Alan Ah Mu
APIA: THURSDAY 25 APRIL 2013: Leota Lene struggled against tears and for coherence as he tried to explain the emotional toll of the four-year ordeal to find justice.
“It wasn’t easy for me and my family,” said Leota.
Publicity of his battle against Government over the forced eviction of Siva Afi, the business he and wife Clare created, from leased public land at Sogi was widespread and prolonged and reached overseas.
“My family, they were very embarrassed,” said Leota.
His sisters and family in New Zealand found the repeated mention in the media of Siva Afi’s case against Government tiresome.
What drove Leota and Clare on was a conviction in the rightfulness of their cause, a belief the court would see the injustice hurled against them and the awful realisation that if Government can treat them so badly, it would do the same to others.
But Leota singled out the then Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Faumuina Tiatia Liuga as the sole cause of their distress.
“What has happened had nothing to do with Government, it was just between us and Faumuina Liuga,” he said.
Faumuina, he said, worked for the United Nations, a peacemaker, yet returned to Samoa and became a troublemaker.
“We are not animals.”
Power or “muscle” was in the end beaten by the law – by what is right, said the director of Siva Afi.
This week the final payment out of $1, 769, 332.90 awarded by the Appeal Court of Samoa was made to Siva Afi.
It was compensation for the termination of the company’s lease at Sogi in 2009.
FULL COURT DECISION CLICK Judgement – Siva Afi 1
Angry and sad
At times showing traces of anger, Leota said he was mostly sad about events.
“This was the money we argued for from the start,” he said.
In the spirit of mutual respect, a basic principle in relations between Samoans, they approached Faumuina with the attitude of “Let’s talk; there’s no reason for us to go to court.”
Instead they faced evasion and public criticism from Government.
Government went a step further and amended the Taking of Land Act in October 2009 in order to evict Siva Afi from Sogi on 16 November 2009.
Government, in particular Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment – which controlled the land in question – wanted the company out years before the expiry of a lease agreement to make way for the building now named after the Head of State to be built there.
At the time, Siva Afi was offered a total compensation of $462,000 which it rejected.
A Cabinet minister at the time said to Leota, “‘$462 000, that’s a lot of money for a boy from Savai’i (Island).’”
The minister was from the island, though not Leota’s MP.
But under the amended Act, Siva Afi was entitled to claim for losses incurred in the taking.
“A claim was lodged with the Minister of Environment at the time, Faumuina Tiatia Liuga in June 2010,” says a statement issued by the company to the media today.
“The Minister failed to respond to the claim, which forced Siva Afi to file proceedings in the Supreme Court,” the statement says.
In a decision of July 2013, the Supreme Court awarded Siva Afi compensation of $748,186.15.
“However, this decision awarded nothing for the loss of Siva Afi’s businesses at Sogi.”
Siva Afi filed an appeal heard in November 2012 in the Appeal Court which delivered its decision on 18th December 2012.
The sum awarded the company does not include 12 percent interest from 16 June 2010.
“It is unfortunate that the final amount paid is almost equivalent to our original claim made in June 2013, but it has cost us over three years to realize it through the court action,” said Leota.
“It was always a disappointment to us that no one was prepared to negotiate with us, but rather forced us into a long, drawn out court battle,” he said.
“The people of Samoa have a right to ask how one of their own citizens came to be treated in this way and why a negotiated settlement could not be reached long ago,” said Clare Leota.
“We’re just happy to have everything finalized and to know that we can now concentrate on re-establishing our businesses,” said Leota.
Leota and wife Clare founded Siva Afi – a sign making and printing business making some of the most pertinent designs on billboards, TShirts and clothing and vehicles. Leota is a former champion fire knife dancer who founded the Ailao Afi Club that has been in the forefront of reviving the art and runs international competitions in Samoa, Hawaii, United States, New Zealand and other overseas countries.
It was also running the Siva Afi Restaurant and Bar and a night club at the site when it was evicted.