5 Feb 2019

Samoa govt accused of stifling dissent by firing mayor

7:20 pm on 5 February 2019

The leader of a new political party in Samoa is accusing the government of stifling a dissenting village mayor over his criticism of a land seizure.

Otemai Liu Ausage was fired on Thursday after he claimed his village of Nofoali'i had lost 180 acres of land through government repossession.

Unasa Iuni Sapolu

Unasa Iuni Sapolu. Photo: RNZI/ Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia

The Prime Minister, Tuila'epa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, has denied any repossession took place.

Samoa First party leader, lawyer Unasa Iuni Sapolu, said the the recent sacking might discourage other government opponents from speaking out.

"The government's attitude is one of overbearing, dancing to the music of the Chinese and foreign investors, caring less about our people whose lands are being affected," Unasa said.

"They have never been informed, they have never given informed consent."

Otemai said the move against him was unfair, because he was appointed by his village, not the government.

"I found out they are not happy with me because of my acting against the government, so now they said, 'well, you are off'."

When the village lost the land, it requested its return from the government but did not hear back, Otemai said.

"They are now leasing the land to some of the government people for their (farms)," Otemai said.

In recent months, protests and a public outcry online have targeted the Samoan government and the Asian Development Bank over the alienation of customary land.

About 200 people marched through Samoa's capital, Apia, on Saturday, protesting against land laws.

About 200 people marched through Samoa's capital, Apia, on Saturday, protesting against land laws. Photo: RNZI / Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia

There's also pending legal action against Tuilaepa over the Government's Land Titles Registration Act, which advocates say is being used to allow land repossessions.

Fesola'i Aleni Sofara, a law lecturer at the National University of Samoa, said everyone in Samoa had the freedom to speak their mind, but village mayors were expected to be loyal to the government.

"If you are appointed by the government and paid by the government, it is a position where you have to be very cautious on it," Fesola'i said.

Otemai, 70, said he had been a government employee for 20 years but would retire after his dismissal.

"I'm old now so I better stay with my grandchildren and serve my village, the village council."

The Nofoali'i village council is yet to appoint a new mayor but will meet this week, he said.