Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Land rights and the World Bank

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.


Linds said...

A quick internet search reveals that that, as usual, its not only the World Bank involved in this project but the ADB (wary of World Bank stepping on its 'Asia-Pacific' turf) muscling in too.

The ADB document "Technical Assistance to the Independent State of Samoa: Promoting Economic Use of Customary Land" reveals some of the details you are asking about.

While a technical assistance document carries out 'exploratory' studies, rather than determining specifics of a project, if they are doing a TA it would be safe to assume that they are fairly serious about the land use changes.

The rationale for change is, in the ADB's words, because "There is a general — and based on case studies undertaken by the WG [working group on economic use of customary land], well-founded — perception among potential investors in Samoa that gaining secure rights over customary land to invest in productive activity is difficult and time-consuming." (pg.4)

The document also reveals that "The Government of Samoa has shown clear commitment at the highest levels to
addressing the perceived and actual problems that make it difficult to attract investment onto customary land." (pg.5)

So there you have your answer... at least according to the ADB.

I'm sure there would be more info about this on the World Bank site (notoriously difficult to negotiate) if you wanted to look into it further... I haven't read the TA closely but there is quite a bit in there too...

jt said...

I just had a chat with someone I know in the Attorney-General's office who confirmed that it was, indeed, the ADB and not the World Bank that is involved. Further, the discussions were held in 1999, not 1998 as alleged by the SDUP and Samoa Party.

It seems pretty clear that the "highest levels" are clearly committed, but it would appear that they haven't bothered to let the actual land owners know. All election advertising has to cease at 6pm tomorrow (Thursday) evening. I'd say that the opposition parties have probably left this one too late for it to really have any significant effect for their campaigns.