Senate approves its version of Admin Samoan Affairs bill
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The Senate approved in final reading last week Thursday its version of the Administration bill, giving the Secretary of Samoan Affairs the authority to refer land and matai title disputes to High Court of American Samoa if unresolved after six months.
The endorsement followed a Senate Samoan Affairs Committee hearing earlier in the week, and committee debate — with no witnesses — held on Wednesday.
The committee debate and discussion, which lasted some 50-minutes gave senators an opportunity to voice their opinion and share their views — where they supported the proposed law.
There was a call from some senators for the government to designate a legal counsel specifically for Samoan Affairs to assist with legal issues on land and title matters.
The big issue that became the subject of views voiced during the debate is funding to purchase equipment, including a camera for Samoan Affairs to video-tape all proceedings that would become part of the record submitted to the court.
One of the amendments to the existing bill in the legislation allows the Secretary of Samoan Affairs to adopt rules — in accordance with the Administrative Procedures Acts — for the conduct of hearings, and to establish fees for matters brought before the Secretary of Samoan Affairs. And the fees collected shall — if signed into law— be earmarked for use by the Office of Samoan Affairs.
During the committee hearing earlier last week Attorney General Fainu’ulelei Falefatu Alailima-Utu said that such fees would allow Samoan Affairs to purchase equipment, such as audio machines and cameras to record land and title proceedings conducted by Samoan Affairs.
This statement was echoed by Secretary of Samoan Affairs Mauga T. Asuega, saying that the video recording will be part of the record submitted to the court.
But some senators were concerned that the fees may not be sufficient to cover the cost of video recording equipment, which is expensive.
In the end, the committee opted to keep the bill in its original version, as submitted by the Administration, and leave the equipment costs to the government.
The Senate version has since been sent to the House for their review and consideration. The House has its own version pending in committee.
(See Samoa News edition last Thursday on what was said during the committee hearing with Fainu’ulelei and Mauga as witnesses.)
SUMMARY OF LAND AND MATAI TITLE CASES FOR 2022
Meanwhile, the Governor’s State of the Territory Comprehensive Report provides a summary of land and matai title cases handled by Samoan Affairs last year.
The report noted that due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the normal course of events for Samoan Affairs was completely altered, which resulted in a drop in usual activities relative to lands and titles while the pandemic related activities increased dramatically.
And due to COVID restrictions, cases were rescheduled and put on hold from Feb. 20 until restrictions were lifted in August last year.
According to the report, there were 7 matai title cases and 5 land registration cases referred from the Office of the Territorial Registrar to Samoan Affairs.
For cases referred from the High Court — there were 3 matai titles and no land cases. Furthermore, hearings were conducted for 15 matai title cases, 6 communal land disputes and 8 miscellaneous disputes.
For cases resolved last year, the report said there were 4 matai titles, 2 communal land disputes and 6 miscellaneous disputes.
For Mediation Process and Dispute Resolution Reports Completed: Matai Titles: 4 and Land Disputes: 2.