wrong for him to use Government resources to make his case in court. Until the details of the case are known, which I'm sure will only emerge after the election, little more can be said.
All of this talk however, dances around the real issue. Is there an existing agreement with the World Bank through its International Development Agency and what are the details of such an agreement? Does the HRPP intend to change land registration legislation to make the registration of customary land conform with the Torrens system used for freehold land? Tuilaepa has, as yet, failed to answer these questions properly. The SDUP and the Samoa Party have also failed to really provide the kind of proof that would make their allegations iron-clad. Whatever the outcome of the election on Friday, this story is far from finished.