Plans to extend the Salelologa wharf at Savai’i could be halted after a family said the Government illegally took over the land that today houses one of two port facilities on the island.
The family has also sent the Government a $1.4 million invoice for unpaid land rental rates and cost for trees, the Samoan fale and land they claim had been taken to extend a government-made road.
Matamua Samuela, a resident of Salelologa who has been battling the Government over what he claims is his family’s customary land since 2005, showed documents to the Samoa Observer that included correspondence as well as a Land and Titles Court decision that ruled in their favour.
According to him, his great grandfather gave a parcel of land in 1948 to the Government for the Salelologa wharf to be built, but the proposed extension of the port facility will exceed the land boundary.
“In 1948 my great grandfather Matamua Ulufotu was a paramount chief and was Member of Parliament under the New Zealand government for Fasa’aleleaga No.1,” he said.
“In 1952 my great grandfather and another ancestor Seumanu and the village council at the time allocated a parcel for the wharf in Savai’i. But the extension of the wharf has gone beyond what was allocated for the wharf.”
Contacted for a comment, the General Manager of the Samoa Shipping Corporation (S.S.C.), Papali’i Willie Nansen, rubbished the claims.
He said there are two parcels of land in question – with one a reclaimed land and the other the Government intends to possess using provisions of the Taking Land Act.
“There are two parcels in question the part of the extension which is reclaimed land and the quarter acre which the Government intends to take under the Taking Land Act for government purposes,” he said.
“This matter is now with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment under the Land Taking Act. There are ongoing negotiations with the Matamua family and the Government intends to compensate them with the fair value of the quarter acre near the wharf. In the long run we intend to extend the wharf.”
Even the former Minister of M.N.R.E., Faumuina Tiatia Liuga, had indicated in a letter – which confirmed Government plans to extend the wharf in 2003-2004 – that Matamua could not possess the land in question as it was reclaimed from the ocean.
“This was the first time Matamua’s name came up as someone who was unhappy with the resurfacing of the wharf; at the same time its understood Matamua has a pending application with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (M.N.R.E.) for utilization of the right side of the wharf for his business,” he wrote in his letter at that time.
“The resurfacing part of the wharf; where the government injected dirt into the ocean to extend the wharf and it was explained to Matamua the ocean is owned by the Government; the dirt injected into the ocean to make up this resurfacing part of the wharf belongs to the Government.”
In relation to the reclaimed land, Papali’I said it was already registered to the Samoa Shipping Services and the family had no proof that the ocean, where the reclaimed land now sits, belonged to them.
“Going back to Matamu’s claims, the reclaimed land is already registered to the Samoa Shipping Services. He has no proof the ocean in which was injected with dirt for the reclaimed land belongs to his family.
“How can he adamantly say the land belongs to him and his family when it is the ocean? There was no land there before, it’s reclaimed land. Again is there any proof.”
But Matamua is adamant his family has been robbed and showed the Samoa Observer copies of correspondence written to the Government between 2010 and 2017 including a June 4, 2013 letter to Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, which raised their concerns.
Matamua, in another letter to the Prime Minister dated August 20, 2013 confirmed that he applied to the M.N.R.E. to utilise part of the family’s land for a family-owned business due to its location.
“I can confirm that I applied to the M.N.R.E. that I want to utilize this part of our family land for a family business; given its location. I applied for a permit on June 27, 2013 as I am thinking of my family to have steady income in the future it is good to invest in a business on this specific area,” he stated in his letter.
Furthermore, he pointed out the said land parcel being contested was taken to court with the court ruling in their favor.
Among the issues highlighted in his letter to the Prime Minister was a decision in 1948 when his great grandfather Matamua Ulufotu, a member of parliament under the New Zealand colonial administration, allocated a parcel of land to the government for a wharf.
“This is why I will not let this go and I will not accept this is the end of my subject,” he stated in his letter.
Three years ago Matamua and his family proposed to the Government that they be compensated for their customary land and land reclamation by the Samoa Ports Authority. According to the letter dated December 10, 2015 the family is owed $1,455,180 by the Government in unpaid land rental rates. These also includes cost for trees, the Samoan fale and land taken to extend a government-made road. The valuation was done by local company Kaisara Real Estate Management Ltd.
In April this year Matamua wrote another letter to the Prime Minister querying which Government C.E.O. he should raise his family’s land issue with, while reminding the Head of Government that the road built on the disputed land was not approved by his family.
Papali’i has indicated that the matter will return to court in line with the provisions of the Land Taking Act, while emphasizing that the Government still intends to extend the wharf.
Numerous attempts to get comments from the M.N.R.E. in relation to this issue have so far been unsuccessful.