Court decision clears multi-million talā resort to continue on leased land

Rula Vaai

, Court, Latest, Tourism

PHOTO: Part of the Return to Paradise Resort at the famous Return to Paradise Beach at Lefaga made famous by the 1950s Gary Cooper movie

By Rula Su’a – Vaai

APIA, SAMOA – THURSDAY 18 APRIL 2019: The $6 million talā Return to Paradise Resort at Matautu, Lefaga has been cleared to continue operations on leased customary owned land after the Court of Appeal ruled this week that the Lands and Titles Court does not have the power to revoke and cancel a lease approved by the Minister of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

The matter is in relation to a dispute over the use of customary land at Faga, Matautu, Lefaga jointly owned by the Lemalu Family where the Return to Paradise Resort is located.

There were two issues raised by the Court of Appeal whether “there is a jurisdiction by the Lands and Titles Court to revoke a Ministers lease granted under the Alienation of Customary Land Act 1965 or whether the Supreme Court has the jurisdiction to review decisions of the Land and Titles Court.”

In 2009, the Faalafua Lemalu family approached the Minister of Lands at the time to lease the land to Sua Pale Limited, a Registered Company trading as Return to Paradise Resort. The Ministry published the intention to advertise in the Savali Newspaper on 28 August 2009.

In the same year the Minister signed the lease. It was then the dispute arose between the Lemalu Faalafua family and another faction of the family, Lemalu Saeni.

The Lemalu Saeni family petitioned the court to revoke and cancel the lease, signed by the Minister. The Lands and Titles Court ruled in favour of the petition and the lease was revoked and cancelled.

The Faalafua family appealed the decision. In 2014, the Lands and Titles Court of Appeal dismissed the Faalafua family’s appeal.

DECISION IN THEIR FAVOUR: Members of the Lemalu Faalafua family with their lawyer Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu after the Court of Appeals decision was delivered this week.

Lemalu Faalafua and Sua Pale Ltd then sought a judicial review of the Lands and Titles Court’s Appeal decision, arguing that the decision breached Sua Pale Ltd’s constitutional right to a fair hearing and that once a Minister granted a lease, the LTC had no power to terminate it, and they sought a ruling from court that the lease was still valid.

Last year, Justice Tafaomalo Leilani Tuala-Warren who presided over the judicial review ruled in favour of Lemalu Faalafua, that the Lands and Titles Court did not have the jurisdiction to cancel and revoke a lease granted by the Minister.

Justice Tuala-Warren ruled that the lease was still valid and binding.

Lemalu Sieni then took the matter to the Court of Appeal that dismissed the appeal this week and ordered costs of $5,000 tala to be paid to the first and second respondents.