6 Mar 2012

Samoa divided over planned demolition of old parliament

6:22 pm on 6 March 2012

The 94-year old former parliament building in Samoa is to be demolished this week.

The Government says the building is unused and unsafe, but the opposition is calling on people to protest.

Megan Whelan reports.

The old parliament at Mulinu'u was built in 1916 and used until the 1970s when the current building was completed.

Our correspondent in Apia, Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia says the original plan was to renovate the building

"The old fono house is more like the shape of a Samoan fale. It's a round building. It used to be thatched, but some years ago, they replaced it with an iron roof, and there was some renovation and it was used by the office of the Lands and Titles Court, where some of the cases were heard."

Early this year, it was reported that the Parliamentary Speaker, La'auli Polataivao, who is responsible for parliament's buildings, said it would be turned into a political museum.

The building was scheduled to be demolished on Monday but the Speaker stopped the workers from carrying out the job, and scheduled a Parliamentary debate.

But Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia says after Tuilaepa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi spoke to Parliament, outlining his reasons, the speaker overturned his decision.

The Prime Minister in his ministerial speech, he said the house is no longer safe, and for the safety of the people, it needs to be demolished and removed. There is a lot of opposition voiced by several people in the local newspapers here, and people on some of the talkback on radio stations. But Cabinet has the last say for everything.

The opposition leader, Palusalue Fa'apo II says it is a sad day for Samoa.

The old building is the heart, and where independence was born. So we were arguing to preserve the building for the history. It's very important history for the people of Samoa. This is the only historic site for the people of Samoa to witness the process that our forefathers and the leaders went through in getting our independence.

But an associate professor of Samoa Studies at the National University says heritage buildings are expensive to maintain

Unasa Va'a says the Government has good reasons.

Unless they use it as a historical site, like a museum or something, there's not much purpose in the building itself, when the government wants to use it for something else. There's a lot also about colonialism that people don't want to remember.

Unasa Va'a says he believes most people don't care.

But the opposition's Palusalue Fa'apo II says the majority of people do care, and he wants them to protest.

Just come and show their support for the building to be preserved for future generations.

He says a public protest is the last option the opposition has.